Orville Higgins | The business of comparisons
One of the things that is inevitable in sports discussions is the whole business of comparisons. No matter how we try to avoid it, the question will always be asked, is this player better than that player?
Some of these comparisons will be debated forever. Was PelÈ better than Diego Maradona? Was Don Bradman better than the batting greats in modern times? Was Muhammed Ali at his best better than Mike Tyson at his best? Is LeBron James a better player than Michael Jordan? I have listened to, and participated in, all these debates. I find it fun, and I am always ready to have another go at anyone on these and any other topic.
One of the things that make these debates difficult is because there is rarely, if ever, a definite yard stick used to measure greatness. Everyone comes with his own set of criteria, and what one man may place great importance in, another man doesn't. Every sport is different and requires different things. I can appreciate the good arguments that come up with these discussions. I have argued long and hard, both on air and off, about the merits of one player against another.
I would like to feel that I have, and can, hold my own against anyone, anywhere, when discussing these comparisons. From time to time, I have heard solid arguments against the person I am rooting for and may have grudgingly conceded, once or twice, that a person may have had a point that I never knew before. The one thing that continues to irk me, though, is when anyone tries to use the argument about style to try to match up to someone with superior substance.
I listened to an argument on radio about Shiv Chanderpaul versus Carl Hooper, and I was amazed. I like a good sports debate as much as the next man, but these debates must have merit. Chanderpaul and Hooper should never be discussed as equals. Hooper simply doesn't have the quantity of runs to be in that conversation. The people who back Hooper speak about aesthetic value and how much he is pleasing to the eye. They will tell you that Hooper is far more entertaining to watch because of the attractive way he goes about batting. All this would make sense if these same people argue all the other facets of cricket along those lines, but the truth is they don't.
STYLE AND PANACHE
Ask the people who have placed this great premium on style and panache and crowd-pleasing ability when talking about batting who the best bowler they know is. I guarantee you that whoever they choose, it is all about their ability to get people out. I have never heard anyone putting forward the argument that he rates this bowler over that bowler because he is more stylish or more pleasing to the eye. A bowler's ability to please a crowd is almost directly proportional to his ability to add Ws to his stats column. It is the same way for the other dimensions to cricket. Have you ever heard anyone saying one wicketkeeper or fielder is better than another because he looks prettier? When the discussion comes up regarding quality wicketkeepers, or fielders, or bowlers, isn't it always about how effective you are at carrying out your function? So why are we so fixated on style in batting?
Again, it is the inconvenient way we reason. I have a far smoother and more rhythmic and beautiful bowling action than Curtley Ambrose. I look so much better when I am bowling than the legendary Antiguan. There is one problem, though. When I used to bowl, my balls would disappear to all parts while Ambrose usually had batsmen in all sorts of contortions. If we go by aesthetics and style, then Ambrose is not in my league.
We need to stop this ridiculous way of reasoning. A sportsman must be judged on his ability to get the job done, full stop! Jordan, Ali, Lara, Tiger Woods, and Federer are all attractive in their own way and play, or played, the sport with a fluency and grace that can be beautiful to see. Their style certainly enhanced the watching experience. None of these stars, though, would be considered so highly if they didn't have mind-boggling statistics to back it up.
The simple truth is, you cannot be a great player if you do not have great numbers. In the case of Hooper, he just simply does not have the numbers to be considered anything but an average Joe. Now, if you have two great players with similarly great numbers and one is more eye catching, then by all means, vote for that one. But if the numbers are far apart, then the argument should not start. We must choose substance over style every time.