SPORTS COLUMN: ‘Short straw? In sport, big is not always best ...’

Crispin Andrews
Crispin Andrews

Sachin Tendulkar retired from international cricket this week. Aged 40, the Indian superstar had played since he was 16. Tendulkar is five foot five. In sport, big is not always best.

Last Saturday, the whole of India mourned and celebrated at the same time. So to did the cricket world.

Tendulkar scored 74 in his 200th and final Test match. Imran Khan was still playing when Tendulkar made his debut in 1989.

Tendulkar has more Test runs and hundreds than anyone else. Also more one day international runs and hundreds.

Last year he scored his 100th international century, against Bangladesh, in a one dayer.

He’s not the only short batsman to make his mark on international cricket. Sunil Gavaskar, Tendulkar’s predecessor as Indian cricket’s cult hero is also 5ft 5”.

Gundappa Viswanath, Gavaskar’s 1970s middle order team mate and brother in law, is only 5.3. The West Indies team of the 70s and early 80s is known for its tall fast bowlers. One of that side’s best batsmen, Alvin Kallicharan, is only 5.4.

There have been plenty of top quality tall batsmen.

Graeme Pollock, Kevin Pietersen and Clive Lloyd to name three.

Brian Lara, Tendulkar’s closest rival for the title of best modern batsman is just 5.8, though. The greatest of them all, Sir Donald Bradman, was a modest 5.7.

In his book, Human Body Size and the laws of scaling, New York scientist Thomas Samaras says that sportsmen who are below average size have many advantages.

Shorter neural networks means faster reaction times. Smaller than average players also tend to have a greater strength to weight ratio, faster limb acceleration, greater endurance, power to weight ratio and agility. Also greater balance and a lower centre of gravity.

Samaras added that taller sports players are generally stronger, more powerful and have a longer reach.

Tall, then, is good for rowers, tennis players, swimmers and basketball players. For mountain cyclists, weightlifters, gymnasts, Formula one drivers and weight lifters, it can be good to be short.

Most footballers, these days, are tall, strong and athletic. But some of today’s best – Messi, Xavi, Iniesta are 5.7 and below. So too, former greats Romario, Roberto Carlos, Ferenc Puskas and Garrincha. Diego Maradona, arguably the greatest footballer ever, is the same height as Tendulkar.

There’s one place, however, where being short is absolutely not an advantage.

A Marillion gig at the Waterside. Too bad, if you’re 5.1 and can’t get on to the floor, let alone down the front because there are so many people in the hall. All the onsite manager for the evening could offer was a shrug. Should have got there earlier. Email sent to area manager, Elizabeth Adlington. No response.

Good job Pete Trewavas was on stage playing bass. In the crowd, he wouldn’t have seen a thing.