Glenn McGrath recently claimed to have enjoyed an edge over Sachin Tendulkar, more so than he did against Brian Lara. It is hard to disagree with him, because Lara did better against McGrath, all things considered, than Tendulkar did. Lara also played more against McGrath than Tendulkar did, mainly on account of the fact that West Indies played Australia in longer Test series, and while McGrath missed two series against India - 1998 in India and 2003-04 in Australia, he never missed a series against the West Indies.
Tendulkar has played 21 Tests against Australia, made 1859 runs at 53.11. In matches where McGrath has been present, Tendulkar has made 662 runs in 18 innings (9 Test matches) at 36.77. This includes the one off Test in Delhi in 1996 (Tendulkar made 10, 0), the 1999-2000 series in Australia (Tendulkar made 278 runs at 46.33 in 3 Test matches), the 2000-01 series in India (Tendulkar made 304 runs at 50.66 in 3 Tests) and the 2004-05 series in India (Tendulkar played in only 2 Tests - the last 2, making 2, 8 at Nagpur in his comeback match and 5, 55 in Mumbai - in all 70 runs at 17.5 in the series).
On the other hand, Lara has played 30 Tests against Australia and 25 of those have been against McGrath. He made 308 runs in 1994-95 (in West Indies) at 44.00, 296 runs at 32.88 in 1996-97 (in Australia), 546 runs at 91 in 1998-99 (in West Indies), 321 runs at 32.10 in 2000-01 (in Australia), 533 runs at 66.62 in 2002-03 (in West Indies) and 345 runs at 57.50 in 2005-06. That 2005-06 series also consisted of 1 great innings - 226 at Adelaide and 5 failures (which produced 119 runs). Lara's efforts in the 2002-03 series in the West Indies have to be viewed in the context of that series - it was a high scoring series if there ever was one - the wickets were the flattest in living memory (almost reminiscent of an India - Pakistan series) - 5 Australians averaged over 55 in that series and produced 10 centuries in 4 Test matches, the West Indies produced 7 centuries in 4 Test matches. 34 50+ scores were recorded in the series. It was also Lara's most consistent series against McGrath - 5 50+ scores in 8 innings.
These figures ought to get you thinking. The 2000-01 and 1996-97 series in Australia saw Lara play 19 innings for the West Indies in which he produced two tremendous innings - his 182 at Adelaide in 2000-01 and his 132 at Perth in 1996-97. Those two innings apart, Lara produced 1 fifty in the other 17 innings. Tendulkar has played 18 innings in all against McGrath. Lara's 4 centuries in Australia have been made at Sydney (277), Perth (132) and Adelaide (182, 226). Tendulkars 4 centuries in Australia have been made at Sydney (148, 241*), Melbourne (116) and Perth (114). Lara's 4 centuries in Australia have come in 18 Test matches, while Tendulkar's have come in 12 Test matches.
Indeed if you look at Lara and Tendulkar playing against McGrath, and measure a 50+ score as a success and anything else as a failure, then Tendulkar has had 7 50+ scores in 18 innings. In 48 innings against McGrath, Lara has passed 50 16 times.
The numbers reveal that Tendulkar and Lara emulate their overall tendencies when playing against McGrath. Lara is the less consistent of the two, but more capable of mammoth scores (213, 226, 182, 153). Tendulkar is more consistent, but is less capable of churning out huge scores (241, 126, 116). Lara v McGrath is defined by two innings played by Lara in 1998-99 - 213 at Sabina Park, followed by 153 at Kensington Oval. Tendulkar v McGrath as a contest is defined by the bold LBW decision McGrath won against Tendulkar in the second innings at Adelaide in 1999 (when Tendulkar ducked into a short ball which did climb at all). Tendulkar's innings are always methodical, Lara's are a work of genius. Therefore, when Tendulkar rattled of a clinical 126 on Day 3 in the decider at Chennai, it was expected that he would deliver that day and he did - without any frills.
What is apparent in Tendulkar v McGrath and Lara v McGrath contests, is that no other bowler in any Australian side that Tendulkar faced could trouble Tendulkar (with the occasional exception of Jason Gillespie). Where as Lara was prone to giving his wicket away against any Australian bowler. This is especially true in Australia, where Lara made 4 50+ scores in 25 innings in Tests where McGrath also featured. For Tendulkar, the corresponding figure is 3 out of 6. Tendulkar was more likely to play a particular bowler rather than play the ball. Tendulkar's strategy against McGrath was often to wait out a good spell, where as Lara was less likely to let a good spell go by - and this is reflected by their respective consistency levels, especially in Australia.
Tendulkar v McGrath was also a direct clash in the One Day game, because Tendulkar opened the batting and McGrath opened the bowling. This was not the case against Lara. In the One Day game, McGrath did have the better of Tendulkar. This is possibly the one thing that influences McGrath's comparison of Lara and Tendulkar.
Given Tendulkar and Lara's overall records, McGrath probably did have an edge of both players. However, the numbers do not reflect that Lara did better against Australia when McGrath played than Tendulkar did. He produced bigger innings, but was less consistent. Lara also never played in a winning series against McGrath, which Tendulkar did.
It is a glimpse into how a cricketer makes his judgements about his peers. It is a mistake to write off a comment by Glenn McGrath as a lighthearted one - or one designed to play off Tendulkar against Lara. It does however show that McGrath rates the genuis of Lara higher than he rates the method of Tendulkar - he felt more helpless against Lara more often than he did against Tendulkar. He felt he controlled Tendulkar (as Tendulkar felt he controlled him) and never let him get away. Where as against Lara it was a far more trigger happy contest - Lara either went early, or killed the bowling. There were no stalemates in Lara v McGrath contests. Tendulkar v McGrath was invariably a stalemate - with neither willing to bite the bullet.
These have been two of the great contests in modern day cricket.