EXPLORING INDIA’S TEST HISTORY LIKE NEVER BEFORE

In its 85-year-old Test history, India has played 512 Tests, won 139, lost 158 and drawn 214. More pertinently, it has played 142 Test series (excluding one-off Tests), won 55, lost 59 and drawn 28. Is the latter not a much clearer picture? It is also the DNA of cricket we at Impact Index operate from – the Test series.

If we just take only the series India won or drew, we get 83 Test series. Out of these, 55 are at home and 28 are abroad. We rank them in these two lots below, in terms of the cumulative impact in each team (based on the individuals who participated in each series).

This is based on both – the experience of the side based on their past performances before that series and the potential of the team based on the career impact of its players till now. The latter takes care of situations like Matthew Hayden’s, for example, who became an all-time great batsman post his spectacular performances in the classic 2001 series – so, the impact of that 2001 side also accounts for him as the player he would go on to become. With the benefit of hindsight, we thought this was the most balanced way to rank team strengths.

Here it is then – all the opponents played against since 1932, against whom India did not lose. In two lots – home and away. In both lots – series wins in red, draws in black.

Captain of the best Test side India ever played, bar none.

INDIA AT HOME
WINS AND DRAWS

Country-Year Scoreline Number of players Average Tests/player Team Impact
Australia-2001 2-1 13 48 3.90
South Africa-2008 1-1 11 50 3.64
South Africa-2010 1-1 12 49 3.42
Sri Lanka-2009 2-0 13 39 3.33
Pakistan-1999 1-1 12 40 3.30
England- 2008 1-0 12 35 3.26
Australia-2008 2-0 13 31 3.16
Australia-2010 2-0 12 35 3.06
England-1981 1-0 14 36 3.03
South Africa-2015 3-0 16 28 3.00
Pakistan-1979 2-0 14 23 2.98
South Africa-1996 2-1 13 16 2.95
Australia-2017 2-1 13 23 2.90
West Indies-1987 1-1 14 26 2.74
New Zealand-2003 0-0 12 26 2.69
Australia-2013 4-0 16 22 2.69
New Zealand-2016 3-0 15 24 2.62
Sri Lanka-2005 2-0 14 34 2.62
New Zealand-2012 2-0 12 25 2.58
West Indies-2002 2-0 15 33 2.55
Pakistan-2007 1-0 13 28 2.54
England-2006 1-1 15 15 2.53
Pakistan-2005 1-1 15 22 2.50
South Africa- 2004 1-0 13 23 2.47
Pakistan-1983 0-0 13 27 2.46
New Zealand-1969 1-1 13 11 2.45
Sri Lanka-1997 0-0 13 28 2.44
England-1972 2-1 15 8 2.44
New Zealand-1999 1-0 14 21 2.43
West Indies-1994 1-1 13 15 2.40
England-2001 1-0 13 21 2.36
England-1993 3-0 16 45 2.36
Australia-1986 0-0 12 17 2.32
England-2016 4-0 17 32 2.32
West Indies-1978 1-0 14 8 2.23
Australia-1964 1-1 14 16 2.22
West Indies-2013 2-0 13 34 2.20
New Zealand-1995 1-0 13 19 2.19
England-1964 0-0 17 12 2.17
New Zealand-1988 2-1 14 22 2.15
New Zealand-1976 2-0 14 12 2.14
New Zealand-2010 1-0 15 20 2.14
Australia-1979 2-0 14 8 2.10
England-1961 2-0 15 11 2.09
Sri Lanka-1994 3-0 13 14 2.09
New Zealand-1965 1-0 15 10 2.05
West Indies-2011 2-0 13 23 2.04
Pakistan-1960 0-0 13 12 2.00
Sri Lanka-1986 2-0 14 10 1.92
Zimbabwe-2002 2-0 12 26 1.90
Zimbabwe-2000 1-0 13 23 1.84
Pakistan-1952 2-1 14 0 1.83
England-1951 1-1 15 2 1.70
New Zealand-1955 2-0 15 7 1.44

Note:
Series’ marked in red indicate won series’.
‘Number of players’ shows the total number of players used by the opposition team in the series.
‘Average Tests/player’ indicates the experience level of the team. It is the cumulative number of Tests played by all the opposition players in the tour prior to the start of the series divided by ‘Number of players’.
‘Team Impact’ is a combination of the experience of the side based on their past performances before that series and the potential of the team based on their career impact .
All numbers updated till July 20th, 2017. 

Australia 2001, led by Steve Waugh, remains India’s greatest Test series triumph even on our scale. This is not just the strongest team India has ever beaten or drawn against by a distance, but the highest impact Test team India has ever encountered, even higher impact than Clive Lloyd’s West Indians who thrashed India twice in 1983, both away and at home.
What VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid did in Kolkata in March 2001, and Harbhajan Singh did in the last two Tests, will forever remain the stuff of legend.

The two South African sides of 2008 and 2010 (the number one Test team in the world), not surprisingly, come next – India could only draw against them. In 2008, Sourav Ganguly and Harbhajan Singh led the way when India drew level; in 2010, it was Virender Sehwag, Harbhajan Singh and VVS Laxman who stood up at the most crucial moments.

Led the greatest Sri Lankan Test side in history, and the second best side India ever beat at home.

The Sri Lankan side of 2009 is the next strongest side India ever beat, and this is the most surprising and interesting finding in this piece. This is the strongest side in Sri Lankan Test history, and had been unbeaten in seven series in the two years before this one. Five of Sri Lanka’s highest impact Test batsmen were in this team – Sangakkara, Jayawardene, Mathews, Dilshan and Samaraweera. Muralitharan, the highest impact bowler in Test history led with the ball, followed by Ajantha Mendis, the second-highest impact spinner in the world for two years during that period. Rangana Herath, who would go on to become a leading bowler in the world after Murali’s retirement, was getting into his groove. Despite a good start, there was absolutely no reason for this team to have gone down as tamely as it did after that (back-to-back innings defeats) – given that Sri Lankan conditions are not drastically different. In this light, one has to say that this was Man-of-the-Series Virender Sehwag’s finest hour. This was Sri Lanka’s first overseas tour after the infamous Lahore attack (even though a good 8 months later) so maybe that played a part.

Pakistan 1999 and England 2008, the first series drawn, the second won, were against very strong teams – it is tragic, nothing less, that these were two-Test affairs. Tendulkar, Kumble and Ramesh led the way in the former, Sehwag, Tendulkar and Yuvraj in the second.

Australia 2008 was one of their strongest teams that had won every series in its last three years – this beating literally stopped a juggernaut. MS Dhoni and Ishant Sharma led the way there for India.

Led one of the greatest Test sides in history, though a slightly weaker version came to India.

 

Australia 1998 was an interesting case. Mark Taylor’s team had won all nine of its previous series, and they would win two more Test series after this one too, which makes it one of the strongest Test sides in history. This is the only Test series Taylor as captain did not win (no draws), but it was also perhaps the weakest team he led (only relatively speaking), as it was without a rampaging Glenn McGrath and an injured Jason Gillespie, who was just getting into his groove.  But it did have Shane Warne, and the Waugh brothers, at their peak, and yet, they were soundly beaten in the first two Tests, before they got some honour back in the third (thanks to Michael Kasprowicz). But a team effort led by Tendulkar, Azharuddin, Kumble and Sidhu resulted in a memorable win for India.

It is interesting to see how low the two English sides of 1993 and 2016 are ranked in this – these were not such great triumphs for India after all, as is the common perception.

Captain of a surprisingly middling side in 2016, contrary to assumption.

INDIA AWAY
WINS AND DRAWS

Country-Year Scoreline Number of players Average Tests/player Team Impact
South Africa-2010 1-1 11 59 3.65
Australia-2003 1-1 13 43 3.23
Australia-1981 1-1 12 32 3.07
Sri Lanka-2010 1-1 15 39 2.92
England-2007 1-0 11 22 2.87
England-2002 1-1 17 32 2.83
England-1971 1-0 15 21 2.74
Pakistan-2004 2-1 16 24 2.73
West Indies-2006 1-0 14 35 2.56
Pakistan-1989 0-0 17 23 2.47
Sri Lanka-2015 2-1 14 27 2.46
Sri Lanka-1997 0-0 12 23 2.43
Pakistan-1984 0-0 13 26 2.39
Australia-1985 0-0 14 14 2.38
New Zealand- 1976 1-1 14 19 2.35
West Indies-1971 1-0 20 13 2.23
New Zealand- 1968 3-1 15 10 2.22
New Zealand- 2009 1-0 14 20 2.10
England-1986 2-0 19 22 2.05
Sri Lanka-1993 1-0 13 10 2.00
West Indies-2011 1-0 14 25 1.98
West Indies-2016 2-0 14 14 1.93
Zimbabwe-2001 1-1 12 23 1.81
Pakistan-1955 0-0 12 6 1.77
Bangladesh-2010 2-0 12 13 1.74
Bangladesh-2007 1-0 13 19 1.74
Zimbabwe-2005 2-0 12 13 1.43
Bangladesh-2004 2-0 14 13 1.43

Note:
Series’ marked in red indicate won series’.
‘Number of players’ shows the total number of players used by the opposition team in the series.
‘Average Tests/player’ indicates the experience level of the team. It is the cumulative number of Tests played by all the opposition players in the tour prior to the start of the series divided by ‘Number of players’.
‘Team Impact’ is a combination of the experience of the side based on their past performances before that series and the potential of the team based on their career impact .

It is notable that among the fifteen highest impact sides that India beat or drew against in a Test series, only three were in away conditions, and all were drawn series – the top three in the above table.

Led the highest impact Test side India did not lose to.

Drawing against South Africa in 2010/11 remains India’s greatest away performance till date. Besides being the most experienced and settled side India ever squared up against, this team had lost just one series (to Australia) in its last four years. Graeme Smith was the highest impact Test opener after Hobbs and Hutton, and Jacques Kallis amongst the greatest series-winners in Test history, while Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel were the highest impact bowlers in the world at the time. AB de Villiers and Hashim Amla had hit their stride, and it took something very special, from the Indian bowlers and VVS Laxman to first level the series, and then Gambhir, Tendulkar, Harbhajan and Sreesanth to keep the series scoreline level (though it was actually Kallis who did that the most), which also made India the number one Test team in the world for the first time. It is worth remembering that MS Dhoni was the Indian Test captain then.

Australia 2003/04, Steve Waugh’s swan song series – this is one of India’s most memorable series. Even though the hosts were without McGrath and Warne, which definitely weakened them, this was still a very formidable side, especially the batting. Rahul Dravid’s Adelaide performances (with Laxman in tow) provided the most memorable moments.

Australia 1981 had all-time greats Greg Chappell and Dennis Lillee, and also Allan Border. Despite the heroics of Sandeep Patil and GR Viswanath, Australia would have won that series easily, if not for the well-timed heroics of Kapil Dev with the ball on a treacherous batting pitch at Melbourne on the last day.

Sri Lanka 2010 was not as high impact as the 2009 side that should have won in India (because Muralitharan played only in the first Test in this series, which the hosts promptly won) and yet it took an all-time great performance eventually from VVS Laxman to take India through in the last Test, to draw the series.

Captained the best Test side India ever beat away from home.

 

England 2007 is the highest impact side India has beaten in Test history till date in away conditions. MS Dhoni saved India in the first Test with his bat and Zaheer Khan led the way with the ball for a memorable Indian win in the second, while a high scoring draw secured India its first series in England in 21 years. Given that the side had Strauss, Cook, Pietersen and Anderson, it is the biggest English triumph India has ever had till date.

The more memorable England 1971 triumph follows shortly, as do Pakistan 2004 and West Indies 2006 – all historic series wins for India – the first led by Wadekar and Sardesai with the bat and Chandrasekhar with the ball, and the last two by Rahul Dravid – in his absolute pomp as a batsman.

It is interesting to see how low West Indies 1971 and England 1986 are – both always included on a list of India’s greatest series triumphs. The former team had fading stars, including Sobers and Kanhai and a rising one – Clive Lloyd who didn’t do much, but more importantly a feeble bowling line-up. And the latter team, despite Gooch, Gower, Gatting and Lamb, had an equally ineffectual bowling attack.

Contrary to popular notion, led too weak a team in 1986.

In the end, three things stand out.

One, it is interesting how often VVS Laxman features in India’s most notable triumphs – his place in India’s cricket history is pre-eminent in a way that only this bird’s-eye-view can truly spot.

Two, similarly the presence of Harbhajan Singh – a name often taken after Kumble’s in Test history, and for the innumerable Romantics, usually after the three great spinners from the late-1960s and 1970s as well (Bedi-Chandrasekhar-Prasanna). But Harbhajan is the most significant bowler in India’s Test history if you look at strength of opposition based on impact.

India’s most underrated Test greats.

And three, despite India becoming the world’s number one Test team, except for the 2010/11 away series in South Africa, not a single one of its opposition teams later feature high up on this list. South Africa 2015 even misses being in the top ten on the home list. Australia 2017, that made many invoke the 2001 series, comes in fourteenth there. It could be argued that those numbers could change, as many of those players still have thriving ongoing careers. But given the sample sizes and the sweep of examples, these are fair assessments even now.

Perhaps, this is indeed numerical proof of the falling standards in Test cricket overall.

 

Jaideep Varma/Soham Sarkhel/Nikhil Narain
Illustrations: Vasim Maner

 

Their book “Numbers Do Lie” – 61 Hidden Cricket Stories, with Aakash Chopra, is available here.