We look at the various batting positions in Tests and examine which batsman had the highest impact in each position in history.

We took a minimum of 40 innings for batsmen between Nos. 1 to 7. And minimum 30 innings for batsmen between Nos. 8 to 11, as the sample sizes were less there, since batting positions are not sacrosanct in the lower-order (if someone does well, he is naturally promoted up the order).

Before we discuss the list, here is a list that reveals the average runs scored from each position and the corresponding Batting Impact from each position in 140 years of Test history.

Batting Position Position Average Position Impact
Openers 35.97 1.68
3 40.11 1.88
4 41.14 1.89
5 38.19 1.64
6 32.46 1.34
7 27.56 1.06
8 21.25 0.75
9 15.71 0.5
10 11.58 0.29
11 8.63 0.15

All Impact numbers on a scale of 0 to 5.

Here is a position-by-position revelation.

NOS. 1 and 2
Jack Hobbs
(Impact 2.88) and Bob Simpson (3.15)

Jack-Hobbs2

Hobbs averaged 56.37 from this position (58 Tests, 97 innings), and is no surprise, as his is usually the name that comes up as the best batsman in Test history after Bradman’s. He famously partnered with Herbert Sutcliffe, who despite being the only batsman with a Test average touching 60, does not have as high an impact as either of these two batsmen (as he scored a lower proportion of runs). Hobbs also had 2 series-defining performances (SDs) from this position – and is famously known even now as the greatest batsman on bad wickets; his relatively scant highest score of 211 provides that cue too.

England vs South Africa, Cape Town, 1910. The series had been lost 1-3. Playing for pride, England won the toss and batted first in conditions that seemed perfect for domination, as the double century opening stand with Wilfred Rhodes suggested. But wickets began to fall gradually, even though Jack Hobbs wouldn’t budge. He finally fell for 187 out of a team total of 327. England made just 90 runs more, but South Africa’s total of 103 all out in the first innings pretty much decided the match, despite their rearguard in the second innings that at least prevented an innings defeat.

Bob Simpson 3

Bob Simpson’s is the surprising name even though he did average 55.51 (38 Tests, 70 innings) as an opener. Again, his partnership with Bill Lawry top of the order is legendary. Simpson is special in Test history for the number of series-defining performances in his career (six SDs in all, the second-highest after Shane Warne among Australians), three of them from this position. Highest score 311.

Australia vs England, Adelaide, 1966. Fourth Test; Australia 0-1 behind, bowl England out for 241, thanks to Graham McKenzie’s inspired 6-48. Australia bat England out the match thanks to one man – Bob Simpson, 225 in 9 hours of batting, seventh out at 480. The rest is a formality; Australia win by an innings, and with the next Test drawn, the series ends at 1-1.

Next highest impact batsmen in this position: Len Hutton and Herbert Sutcliffe. So, three of the four highest impact batsmen from this position were Englishmen.

 

NO. 3
Don Bradman
(4.95)

Don Bradman - The king of them all.

This is straightforward. Bradman averaged a bordering-on-insane 103.63 from this position (40 Tests, 56 innings) with 4 of his 5 SDs coming from here. Highest score 334.

Australia vs England, Adelaide, 1937. Fourth Test; Australia 1-2 behind in the series, make a relatively modest 288, Bradman 26. England take the lead, however slight, with 330, with visions of finishing off the series, especially with Australia 21 for 1 in the second innings. For more than seven hours, Bradman bats, hitting just 14 boundaries in his 212, sixth out at 422, Australia all out eleven runs later. A fourth innings target of 392 is hard to fathom overcoming in that day and age and Australia draw level 2-2, going on to win with a dominating batting performance in the deciding Test (where Bradman would come in at 42 for 1 and shrug off 54 for 2, with 169.)

 Next highest impact batsmen in this position: Ken Barrington and Peter May. The English continue their dominance among top-order batsmen.

 

NO. 4

Greg Chappell (3.38)

Greg Chappell 21

The younger Chappell legend helped his team become the best Test team in the world between 1972 and 1976 (and an all-time great side) and continued his dominance thereafter too, averaging 59.12 (54 Tests, 86 innings) overall from this position. Highest score 247 not out. 4 SDs.

NOTE: Chappell’s two highest impact batting performances came at No. 3 against India (1981) and No. 5 against West Indies (1976) respectively.

Australia vs New Zealand, Christchurch, 1982. Australia 0-1 behind, as the final Test begins. Then, 57 for 2, when Greg Chappell walks out. Wickets fall in regular intervals but that of Chappell only four-and-a-half hours later after he has made 176 off 218 balls and taken the score to 340. Australia make just 13 runs more, and New Zealand collapse for 149 with the rest of the match a hard struggle for the Kiwis, as they eventually lose by 8 wickets.

Next highest impact batsmen in this position: Everton Weekes and Virat Kohli, the latter curiously the only Indian on this list. It just shows what a stunning run he is having after settling into his rightful spot.

 

NO. 5
AB de Villiers
(3.20)

Caricature- Vasim Maner

The most complete batsman of the twenty-first century averaged 61.42 from this position (54 Tests, 71 innings) with a highest score of 278 not out. He was a central figure, along with Dale Steyn, in South Africa’s becoming the number one Test nation. 3 SDs.

South Africa vs West Indies, Centurion, 2014. The opening Test of the series, and three wickets fall at the same score of 57 in a space of three overs. AB de Villiers walks out to join captain Hashim Amla, not knowing that they will be out in the middle for more than five hours, for another 84 overs, putting on 308 for the fourth wicket. De Villiers would get 152 of those, and West Indies would collapse for 201 and 131 later.

Next highest impact batsmen in this position: Inzamam-ul-Haq and Basil D’Olivera – two enormously valuable players whose contributions were hidden behind adequate conventional numbers.

NO.6
AB de Villiers
(2.69)

It is nothing less than sensational for de Villiers to feature twice on the main list, averaging 52.04 from this position (40 Tests, 50 innings) with 2 SDs. Highest score 217 not out.

South Africa vs New Zealand, Centurion, 2006. The opening Test, and curiously South Africa are on the backfoot, making 276 in the first innings (de Villiers 27) and conceding a lead of 51. In the second innings, South Africa are 73 for 4 when de Villiers walks in, an actual lead of just 22. First with Kallis, then with Boucher and Boje, it is de Villiers who keeps the innings together before he is eighth out at 270; his 97 more valuable than all the completed centuries he would score in his career, even more apparent when New Zealand collapse for 120.

Next highest impact batsmen in this position: Garry Sobers and Asad Shafiq. The first name every bit as expected as the second one is not. Shafiq’s contribution from this position (which also involved absorbing considerable pressure of falling wickets) played a big part in Pakistan becoming the number one Test side for a while.


NO. 7
Adam Gilchrist (1.98)

Adam Gilchrist

Nothing surprising about this at all; Gilchrist is, after all, the greatest wicketkeeper batsman the game has seen. He averaged 46.44 (82 Tests, 100 innings) here with a highest score of 204 not out. His 2 SDs from this position also give him this impact.

Australia vs India, Mumbai, 2001. In the opening match of inarguably the greatest Test series played in India, the home team’s 176 seemed respectable when Australia were 99 for 5 as the spinners seemed to have their tails up. No one could have imagined that this wicketkeeper playing his fifteenth Test would produce an all-time great innings (although he had produced something special against Pakistan just a while ago); from that position to score 122 off 112 balls with fifteen boundaries and four sixes was the realm of fiction. Australia won the match comfortably, but went on to lose the series famously 1-2. Most curiously, Gilchrist followed up this classic performance, which remained the highest impact batting performance of his career, with scores of 0,0,1 and 1.

Next highest impact batsmen in this position: Chris Cairns and Alan Knott.

 

NO. 8
Mark Boucher
(1.69)

The underrated Boucher averaged 36.5 from here (44 Tests, 47 innings) with a highest score of 122 not out. He registered one SD from this position (and one more from No. 7).

South Africa vs Pakistan, Durban, 1998. Set 255 to win in the fourth innings on the difficult Kingsmead track, it is a relatively hopeless 110 for 6 when Boucher walks out, with Mushtaq Ahmed on the rampage. Soon, it is 133 for 8 with ostensible formalities ensuing. And yet, Boucher and Fannie de Villiers keep the game alive for over 90 minutes – inching closer and closer to the target. Just 36 runs away, Boucher falls, for 52 – the highest score of the innings. Donald is dismissed six runs later, de Villiers unbeaten with 46, as South Africa fall a gut-wrenching 30 runs short. In the next Test, Boucher produces another 52 from 200 for 6 – the second-highest score in a match-winning South African first innings of 293, which also levels the series 1-1. 

Next highest impact batsmen in this position: Alan Knott and Daniel Vettori. Both batsmen feature twice on the supplementary list, emphasizing the importance of their batting skills for their respective teams.

 

NO. 9
Wasim Akram
(1.32)

While Akram’s failure rate of 71% from this position kept him from fulfilling his obvious potential as a batsman in Tests as his average of 21.9 (34 Tests, 31 innings) suggests. But his 2 SDs here (both in the 1980s) demonstrate what he was capable of doing with the bat, even from here. His highest score of 66 came in a game-changing moment in a low scoring match against the mighty West Indies in 1986.

Pakistan vs West Indies, Faisalabad, 1986. In the third innings of the opening Test, Pakistan are effectively just 135 ahead as Wasim Akram walks out at No. 9. He is twenty years old, playing his ninth Test and his previous highest score is 19. He smashes 66 off 82 balls, with four boundaries and two sixes, which changes the match, as Pakistan set West Indies a formidable 240 to win. It takes Imran Khan and Abdul Qadir 26 overs to knock over the most feared batting line-up in world cricket for 53.

Next highest impact batsmen in this position: Nicky Boje and Daniel Vettori.

 

NO. 10
Dennis Lillee
(0.37)

The highest impact fast bowler in Test history averaged 19.05 from this position (26 Tests, 30 innings) with a highest score of 73 not out. As if what he did with the ball was not enough in that all-time great side.

Australia Vs England, Lord’s, 1975. England 315. Australia 133 for 8, as Lillee comes out to bat. 73 off 103 balls, with eight boundaries and three sixes. Australia 268. Wicket gets easier; match drawn.

Next highest impact batsmen in this position: Wesley Hall and Craig McDermott.

 

NO. 11
Nathan Lyon
(0.20)

Given Lyon’s average of 16.88 from this position (44 Tests, 43 innings), and a highest score of 40 not out, it is surprising that he was not promoted up the order earlier (he did pretty well at No.10 eventually). His failure rate of 73% does not seem bad at all for this position.

NOTE: Lyon’s highest impact four batting contributions are not from the No. 11 position (but from No. 10). This is the most impact he had when he batted at No. 11 in both innings.

Australia Vs England, Edgbaston, 2015. Australia 136 all out in the first innings – Lyon 11 off 11 balls. England take a lead of 145. Australia 245 for 9 in the second innings, Starc batting on 50. And yet, Lyon scores 12 of the 20 runs more that Australia make before Starc is dismissed.

Next highest impact batsmen in this position: Allan Donald and Paul Adams. Interesting that all the batsmen here are from the modern age.

 

So, that’s 6 Australians, 2 South Africans (one of them twice) and an Englishman and a Pakistani on the main list.

And 6 Englishmen (one twice), 3 West Indians, 3 South Africans, 2 New Zealanders (one twice), 2 Pakistanis, 1 Australian and 1 Indian on the supplementary list.

The country most associated with batting is the most poorly represented – India. It is not a coincidence.

 

 

 

Jaideep Varma/ Nikhil Narain
Illustrations: Vasim Maner