The Magnificent Five

Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman, Sehwag, Ganguly – who contributed the most during India’s Golden run in Test cricket

It is now clear that the Golden era of Indian cricket is coming to an end. Or more likely, it ended in 2011 itself; it has just taken us this long to confirm it.

By all accounts, that period began during the early days of Ganguly’s captaincy and ended last year in South Africa – under Dhoni’s leadership, with India still the official No. 1 Test side. The World Cup victory that immediately followed was the last hurrah.

Besides bowlers like Kumble, Harbhajan and Zaheer Khan, batsmen like Gambhir and wicketkeeper/captain Dhoni, the five people most responsible for this were the members of the famed batting line-up – Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Virender Sehwag.

Impact Index does a Test cricket analysis here to determine who contributed the most, in which period, how they combined with each other and what it all really means at the end of it. We examine certain truisms, identify some myths and confirm some facts.

We divide the entire analysis into 5 phases –

1)      November 1989 to June 1996: when Tendulkar began and gradually became India’s most important batsman.
2)      June 1996 to November 2000: when Tendulkar, Ganguly and Dravid played alongside in the early days under Azharuddin’s and Tendulkar’s captaincy.
3)      November 2000 to September 2005: India under Ganguly’s leadership.
4)      September 2005 to October 2008: India under Dravid and Kumble.
5)      October 2008 to January 2012: India under Dhoni.

The Golden Age constitutes all of phases 3 and 4, and a good part of phase 5. But what came before it, and a little bit of what happened after, helps in understanding the contributions much better. Listing the 5 highest impact batting performances from each phase sharpens the picture even more.

PHASE 1 - November 1989 to June 1996

India P 38 W 11 L 8 D 19.

Notably beat England and New Zealand at home and Sri Lanka away. Lost away series in Australia, New Zealand, England and South Africa. Drew with West Indies at home and Pakistan away.

Tendulkar’s early days coincided with the Indian team becoming a lion at home and lamb abroad. In a few years, he became India’s most important batsman, along with Azharuddin. This is what he achieved (compared to what Azharuddin did in the same period), using both conventional figures and IMPACT numbers.

NOTE: All IMPACT numbers on a scale of 0 to 5.

Tendulkar Solo

M

Runs

Avg

100s

Batting IMPACT

SDs

Failure %

SR Tendulkar

38

2483

51

8

1.81

0

42

M Azharuddin

38

2408

47

8

1.69

1

55

Batting IMPACT – The average impact his batting had on matches he played in, on a scale of 0 to 5.
SDs – Series-defining performances. The most important legacy of a cricketer, or at least, what should be.
Failure% - The percentage in this period the player could not achieve an IMPACT of even 1 in the matches he played.

Tendulkar’s performance suggests the commencement of a significant career. An obdurate consistency was his hallmark – his failure rate significantly lower than the other Indian batting star of that era. However, contrary to popular assumption, he was not a world-beater yet – there were no series-defining performances yet. And none of his performances made it on a list of the 5 highest impact Indian batting performances of that period.

TOP 5 HIGHEST IMPACT BATTING PERFORMANCES OF THIS PERIOD

1. M Azharuddin – 182 v England, Calcutta 1993 – Batting IMPACT 5.33
(Series momentum-changing performance)
2. A Jadeja - 59 & 73 v New Zealand, Bangalore 1995 – Batting IMPACT 4.30
(Series defining performance)
3. RJ Shastri – 206 v Australia, Sydney 1992 – Batting IMPACT 8.38
4. V Kambli – 224 v England, Bombay 1993 – Batting IMPACT 6.92
5. SV Manjrekar – 51 & 66 v West Indies, Bombay 1994 – Batting IMPACT 6.55

Only two series-defining performances, and one of them against a relatively weaker side in home conditions. Tendulkar narrowly misses the list – his 1990 effort in England of 68 and 119 not out which saved a Test (his ninth) comes in at no. 6 here with an IMPACT of 6.15.

PHASE 2 - June 1996 to November 2000

India P 38 W 7 L 15 D 16.

Notably beat Australia, South Africa and New Zealand at home. Lost away series in England, South Africa, West Indies, Zimbabwe, New Zealand and Australia. Lost home series to South Africa. Drew with Sri Lanka both home and away and Pakistan at home.

Ganguly and Dravid made their debuts in the same Test match in England in June 1996. It also coincided with Tendulkar rising to his peak – he gave the highest impact performance of his career then. After their sparkling debuts, both Ganguly and Dravid quickly found their feet in international cricket, while maintaining a promising consistency. Laxman joined them later in 1996 and did not make a mark particularly (had a high failure rate) except for a scintillating 167 in Sydney in 1999-2000 in a match India lost by an innings and a series India was hammered in (but it kept Laxman in the mix, which would change the history of Indian cricket a bit later). Tendulkar achieved one series momentum-changing performance against Australia in 1998 (the year he is widely regarded to have been at his peak) but on a collective level, the Indian team was not a force to reckon with in Test cricket, especially away.

Under
Azharuddin and Tendulkar

M

Runs

Avg

100s

Batting IMPACT

SDs

Failure %

SR Tendulkar

38

3553

58

14

2.38

1

38

R Dravid

37

2821

47

6

1.78

0

39

SC Ganguly

35

2505

46

7

1.61

0

41

VVS Laxman

18

816

27

1

1.24

0

53

Batting IMPACT – The average impact his batting had on matches he played in, on a scale of 0 to 5.
SDs – Series-defining performances. The most important legacy of a cricketer, or at least, what should be.
Failure% - The percentage in this period the player could not achieve an IMPACT of even 1 in the matches he played.

Tendulkar was quite simply at the height of his powers. Despite his team having mixed success, Tendulkar set about achieving excellence in his craft with a single-minded focus that was palpable.
Despite a marginally higher batting average (and having scored one less century), Dravid had a considerably higher impact as batsman than Ganguly, because of greater consistency and a lower failure rate.

TOP 5 HIGHEST IMPACT BATTING PERFORMANCES OF THIS PERIOD

1. M Azharuddin – 5 & 163 not out v South Africa, Kanpur 1996 – Batting IMPACT 7.23
(Series defining performance)
2. S Ramesh – 60 & 96 v Pakistan, Delhi 1999 – Batting IMPACT 6.51
(Series defining performance)
3. SR Tendulkar – 4 & 155 not out v Australia, Chennai 1998 – Batting IMPACT 5.12
(Series momentum-changing  performance)
4. SR Tendulkar – 0 & 136 v Pakistan, Chennai 1999 – Batting IMPACT 8.04
5. M Azharuddin – 103 & 48 v New Zealand, Wellington 1998 – Batting IMPACT 5.17

Tendulkar comes in twice here (at nos. 3 and 4) with two of his most memorable innings – a third innings bludgeon (which shared impact with Sidhu, Dravid and Azharuddin) that took the wind out of the Australians in a high-profile series and a fourth innings classic against a strong Pakistan – which would have had even greater impact if India had won. Ironically, the performance ahead of these, at no. 2 is by Ramesh in the same series – his stellar performance all but forgotten in the very next low-scoring match at Delhi where Kumble took 10-74 (while Pakistan chased an impossible 420) and India drew the series 1-1.

PHASE 3 - November 2000 to September 2005

India P 54 W 23 L 15 D 16.
Notably beat Australia, West Indies, England and South Africa at home and Pakistan away. Drew with England and Australia away, Pakistan and New Zealand at home. Lost away series in Sri Lanka, West Indies, South Africa and New Zealand. Lost to Australia at home.

In the wake of the match-fixing scandal that threatened to destroy Indian cricket, Ganguly was made Indian captain. As it turned out, those murky days constituted the darkest hour before dawn. The first signs of a fresh, aggressive approach came immediately, during the ICC Champions Trophy in October 2000 (where India was a finalist). However, as a Test captain, it was only during the landmark India-Australia series of 2001 that this new Indian team established its credentials, after which there was no looking back. Ganguly brought out the best in his team – Dravid and Sehwag had the highest impact phase of their careers ever in this period. Tendulkar played an outstanding support role and Laxman produced some great performances. Sadly, it was Ganguly himself, whose batting fell away considerably. But his contribution as an aggressive, innovative captain made up for that to a great extent.

Under Ganguly’s captaincy

M

Runs

Avg

100s

Batting IMPACT

SDs

Failure %

R Dravid

54

5050

67

14

2.55

5

35

SR Tendulkar

47

4098

60

12

2.07

1

33

V Sehwag

36

3181

56

10

1.73

1

33

VVS Laxman

48

3293

51

7

1.65

2

48

SC Ganguly

49

2561

38

5

1.09

0

64

Batting IMPACT – The average impact his batting had on matches he played in, on a scale of 0 to 5.
SDs – Series-defining performances. The most important legacy of a cricketer, or at least, what should be.
Failure% - The percentage in this period the player could not achieve an IMPACT of even 1 in the matches he played.

Dravid’s 5 Series-defining performances in a period of 5 years are the most any batsman has achieved in the history of Test cricket (not just Indian cricket). This is what made him an all-time great player in a very short time. All these performances re-wrote cricket history and took Indian cricket several steps forward.

Sehwag, a middle-order batsman in domestic cricket, established himself in this period as an opening batsman in spectacular fashion. The most interesting number in his columns is the last one – despite the popular assumption that he was (is) a flash player, his failure rate is the lowest along with Tendulkar’s – astonishing for an opening batsman in Tests (who usually have higher rates of failure for obvious reasons).

TOP 5 HIGHEST IMPACT BATTING PERFORMANCES OF THIS PERIOD

1. VVS Laxman – 59 & 281 v Australia, Kolkata 2001 - Batting IMPACT 12.2
(Series defining performance)
2. R Dravid – 270 v Pakistan, Rawalpindi 2004 Batting IMPACT 10.24
(Series defining performance)
3. R Dravid – 25 & 180 v Australia, Kolkata 2001 - Batting IMPACT 7.84
(Series defining performance)
4. R Dravid – 233 & 72 not out v Australia, Adelaide 2003 - Batting IMPACT 7.81
(Series momentum-changing performance)
5. V Sehwag – 309 v Pakistan, Multan 2004 – Batting IMPACT 7.14
(Series momentum-changing performance)
(NOTE: Dravid captained this match as a stand-in for an injured Ganguly)

The commencement of the Golden Age – this is the phase where every performance on this list is a series-defining one – for the first time in Indian cricket history. Not surprisingly, Dravid features in most of them, either as the lead or the main support act. Laxman is on top with the greatest performance ever by an Indian batsman and Tendulkar is narrowly missing, as his 193 at Leeds in 2002 is at no. 6.
Notable omission: Dravid’s 148, Leeds 2002. It was he who laid the foundation for India in tough conditions after Sehwag got out early – with a 170-run partnership with Bangar (who made 68) and made things easier for the batsmen to follow –and for the only time, Dravid, Ganguly and Tendulkar all got centuries together. Despite the IMPACT points Dravid got for absorbing pressure and stabilising the early innings, the weight of Tendulkar’s extra runs edges him out very marginally (even though Dravid, perhaps rightly, got the Man-of-the-Match). Dravid’s impact in that match also reduced slightly because Bangar shared some of the impact with him.

PHASE 4 - September 2005 to October 2008

India P 35 W 11 L 9 D 15.
Notably beat West Indies and England away and Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Australia at home. Lost to Australia, Sri Lanka, South Africa and Pakistan away. Drew with England and South Africa at home.

Ganguly’s angst-ridden exit as captain and the strange period of cloak-and-dagger politics that followed (with Greg Chappell as coach) saw India dip somewhat from their previous highs. Despite overseas series victories under Dravid in England and West Indies, this side did not have the all-conquering air the previous phase had seen. Dravid’s decline as a player began in 2007, and he gave up the captaincy later that year. Under Kumble (who perhaps got the captaincy too late), the team was effective but not a world-beater.

All IMPACT numbers on a scale of 0 to 5.

Dravid and Kumble as captain

M

Runs

Avg

100s

Batting IMPACT

SDs

Failure %

R Dravid

34

2408

44

5

1.79

1

34

SC Ganguly

26

1895

44

3

1.59

1

29

SR Tendulkar

28

1405

41

5

1.50

0

38

VVS Laxman

31

1933

44

4

1.48

0

34

V Sehwag

25

2027

47

5

1.33

0

64

Batting IMPACT – The average impact his batting had on matches he played in, on a scale of 0 to 5.
SDs – Series-defining performances. The most important legacy of a cricketer, or at least, what should be.
Failure% - The percentage in this period the player could not achieve an IMPACT of even 1 in the matches he played.

Tendulkar, Laxman and Sehwag were nowhere near their best – which played a significant part in what appeared to be the beginning of a decline. Conversely, Ganguly clawed his way back into the team and performed at his peak – he even produced the sole series-defining performance of his career during this phase (against a rampant South Africa) – perhaps an indication of the player India may have missed due to the rigours of captaincy.

TOP 5 HIGHEST IMPACT BATTING PERFORMANCES OF THIS PERIOD

1. R Dravid – 81 & 68 v West Indies, Jamaica 2006 - Batting IMPACT 6.47
(Series defining performance)
2. SC Ganguly – 87 & 13 not out v South Africa, Kanpur 2008 – Batting IMPACT 5.16
(Series defining performance)
3. SC Ganguly – 239 & 91 v Pakistan, Bangalore 2007 - Batting IMPACT 5.98
4. MS Dhoni – 0 & 76 not out v England, Lord’s 2007 – Batting IMPACT 5.75
5. V Sehwag – 201 & 50 v Sri Lanka, Galle 2008 – Batting IMPACT 5.57

Dravid’s last truly memorable match performance brought his team the first Indian Test series win in West Indies in 3 decades. Ganguly makes it on this list for the first time in his career, and that too twice. Dhoni’s finest Test innings also makes it here – it saved the first Test and eventually played a big part in India winning its first series in England after 21 years. Sehwag’s awe-inspiring innings a few months after his comeback sadly had no impact on the series result eventually. So, just 2 series-defining performances in this phase after all 5 in the previous one – quite a drop, not an encouraging sign.

PHASE 5 - October 2008 to January 2012

India P 40 W 17 L 10 D 12.
Notably drew with South Africa both home and away and Sri Lanka away. Beat New Zealand and West Indies away. Beat Australia, Sri Lanka, West Indies, England and New Zealand at home. Lost to England and Australia away.

As Ganguly retired as player, India got back its mojo under Dhoni and produced some of its best cricket in a while, reminiscent of Ganguly’s captaincy period (though never quite as aggressive). India went to number 1 in the ICC Test rankings and at the beginning of 2011, after a drawn series in South Africa, perhaps saw visions of three of its four stalwarts leaving the game at their own, and their team’s, peak. Unfortunately, it was not to be, as disastrous showings in England and Australia torpedoed India’s position very rapidly.

Dhoni as captain

(absent in one series)

M

Runs

Avg

100s

Batting IMPACT

SDs

Failure %

SR Tendulkar

36

3493

61

12

2.07

4

33

VVS Laxman

36

2686

53

5

1.89

2

50

R Dravid

37

2960

48

11

1.81

2

41

V Sehwag

34

2890

49

7

1.71

2

41

SC Ganguly

3

251

50

1

1.31

0

33

Batting IMPACT – The average impact his batting had on matches he played in, on a scale of 0 to 5.
SDs – Series-defining performances. The most important legacy of a cricketer, or at least, what should be.
Failure% - The percentage in this period the player could not achieve an IMPACT of even 1 in the matches he played.

Dravid’s decline as a player seemed to dramatically cease in mid-2011, first in West Indies and then spectacularly in England. These performances camouflage the otherwise mediocre results that Dravid produced – his failure rate crossing 40 for the first time in his career. Sehwag was much the same, especially away. Laxman’s case was interesting; despite a high failure rate (his highest since 2001), he also produced several big match performances under pressure. 
It was Tendulkar’s remarkable second wind that led India in this period. He put 4 series-defining performances together – that’s 70% of his series defining performances in a little more than 3 years of his 22-year-old career. Interestingly, despite this, his Batting IMPACT was not stratospheric as Dravid’s had been under Ganguly’s captaincy – partly because some of these series-defining performances came as a support act and partly not as many as Dravid’s in that period were tough runs.

TOP 5 HIGHEST IMPACT BATTING PERFORMANCES OF THIS PERIOD

1. VVS Laxman – 38 & 96 v South Africa, Durban 2010 – Batting IMPACT – 7.03
(Series defining performance)
2. VVS Laxman – 56 & 103 not out v Sri Lanka, Colombo 2010 - Batting IMPACT 6.37
(Series defining performance)
3. SR Tendulkar – 160 v New Zealand, Hamilton 2009 - Batting IMPACT 5.44
(Series defining performance)
4. V Sehwag – 165 v South Africa, Kolkata 2010 - Batting IMPACT 5.20
(Series defining performance)
5. SR Tendulkar – 41 & 54 v Sri Lanka, Colombo 2010 – Batting IMPACT 4.06
(Series defining performance)

Every performance here a series-defining one, once again invoking the Ganguly era. Laxman and Tendulkar emphatically led the way with 2 such performances each. Interesting, that nos. 2 and 5 are from the same match, when India beat Sri Lanka in the 3rd Test to draw their first Test series there in 13 years. Sehwag, who had a very good phase, comes in too. Significantly, there is no Dravid for the first time since 2001.

NOTABLE OMISSIONS: Sehwag’s rapid-fire 83 and Tendulkar’s unbeaten 103 v England, Chennai 2008. Their Batting IMPACT numbers in that match were 2.77 and 3.77 respectively – considerably romanticised for the 387-run fourth innings chase, without taking into account the runs in the pitch (Yuvraj and Gambhir shared their impact in that innings itself) and the highest impact player of that match actually was Andrew Strauss, who got a century in both innings (and should have been Man-of-the-Match instead of Sehwag). A good example of how romanticism (of the seemingly formidable fourth-innings-chase) dominates hard facts – the events of the first four days completely overlooked.

SUMMING UP

This is the overview of these five contemporary batting giants along with IMPACT and conventional numbers of the two other Indian Test batting giants. Placing Gavaskar and Azharuddin amidst them makes the picture even clearer.

Career

M

Runs

Avg

100s

Match Batting IMPACT

Career Batting IMPACT

SDs

Failure %

SD Conversion %

R Dravid

162

13239

53

36

1.80

2.49

8

37

35

SR Tendulkar

187

15432

56

51

1.89

2.36

6

37

25

SM Gavaskar

125

10122

51

34

1.97

2.16

1

36

14

V Sehwag

95

8098

51

22

1.55

1.91

3

43

17

VVS Laxman

133

8728

46

17

1.47

1.88

4

46

20

M Azharuddin

99

6215

45

22

1.43

1.86

3

45

33

SC Ganguly

106

7212

42

16

1.34

1.41

1

48

6

Match Batting IMPACT – Batting IMPACT in match context, without considering series context.
Career Batting IMPACT – Batting IMPACT over a career, taking series context into account for each performance.
SDs – Series-defining performances. The most important legacy of a cricketer, or at least, what should be.
Failure% - The percentage in this period the player could not achieve an IMPACT of even 1 in the matches he played.
SD Conversion – The success percentage of achieving series-defining performances whenever opportunity came knocking.

Rahul Dravid’s career tally of 8 series-defining performances is amongst the highest in Test history for all countries, and makes him a veritable all-time great far beyond what even his redoubtable conventional numbers suggest. Not surprisingly, here he also has the highest rate of converting series-defining opportunities (35%, which is remarkable; the average rate in Test cricket history is 12%). His Match Batting IMPACT interestingly is behind both Gavaskar and Tendulkar and his failure rate very similar to theirs (average failure rate of no. 3 batsmen in Test history – 49%). It is his remarkable ability to affect series score-lines that makes him the highest impact Indian batsman of all time.

Sachin Tendulkar’s awe-inspiring conventional figures are somewhat tempered by his IMPACT numbers. Despite having recently completed three of the most brilliant years of his career, he still comes behind Dravid here (who had three of his worst in the same period). Despite having a tally of 6 series-defining performances, they hide the significant detail that half of those came in support performances. His low failure rate and prodigious consistency for such a long period, however, marks him out as one of India’s major reasons of success in the 2000s (average failure rate of no. 4 batsmen in Test history – 46%). Interestingly, the notion that he was India’s be-all-end-all in the 1990s too does not get borne out, as a high impact player. Only 2 of his match batting performances feature in the 10 highest-impact performances of the 1990s; Azharuddin features thrice and he was, despite his inconsistency, a bigger match/series player than Tendulkar. (It is notable that since 2000, only once does one of these five players not feature in the 15 highest impact innings of the last 3 phases – Dhoni’s fourth innings knock in 2007 to save a Test in England the sole party-pooper).

Sunil Gavaskar has the highest Match IMPACT number amongst all these players, suggesting he was easily the most consistent, a fact borne out also by his (lowest) failure rate – even more remarkable for an opening batsman (36% while the average for openers in Test cricket is 51%). While it is true that being a part of a side and a generation that focussed more on drawing more than winning, it is also revealed here that his success rate when the series was at stake was not very high (14%, very close to the Test history average of 12). Others, like Kapil Dev and Viswanath, delivered more often on that count. Still, his singular series defining performance (in his debut series in 1971) is not truly representative of his enormous ability and the impact he could have had if he had been a part of stronger Indian teams. Along with Brian Lara, he has been perhaps the most disadvantaged batsman in Test history for being a part of mediocre Test teams for most of his career (despite some undeniable highs).

Virender Sehwag’s biggest achievement was to make such a great fist of his role as an opening batsman despite being a middle-order batsman in domestic cricket. His failure rate of 43 (highly respectable for an opener) is actually lower than that of Laxman, Ganguly and Azharuddin – making a mockery of those who have pronounced him as unreliable right through his career. (Average failure rate of opening batsmen in Test history – 51%).

VVS Laxman has produced some of the highest impact innings cricket followers have ever seen, many under immense pressure (including the highest impact innings ever in Indian Test history). He has had the highest impact in a single series in Indian cricket history – perhaps the most important Test series in India’s history too (Australia in India 2001). And yet, it is not unreasonable to say that he has under-achieved – primarily because of his inconsistency (a terribly high failure rate though the average failure rate for no 6 batsmen is 59%) – amongst the worst among players of this stature anywhere in the world. His series-defining conversion has also been ordinary for a player of his proven ability in a team of this standard.

M Azharuddin’s relatively high rate of failure (denoting a notorious inconsistency, though the average failure rate for no 5 batsmen is 51%) is considerably offset by his comparatively high conversion of series-defining opportunities (33%) – the second-highest after Dravid. His 3 series-defining performances in an era where India did not win much (especially abroad, and especially with the bat) mark out his significance.

Sourav Ganguly, at first glance, does not appear to be in the same league as these batsmen (in fact, there would be other batsmen coming in before him, like Viswanath and Vengsarkar). Going by his performances after he came back to the team as just a player, it can be safely said that Test captaincy took a lot out of him as a player. His greatest contribution might just be the manner in which he took out the best from those other four great batsmen in his side (which changed everything for Indian cricket), even if at his own cost. He was a far greater ODI batsman though but that’s another story, for another time.

When all is said and done (and that day is very close now), with all due respect to the great bowlers of their time (Kumble, Harbhajan, Srinath, Zaheer Khan) the contribution of these 5 batsmen (especially as a unit) will assume solus role whenever the period 2001-2011 is remembered in Indian cricket – the brightest, most glorious chapter in its history. The young grew up knowing just them as the sole keepers of their faith. For the middle-aged, they stood for a fruition that had taken forever to happen. To the old, they were doorkeepers to a promised land they had never expected to catch a glimpse of in their lifetime. They have left a legacy that will provide inspiration for even greater deeds perhaps in the future. It’s still some distance away though – talent like this comes together maybe just once in a couple of generations, if that.

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