From June 1932 till September 2016, India have played 499 Tests. They’ve won 129 Tests, lost 157, drawn 212 and tied 1.
From a series perspective (where the real picture emerges), not considering one-off Tests, India have played 139 Test series, winning 52, losing 59 and drawing 28.
It is not a great record.
Still, India was the only side in the world to not lose a single home Test series in the 1990s (an often underestimated accomplishment). And since 2001, India had many notable triumphs, which ultimately culminated in the number 1 Test ranking on ICC’s scale, an honour they held for about 20 months.
So, in this instalment, we look at India’s ten highest impact batsmen in 84 years of Indian Test cricket. In the next, we’ll look at bowlers, then players.
It is very important to understand that this is not about rankings and who is a better player. When Gavaskar made 221 at the Oval (September 1979) in a fourth innings chase of 438, if Kapil Dev had made 9 runs instead of 0, India would have won the match, the series would be 1-1 and Gavaskar’s
This list is strictly speaking about the impact of each batsman within the context of every match played, and every series that match was a part of. We are just auditing cricket history as it unfolded here, that’s all, not making judgement calls as to who was better.
NOTE: We have taken 50 Tests as the minimum – a number roughly based on the correlation between
HIGHEST IMPACT BATSMEN
|Number||Name||Matches||SDs||Failure Rate (in %)|
Minimum Test matches: 50
All Impact numbers between 0 and 5
Impact numbers of only Tests with 2 completed innings included.
ICC World XI match not included.
1) Rahul Dravid (Batting average 52.31)
He is right on top for one very simple reason – no Indian batsman has produced more high impact performances in critical circumstances (in a series context) than Dravid. In fact, in all Test cricket, only Inzamam-ul-Haq has as many
2) Sachin Tendulkar (Batting average 53.78)
The name many expect at the top here is third in
3) Sunil Gavaskar (Batting average 51.12)
The most consistent Indian batsman ever also predictably has the highest
4) Gundappa Viswanath (Batting average 41.93)
It would surprise a lot of people to see him at this position, given how much lower his average is than many others below him on this list. In fact, his impact is in the same league as Gavaskar’s – who averages almost 10 runs per innings more than him. The reason for this is the one extra
5) Navjot Singh Sidhu (Batting average 42.13)
The most surprising name on this list; an eccentric presence, given the company. Despite his high failure rate, his high
6) Mohammad Azharuddin (Batting average 45.03)
It is odd that a batsman who began his career with three centuries in his first three Tests would end up with the worst
7) Virender Sehwag (Batting average 49.34)
The middle-order bat who made a great fist of being a Test opener with a declared objective of “making the ball old as soon as I can” also had a surprisingly low failure rate for a batsman who played the brand of swashbuckling cricket he did. Arguably the most exciting batsman on this list, for all the unexpected things he did, seemed to have one weakness – not being at his best when there was expectation. That explains why his Test record is better than his limited overs records, why his first innings performances are far superior to his second innings performances, why his
8) VVS Laxman (Batting average 45.97)
He will always be associated with valiant fightbacks – he did it so many times. India’s highest impact two Test innings are by him, both against the best team in the world – Australia (the 281 is a classic, the 69 almost forgotten) and both in very difficult circumstances. He absorbed the third-most pressure (of falling wickets) in Indian cricket history (min. 50 Tests) – which completely fits. That he was part of a largely winning side with a legendary middle-order line-up, further underlines his impact. In overseas conditions, his role at number five or six was critical, given how often the top-order collapsed. He was that rare Indian batsman who had a better
9) Dilip Vengsarkar (Batting Average 42.13)
An elegant, upright batsman, he had a higher impact overseas rather than at home, much like Laxman. He was the only Indian batsman to register SDs in Australia and England, till Dravid did so in 2002/3. In the period between 1978 and 1982, Vengsarkar was the highest impact Indian batsman and the fourth-highest impact batsman in the world after Geoffrey Boycott, Greg Chappell and Desmond Haynes. But his career actually peaked from the England tour in 1986 – he was the second-highest impact batsman in the world (after Javed Miandad) for the next two and a half years and not only the highest impact Indian batsman but also the most consistent one till he retired. Overall though, his relatively high failure rate, like Laxman’s, brought his impact down but his big performances mark him out as an Indian great.
10) Sourav Ganguly (Batting Average 42.17)
The only left-hander on this list, he began with Test scores of 131, 136, 48, 66 and till November 2000, when he became Indian captain, Ganguly was shaping up to be one of India’s greatest batsman. Till then, he had the fourth-lowest failure in Indian Test history (39%), after Gavaskar, Dravid and Farokh Engineer. Ganguly excelled as a leader and galvanized the Indian team but his batting took a hit in the process. For the remainder of his career, his failure rate increased considerably (53%) – the only more inconsistent specialist Indian batsman was Yuvraj Singh; that’s how high the standards were in that Indian Test team. However, he still produced some great performances post that, including an unbeaten 98 in a successful fourth innings chase in Sri Lanka (2001), a sparkling 144 (2003) in an opening Test in Australia besides his two SDs – in England (2002) and against South Africa (2008) during his famous comeback trail, when he played under MS Dhoni. Any evaluation of him as a batsman should be tempered by the memory of him being the most significant captain on this list.
Polly Umrigar, Gautam Gambhir, MS Dhoni, Mohinder Amarnath and Chandu Borde are the next highest impact batsmen.
HIGH IMPACT BATSMEN WHO PLAYED LESS THAN 50 TESTS
These are the highest impact Indian batsmen who don’t make the all-time list as they don’t fulfil the criteria of 50 Tests. Those with SDs in fewer Tests do have their numbers skewed but the critical point to remember is that an
Cheteshwar Pujara is a current player but his impact is already huge – he has 2 SDs (against Australia at home and Sri Lanka away) and a propensity to score a high proportion of runs (sixth-best in history after Don Bradman, Jack Hobbs, Neil Harvey, Joe Root and Matthew Hayden) as well as “tough runs”. In terms of impact, he is earmarked to be a legend more than even Tendulkar and Dravid were at this stage of their careers. For a minimum of 30 Tests (Pujara has played 35), Pujara emerges as the highest impact Indian Test batsman of all-time ahead of Rahul Dravid. Just to clear the air, this in no way means that Pujara is a better batsman than Dravid, Tendulkar, Gavaskar, Sehwag or Laxman. What it means is that for a minimum of 30 Tests, if we combine all his performances (there is no problem of skewing as all performances are restricted between 0 to 5 on an Impact scale for career), Pujara emerges as a higher impact Test batsman than all Indians.
Sadagoppan Ramesh played just 19 Tests, in which he had 2 SDs, including one against Pakistan (60 and 96 in a series-levelling game remembered solely now for Anil Kumble’s 10 wickets in an innings). Nothing, including his low failure rate of 37%, justified his being discarded so early in his career.
Ajit Wadekar, with his batting average of 31 in 37 Tests, is remembered entirely for being the Indian captain during India’s landmark maiden Test series wins in West Indies and England in 1971. No one bothers to note today that he was India’s highest impact batsman in the very matches that won India their maiden series in New Zealand and England – a huge moment in history (India has won just 1 Test series in New Zealand in the 47 years that have passed since then, and just 2 series in England since 1971).
Vijay Hazare absorbed enormous pressure for India, had excellent
Vinod Kambli’s batting average of 54.20 does somewhat, but more than his twin double centuries, he deserves to be remembered for his 125 (along with Sidhu) against Sri Lanka which helped India win their only away Test, and series, in the 1990s.
Murali Vijay has been spectacularly successful in varied away conditions for India and remains one of the current team’s rocks. He has been the most consistent batsman in the world (with a failure rate of 20%) in the last couple of years. If he maintains his current standards, Indian cricket has a lot to look forward to. His ability to build partnerships also deserves a special mention (high Partnership Building impact).
MAK Pataudi absorbed the most pressure (of falling wickets) than any batsman in the history of Test cricket, not merely for India. For that reason too, between 1964 and 1968, he was the third-highest impact batsman in the world (min. 20 Tests) after Garry Sobers and Bob Simpson. In fact, thanks to his ability to absorb pressure, if we keep 40 Tests as the minimum, he comes up as the seventh-highest impact Indian Test batsman ever. Interestingly, his high failure rate of 50% is not compatible with this stellar quality he had, and was the world’s best at.
Virat Kohli is a much higher impact batsman in ODIs than in Tests, but his run-scoring propensity is the second-best (after Pujara; for a minimum of 30 Tests) in India’s Test history. His ability to absorb pressure is at par with Laxman. That he has yet to register a single
Dilip Sardesai absorbed Laxmanesque pressure in his 30-Test career and had an
Farokh Engineer is, by a distance, India’s highest impact wicketkeeper-batsman if we go below the 50 Test stipulation (he played 46). He was remarkable on two counts – one, he opened the batting for more than half his career despite keeping, no mean feat. And two, and most impressively, despite that, he had outstanding batting
Sandeep Patil remains one of the great underachievers and also underrated batsmen in Indian Test history. His performances in the 1981 Australian Tour (one of only two times when India did not lose a Test series there) remains the stuff of legend; it culminated with a 23 and 36 in the low scoring final Test, registering an
HIGHEST IMPACT BATSMEN ON INDIVIDUAL BATTING PARAMETERS (MIN. 50 TESTS)
If we go below 50 Tests, MAK Pataudi comes up overwhelmingly on top, in all of Test history, not just for India.
If we go below 50 Tests, with just 39% failure rate, Farokh Engineer comes between Dravid and Tendulkar (because Dravid maintained that same failure rate over more Tests).
SDs – Dravid, Tendulkar.
HIGHEST IMPACT BATTING PERFORMANCES
(IN A MATCH CONTEXT)
These are the highest impact batting performances in a match context, not innings, not series.
1) VVS Laxman– 281 v Australia, Kolkata, 2001.
2) VVS Laxman – 1 & 69 v Australia, Mumbai, 2004.
3) Mohammad Azharuddin – 182 v England, Kolkata, 1993.
4) Rahul Dravid – 270 v Pakistan, Rawalpindi, 2004.
5) Rohit Sharma – 177 v West Indies, Kolkata, 2013.
6) Ajinkya Rahane – 127 and 100 not out v South Africa, Delhi, 2015.
7) Gundappa Viswanath – 52 & 139 v West Indies, Kolkata, 1974/75.
8) Cheteshwar Pujara – 204 v Australia, Hyderabad, 2013.
9) Rahul Dravid – 25 & 180 v Australia, Kolkata, 2001.
10) Rahul Dravid – 81 & 68 v West Indies, Jamaica, 2006.
It is not surprising to see VVS Laxman top the list comprehensively. Everyone remembers the 281 but not that 69 perhaps. From a 99-run deficit in a very low scoring match, India were 14 for 2 when Laxman and Tendulkar came together. Laxman made 69, Tendulkar 55, India set a target of 107 and then Australia were all out for 93. Tendulkar’s 55, interestingly, is his highest impact Test innings (at number 12, just misses the cut here). This would annoy a lot of fans – but in a match context, where we examine every performance relative to the other performances in the same match, and value it as per context, this simply comes up higher. Remember, this is in a match context, not innings. Tendulkar played many high impact single Test innings, but he never played an innings where he helped India come back from behind to such an extent. That was Laxman’s domain.
Interesting that Dravid is on this list thrice, given that he was more emphatically a big match player and a series-winner. Curiously, his are the only two away performances on this list.
GR Viswanath’s unbeaten 97 and 46 against the West Indies in Chennai in 1975 narrowly misses the top 10 list (it is slated at number 11). His two classic innings (Kolkata and Chennai) helped India compete in a home series (which India lost 2-3) against a team about to become an all-time great side.
Three contemporary batsmen are in there too – Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara. It tells you this current Indian side is no bunny.
HIGHEST IMPACT BATTING PERFORMANCES
(IN A SERIES CONTEXT)
These are the highest impact batting performances in a series context. That is, the performance came when the player’s team was either level or behind in the series, and final series scoreline was decided by that match – where this high impact performance came.
1) VVS Laxman – 281 v Australia, Kolkata, 2001.
2) Mohammad Azharuddin – 182 v England, Kolkata, 1993.
3) Rahul Dravid – 270 v Pakistan, Rawalpindi, 2004.
4) Rahul Dravid – 25 & 180 v Australia, Kolkata, 2001.
5) Rahul Dravid – 81 & 68 v West Indies, Kingston, 2006.
6) Rahul Dravid – 233 & 72 not out v Australia, Adelaide, 2003.
7) Gundappa Viswanath – 124 & 31 v West Indies, Chennai, 1979.
8) Mohammad Azharuddin – 5 & 163 not out v South Africa, Kanpur, 1996.
9) Kapil Dev – 38 & 46 v England, Mumbai, 1981.
10) Chetan Chauhan – 0 & 85 v Australia, Melbourne, 1981.
All three supreme stylists are there – Laxman and Viswanath once each, Azharuddin twice. They were serious big match players as well at their best.
Dravid is there a whopping four times – three of which are overseas performances. Enough has been said about him.
Kapil Dev’s batting performances in both innings of a very low scoring Test are the stuff of legend. He scored the most runs in this Test, at the highest strike rate of the match by a distance. (It’s not relevant here – but he also took 6 wickets). This was the sole result Test in a 6-match series.
Chetan Chauhan’s top-scoring, second innings 85 came after India batted 182 runs in arrears in the first innings. He and Gavaskar had a 165 run partnership, till Gavaskar was wrongly given out to Lillee – which resulted in a famous brain freeze by the great opener. He almost dragged Chauhan back into the pavilion, but cooler heads prevailed. An inspired Indian team batted well thereafter to set Australia 143 to win. But on a wearing pitch, Australia collapsed for 83 and India levelled the series 1-1. The first time India levelled a series in Australia, and since then, 34 years on, India has only managed that once more.
Tendulkar does not feature on the series list either. It says a lot.
Impact Index team
Illustrations: Vasim Maner
Note: This piece was updated in September 2016 prior to the start of the India-New Zealand Test series.