2015-11-10

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 career impact would have been much closer to Tendulkar’s. Obviously, a player relies on his team to give him an impact, but equally, when a player tends to deliver at the crucial points more often than others (like Dravid), there’s something to be said for that.

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 series-defining performances in all of Test history and number of matches played by those players. Some of the high impact players who have played less than that, we mention separately.

HIGHEST IMPACT BATSMEN

Number Name Matches Batting Impact SDs Runs Tally Impact New Ball Impact Pressure Impact Failure Rate (in %)
1 Rahul Dravid 163 2.87 8 1.5 0.08 0.24 39
2 Sachin Tendulkar 200 2.63 6 1.47 0.04 0.23 42
3 Sunil Gavaskar 125 2.35 2 1.5 0.1 0.16 36
4 GR Viswanath 91 2.31 3 1.3 0.03 0.32 43
5 NS Sidhu 51 2.18 2 1.26 0.09 0.12 54
6 Mohammad Azharuddin 99 2.14 4 1.17 0.02 0.17 57
7 Virender Sehwag 103 2.10 3 1.37 0.07 0.06 46
8 VVS Laxman 134 2.02 3 1.24 0.03 0.27 51
9 Dilip Vengsarkar 116 1.91 3 1.1 0.03 0.14 52
10 Sourav Ganguly 113 1.78 2 1.17 0.02 0.12 49

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.

SDs- Series-defining performances

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 series-defining performances as him (8). Between 2001 and 2006, Dravid was the second-highest impact batsman (after Inzamam-ul-Haq) in the world by a distance. In that period, India made considerable strides in world cricket (including notable overseas wins), and it is uncanny how Dravid played the leading role every single time in those landmark wins. Dravid also has the second-highest batting consistency in Indian Test history after Gavaskar. He has the highest Runs Tally Impact (proportion of runs made in every match relative to the match standard, with a higher value on “tough runs”) and Partnership-Building Impact (self-explanatory) in Indian cricket history. And the fourth-highest Pressure Impact (of falling wickets) after Viswanath, Chandu Borde and VVS Laxman. Interestingly, he even has the fourth-highest New Ball Impact (ability to see off the new ball) – three batsmen are ahead of him, all openers – Gavaskar, Gambhir and Sidhu; this indicates what a reliable No. 3 batsman he was. Combine all that with his longevity (163 Tests in 16 years, second only to Tendulkar), and his place cannot be disputed.

Rahul_Dravid
Rahul Dravid: The most series-defining performances in Test history (with Inzamam-ul-Haq).

2) Sachin Tendulkar (Batting average 53.78)
The name many expect at the top here is third in consistency (after Gavaskar and Dravid), Runs Tally Impact and Partnership-Building Impact (both after Dravid and Gavaskar). He is second when it comes to series-defining performances (SDs), two less than Dravid in 37 more Tests, and half of those were in support roles. Despite a poor phase between 2005 and 2007, he came back spectacularly as the highest impact batsman in the world between 2008-early 2011, the highest impact phase of his career (despite the more spectacular phase between 1996 and 2000). At the time of the 2011 World Cup, Tendulkar and Dravid had almost the same impact as batsmen. Thereafter, Dravid was the highest impact Indian batsman till he retired in 2012, and Tendulkar was the lowest impact specialist Indian batsman, till he retired in 2013 – this separated them quite emphatically, for posterity.

Sachin_Tendulkar
Sachin Tendulkar: The only period he was the highest impact batsman in the world was between 2008 and early 2011.

3) Sunil Gavaskar (Batting average 51.12)
The most consistent Indian batsman ever also predictably has the highest New Ball Impact – he was one of the most accomplished opening batsmen in history. Despite some landmark successes, the Indian team’s mindset was much more defensive in his time, thus reducing the potential for SDs relative to the Indian teams of the 2000s. Moreover, two of Gavaskar’s greatest innings (221 vs England, and 96 vs Pakistan – his last Test innings) narrowly missed being SD performances by 9 and 16 runs respectively; if they had even been scored by his colleagues, it would have given him an impact neck-to-neck with Tendulkar’s. Gavaskar gave Indian cricket a spine in the 1970s and was their highest impact batsman right through his career. Most interestingly, he was India’s highest impact batsman ever till early-2002, when Dravid overtook him (and then increased the gap dramatically). Despite Tendulkar’s stunning individual performances in the mid-late-1990s, he never overtook Gavaskar, till his own high impact phase between 2008 and 2011. It is one of the most interesting aspects of Indian cricket when you look at impact in a team context.

Gavaskar
Sunil Gavaskar: The most consistent batsman in India’s Test history.

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 SD Viswanath has, in 34 fewer Tests. Moreover, despite being one of the great stylists in the game, Viswanath was also the go-to man in a crisis (he absorbed the most pressure successfully among Indian batsmen who played more than 50 Tests) and surprisingly consistent (his failure rate on this list is also fourth-best). Given his longevity (91 Tests in 14 years), his place in Indian cricket history is a very special one.

gr_viswanath
GR Viswanath: Absorbed the most pressure among Indian batsmen who played more than 50 Tests.

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 New Ball Impact and Partnership Building Impact suggest his effectiveness as an opener. But, the main reason for him being high impact is those 2 series-defining performances (SDs) he registered in just 51 Tests. In India’s only Test match win (also series win) outside its own shores in the 1990s against Sri Lanka (1993), Sidhu was India’s highest impact batsman (with 82 and 104). And against Australia in the famous momentum-changing Chennai Test of 1998, Sidhu was India’s second-highest impact batsman (with 62 and 64) and in the second innings, with India still in the arrears, he began a famous assault of Shane Warne (which Tendulkar continued spectacularly with his classic unbeaten 155). India came back from behind to win this match and later, the series. These two SDs give him this impact. Interestingly, his longevity is not as low as his tally of 51 Tests suggests it should be, because his Test career actually lasted 16 years.

NS_Sidhu
NS Sidhu: Registered two series-defining performances  in just 51 Tests to emerge as India’s second-highest impact opening batsman.

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 consistency record among the more illustrious batsmen in Indian Test history (the highest failure rate on this list). Tragically, that wasn’t the only thing that changed for him near the end of his career, but along the way he did do a few things that turn many a cricket fan of his era misty-eyed. He was one of the 3 great stylists of Indian cricket (along with Viswanath and Laxman) and also capable of producing high impact performances to turn series (much like both of them too). Even though the 1990s decade is seen as Tendulkar’s solo phase, Azharuddin had more SDs than him in that period (2 as opposed to Tendulkar’s 1 in the 1990s, one each against England and South Africa), in addition to two from 1988 against West Indies and New Zealand respectively. He has the most SDs by an Indian batsman after Dravid and Tendulkar.

Azharuddin
Mohammad Azharuddin: Had more series-defining performances than Tendulkar in the 1990s.

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 Pressure Impact is the lowest in Indian Test history among batsmen/ all-rounders and most curiously why he so often failed to deal with the free hit in limited overs cricket.

Sehwag
Virender Sehwag: Has a surprisingly low failure rate despite his aggressive strokeplay.

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 consistency abroad than at home. Two out of his three SDs came away from home, in South Africa (top-scoring in both innings as India drew level; the only batting SD by an Indian there) and Sri Lanka (an unbeaten 103 from a tough situation when India drew the series with its fourth-highest successful chase). His high failure rate (the highest among the “Fab Five”) brought his overall impact down; if he had somehow accomplished Viswanath’s consistency (another great stylist), he would have been one of the greats of international cricket. Still, his contribution to Indian cricket can never be forgotten.

VVS_Laxman
VVS Laxman: Master of fightbacks- produced India’s two highest impact Test batting performances.

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 SD in just a handful of Tests (either as an absolute or ratio) is a very significant contribution in the context of the team.

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.

Pujara
Cheteshwar Pujara: Less than 40 Tests, but already two series-defining performances .

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 consistency (failure rate: 40%) and even produced an SD (against Pakistan) – a rare occurrence in his era. His batting average of 47.65 in 30 Tests does not flatter him.

Hazare
Vijay Hazare: Consistent, absorbed pressure and even had a rare series-defining performance in that era.

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.

pataudi-final-724x1024
MAK Pataudi: Absorbed more pressure than any batsman in the history of Test cricket (min. 40 Tests).

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 SD in Tests is also an anomaly perhaps, but it is remarkable that if we actually remove the big-match component, it is Kohli who emerges as the highest impact batsman in India’s Test cricket history (minimum of 40 Tests).

Dilip Sardesai absorbed Laxmanesque pressure in his 30-Test career and had an SD – in arguably India’s most significant Test win of that era, in England in 1971, which bolsters his impact despite a 57% failure rate. His contribution in the other massive series win of the time, against West Indies, was 642 runs for the series. Two of his five Test hundreds were double centuries, and there was a 150 in there too.

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 consistency (just a 39% failure rate), Dravidesque, if you like. He too registered an SD in that famous 1971 triumph in England.

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 SD . His high failure rate of 59% sadly ended his career before he could draw out his full potential.

HIGHEST IMPACT BATSMEN ON INDIVIDUAL BATTING PARAMETERS (MIN. 50 TESTS)

Runs Tally Impact – Dravid, Gavaskar, Tendulkar

New Ball Impact – Gavaskar, Gambhir, Sidhu, Dravid

Strike Rate Impact – Sehwag, Azharuddin, Kapil Dev

Pressure Impact  – GR Viswanath, Chandu Borde, VVS Laxman
If we go below 50 Tests, MAK Pataudi comes up overwhelmingly on top, in all of Test history, not just for India.

Partnership-building Impact  Dravid, Gavaskar, Tendulkar

Consistency  Gavaskar, Dravid, Tendulkar
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 Rahane127 and 100 not out v South Africa, Delhi, 2015.

7) Gundappa Viswanath – 52 & 139 v West Indies, Kolkata, 1974/75.

8) Cheteshwar Pujara204 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 Dravid233 & 72 not out v Australia, Adelaide, 2003.

7) Gundappa Viswanath124 & 31 v West Indies, Chennai, 1979.

8) Mohammad Azharuddin5 & 163 not out v South Africa, Kanpur, 1996.

9) Kapil Dev38 & 46 v England, Mumbai, 1981.

10) Chetan Chauhan0 & 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.