During the historic Pink Ball Test last week at Adelaide, Star Sports carried our lists on the highest impact batsmen and bowlers in Test history. But there was no elaboration, no interaction with those lists. Some inclusions and many omissions would have bewildered viewers (as was evident from feedback we got in the social media) so we are putting down our lists with that requisite elaboration here (though keeping it very terse).

It is very important to grasp right off the bat that this list does not in any way suggest that these batsmen are “better” or more talented than those not on it. However, it does attempt to communicate who had a greater impact on their country’s cricket history. That may be a function of “right-place-right-time” or just being in a strong side that enabled the player’s team to dominate. Also, in more than a few cases, hugely talented batsmen in great sides tend to share impact with other illustrious batsmen in their line-up (Viv Richards, Matthew Hayden, for example) whereas in weaker sides, certain batsmen do suffer from their team not being able to finish off the great work they began (Brian Lara, Sunil Gavaskar, for example).

Still, it is also true that some players do a have propensity to respond better in tougher circumstances and have a sense of the big occasion. And they need to be recognised for it, if we are to see Test cricket as competitive sport (as opposed to aesthetic recitals or aggregate accumulations, as some writers on the sport seem to reduce it to), whose DNA is the Test series.

So, besides seeing the match context in every performance, it is absolutely essential to look at the series context too. Current cricket stats and analysis do not go beyond innings, which is so outdated that one may as well believe in the sun going around the earth as well.

The series-defining performance ( SD ), thus, becomes a critical measure on this system – it gives a higher value to performances that eventually decide a series scoreline. They are registered when a team wins a deciding Test (even with drawn Tests around it), or comes back from behind to level a series. An SD also registers when the momentum of a series changes as per history and that series itself, or even when a player produces more than one high impact performance in a series in which his team dominates (though, not against weaker teams in those conditions).

Bottomline – it is nowhere near as subjective a measure as assumed by many (who don’t like to do enough groundwork). It is useful to keep that in mind while looking at this.

This main list only looks at players who played 50 Tests or more.

HIGHEST IMPACT BATSMEN

Number Name Matches Batting Impact SDs Runs Tally Impact Pressure Impact Failure Rate (in %)
1 Don Bradman 52 5.13 5 2.53 0.28 27
2 Peter May 66 3.34 3 1.79 0.41 33
3 AB de Villiers 101 3.19 6 1.76 0.26 39
4 Greg Chappell 87 3.19 5 1.74 0.22 41
5 Brian Lara 131 3.18 5 1.79 0.38 34
6 Jack Hobbs 61 3.13 2 1.99 0.11 33
7 Inzamam-ul-Haq 120 3.11 8 1.61 0.30 44
8 Younis Khan 104 3.11 5 1.68 0.36 42
9 Neil Harvey 79 3.11 3 1.86 0.21 38
10 Len Hutton 79 3.07 4 1.78 0.15 30

Minimum Test matches: 50
Impact numbers of only Tests with 2 completed innings included.
Numbers updated till 24th November, 2015.

SDs- Series-defining performances .

Donald Bradman – that’s not daylight between him and the next best, but an entire league, or two. He scored the highest proportion of runs in Test history ( Runs Tally Impact ), built more partnerships than anyone else (Partnership Impact), was more consistent than any other batsman (lowest Failure Rate), and had the highest proportion of series-defining performances (SDs) in any Test batting career.

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Don Bradman: The highest impact batsman of all-time and by some distance.

Peter May is the biggest story through Impact Index – his batting average of 47 completely camouflages the fact that a) The 1950s was the lowest scoring decade after World War 2 (till date). b) England was unbeaten for longer in a series than any period of their entire history (till date). c) Despite being in a world-beating side, he absorbed more pressure (of falling wickets) than any other Englishman, before or since, which suggests that without him, they wouldn’t achieved anything near as much then. d) His third-innings turnarounds and his big match performances are legion enough to inspire a unique brand of awe. Full story here.

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Peter May: The highest impact player in the world during England’s best run in Test cricket (1951-1958).

AB de Villiers’ transformation from a good batsman to an all-time great one has been nothing short of miraculous. He has produced all his 6 SDs in just 30 Tests in the last four years and has also been the most consistent batsman in world cricket (20% failure rate) during this period. Not only has he been the highest impact batsman (by a mile) but also the highest impact player in the world in this time-frame. Such domination has seldom been witnessed in Test cricket history.

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AB de Villiers: 6 SDs in his last 11 Test series.

Greg Chappell’s proportion of SDs suggest that his was the primary batting contribution when Australia were the best team in the world (just before Clive Lloyd’s West Indies arose after making England “grovel”), also evident from him being the highest impact batsman in the world between 1971 and 1983.

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Greg Chappell: The highest impact batsman in the world between 1971-1983.

Brian Lara being so high impact is remarkable given that he did not come from a world-beating side for the most part of his career; he still has 5 SDs. His consistency (34% failure rate) is also stunning, given his swashbuckling style of play. The proportion of runs he scored also absorbing pressure (of falling wickets) simultaneously (both fourth-highest in Test cricket history) further demonstrate West Indies’ dependency on him through most of his career.

BC_Lara
Brian Lara: Big-match temperament and stunning consistency .

Jack Hobbs is the highest impact batsman after Bradman if we do not consider SD performances (followed by Lara, May and Harvey). His consistency was legendary as well. By a distance, again, he scored the highest proportion of runs in Test history after you-know-who.

Jack-Hobbs
Jack Hobbs: Scored the second-highest proportion of runs in Test cricket history.

Inzamam-ul-Haq is the highest impact Asian Test batsman with Younis Khan close on his heels, thanks to his incredible performances in 2015. Both are significant for their big match play and the number of SDs they registered (particularly Inzamam – the highest in cricket history, along with Dravid, who played 44 matches more). Both also absorbed a copious amount of pressure (of falling wickets) though Younis has been a little more consistent. Still, Younis’ is an ongoing career, so who knows where he will finish.

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Younis Khan: The highest impact Asian batsman in Test cricket.

Neil Harvey scored the third-highest proportion of runs in Test history after Bradman and Hobbs. Like with May, his batting average of 48 fails to take into account the fact that the 1950s was the lowest scoring decade after World War 2. Harvey also had 3 SDs to his name, including one in his last Test series against England in The Ashes in 1963.

Neil_Harvey
Neil Harvey: Scored the third-highest proportion of runs in Test history after Bradman and Hobbs.

Len Hutton is still the most consistent batsman in the history of Test cricket after Bradman. The most prosperous era in English Test history (1951-58 when they did not lose a Test series) actually began under him at the tail-end of his career and was taken forward by May.

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Len Hutton: The most consistent batsman in Test cricket history after Bradman.

NOTABLE OMISSIONS

(The following are not in order of impact)

Kumar Sangakkara just misses the top ten list. His significance can be seen in his batting average of just above 57 but he also registered 7 SDs in this period and was one of two reasons why his country has been a force in this period. However, barring Inzamam, Sangakkara scored a lower proportion of runs than the ten batsmen mentioned on the list above. A lot of his runs also came against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe against whom he averaged 94 in 20 Tests, boosting his overall aggregates.

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Kumar Sangakkara: Sri Lanka’s biggest series-winner with the bat in Test cricket.

Steve Waugh was the highest impact batsman in the world between 1994 and 1999. Every one of his 6 career SDs came in this time-frame. It was also during this period that that Australia became the most dominant side in the world (and one of the greatest ever in Test cricket history). However, before that, Waugh had had a relatively poor run between 1985 and 1994 during which he was the lowest impact specialist Australian batsman with a high failure rate of 57% and perhaps seen more as an all-rounder. That part of his career reduces his overall batting impact .

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Steve Waugh: The highest impact batsman in the world in Test cricket between 1994-1999.

Rahul Dravid, who changed India’s cricket history more than any Indian batsman ever in this period, had a stunning run between 2001 and 2006, but a poor one between 2006 and 2011 (during which he was India’s lowest impact specialist batsman) – which reduced his impact considerably.

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Rahul Dravid: India’s biggest series-winner with the bat in Test cricket.

Sachin Tendulkar, despite his dominating period 1996-1999 period when he was at the height of his powers, and the outstanding 2008-2011 period, the highest impact phase of his life, is still the second-highest impact Indian batsman after Dravid in Test cricket. He produced 6 SDs (most of them in support roles) in his career but the likes of Dravid, Inzamam, Sangakkara and de Villiers all have 6 or more SDs in far fewer matches than him. Tendulkar’s poor phases between 2005 and 2007 and later between 2011 and 2013 also also bring down his impact considerably. His oft-quoted records are more about longevity and aggregates than match-to-match or more pertinently even, series impact.

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

Sunil Gavaskar, the most consistent batsman in India’s history (36% failure rate), had 2 SDs in his career, including one in his debut Test. Teammate Viswanath had 3 SDs in 34 fewer Tests. The interesting thing here is that 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.

Vivian Richards was the most feared batsmen of his era. Most of his famous dominating innings came when Clive Lloyd was captain and Richards batted at No. 3 with a trademark swagger. After Lloyd retired (end-1984), Richards became the new captain and went down the order, as Richie Richardson took over the No. 3 slot with great success. Despite fewer opportunities to dominate, it is an indication of Richards’ greatness that he had a similar impact overall down the order, with considerably better consistency . He is, by a distance, the highest impact ODI batsman ever but interestingly, his Test impact was shared with that awe-inspiring opening partnership of Greenidge-Haynes that went in before him, Clive Lloyd and later, Richie Richardson.

Viv Richards
Viv Richards: The highest impact ODI batsman ever but his Test impact was shared with Greenidge,Haynes, Lloyd and later, Richardson.

Garry Sobers’ batting average of almost 58 is the fifth-best in Test cricket history. He narrowly misses being on the ten highest impact list due to a (strictly relative) lower proportion of runs scored than those higher impact than him and for a lower frequency of SD performances (3 batting SDs in 93 Tests). It is easy though sometimes to forget that he was a genuine all-rounder.

Garry Sobers
Garry Sobers: Narrowly misses being on the ten highest impact list due to a (strictly relative) lower proportion of runs scored.

Jacques Kallis’ batting average of 55 is the second-best in the last 40 years of Test cricket (after Sangakkara) and number nine on an all-time list. He was very consistent too (failure rate 38%) but missed the list due to a lower proportion of runs compared to those higher impact than him. As part of a prolific South African unit, his impact with the bat would have been shared with other great batsmen in the team (Gary Kirsten, Graeme Smith, Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers,). Also, it is once again easy to forget that he was a genuine all-rounder.

Matthew Hayden’s run-scoring proportion in context to matches played is the fifth-highest in Test cricket history – this suggested that he scored runs in matches in which other Australian batsmen did not fare so well. However, being a part of an all-time great Australian side, he shared impact with a few of his colleagues (Ricky Ponting, Justin Langer, Damen Martyn, Adam Gilchrist), and therefore registered just 3 SDs in 103 Tests.

Ricky Ponting had a relative lower matches/ SD ratio (4 SDs in 168 Tests) which, like in Hayden’s case, is likely a function of sharing impact with other great batsmen in the side. But Ponting also scored a lower proportion of runs compared to Hayden, despite having a slightly higher batting average. He also had a relatively high failure rate of 46% (high for this company).

Ricky Ponting
Ricky Ponting: Shared his impact with the other great batsmen in his side.

Adam Gilchrist played some very high impact Test innings and is easily the highest impact wicketkeeper-batsman in Test history. However exciting a player he was, he still has a batting failure rate of 47% which is fantastic for a keeper-batsman (who batted at 6 or 7), not particularly for a specialist batsman overall. He also has 2 SDs in 96 Tests, not exactly as significant a big match player as he is assumed to be in Tests (a perception that also exists because of his ODI batting – the red herring here; in the 50-over format, he was a huge big match player – he has 10 SDs and a 41% failure rate there – which makes him the second-highest impact ODI player of all time).

Wally Hammond had an average just above 58—the fourth-best in Test history but his run-scoring proportion in the context of each match is not even amongst the top 25 batsmen in the world. During his playing career, there were as many as eight English batsmen (including him) who played in 10 or more Tests with their batting averages over 50. The next best team on this count, Australia, had only three such batsmen. It shows that England was a high scoring side during his career (which was also a higher scoring time) and as a result Hammond’s impact was shared.

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Wally Hammond: Scored his runs in a high scoring England side.

Herbert Sutcliffe’s batting average is the second best in Test history after Bradman (approaching 61). Unlike Hammond, Sutcliffe did score a high proportion of runs for his team and only Bradman and Hayden occupied the crease and built more partnerships than him in Test history. Sutcliffe also had 2 SDs to his name in 54 Tests.

Ken Barrington had a batting average approaching 59 which harmonises with his failure rate of just 34% in 82 Tests. He changed his attacking batting style to keep his place and became a stonewaller with great success. He absorbed pressure and built partnerships as well as anyone and registered 3 SDs as well.

Graeme Smith is a modern-day great who changed the fortunes of South African cricket at a particularly difficult time in their history. His batting average of 48 does not reveal the impact he had, but his count of 7 SDs does. His failure rate of 45% in 117 Tests tempers his batting impact somewhat (and keeps him from the main list) but his role in his country’s cricket history cannot be understated. He became captain at the age of 21 and led South Africa 109 times – the most in Test history, and with great success too (but it also took its toll, as he retired at just 33).

BATSMEN WHO PLAYED LESS THAN 50 TESTS WHO NEED TO BE MENTIONED

George Headley“the Black Bradman” was actually higher impact than even the Don in the 1930s decade during which he played 19 of his 22 Tests. He had 2 SDs in this period with a failure rate of just 26%; Bradman had 3 SDs in that period in 33 Tests with a failure rate of 27%. He was West Indies’ first superstar cricketer.

Graeme Pollock also averaged 61 (like Headley) in 23 Tests between 1963 and 1970 for South Africa. There was no doubt about his impending legendary status but he was just 26 when he played his last Test, as South Africa were banned for Apartheid in 1970, after South Africa spanked Australia 4-0. Post that, Australia went on to become the world’s best side for a few years. Pollock registered 3 SDs and had a batting failure rate of 35%.

Stanley Jackson played just 20 Tests for England between 1893 and 1905 and averaged almost 49 in very low scoring times. His batting failure rate of 25% makes him the most consistent batsman in Test history if the minimum Test filter is moved to 20. He even registered 2 SDs in this period.

Arthur Shrewsbury played 23 Tests for England between 1882 and 1893 and averaged 35.47 in the lowest scoring times in Test cricket. His hallmark was his propensity to absorb pressure (of falling wickets) and his batting failure rate of 43% was offset by the high proportion of “tough runs” he made and the singular SD he garnered.

WG Grace’s Test batting average of 32 is highly misleading. Those were very low scoring times (1880-1899 when he played his 22 Tests, between the age of 32 and 51). In fact, if we look at all of Test history, the proportion of runs he made in the context of all the matches he played is second only to Don Bradman’s. Add to this his failure rate of just 36% and you know his legendary status was not just due to what he did in English first-class cricket. Curiously, he had just 1 SD in Tests though.

Cheteshwar Pujara’s current average of 48.53 in 31 Tests gives some indication of his impact already and the tremendous potential his performances have already shown. His 2 SDs in 30 Tests and a very high proportion of runs made in the matches he has played in offset a relatively high failure rate of 43%.

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Cheteshwar Pujara: Less than 30 Tests, but already two series-defining performances .

Kane Williamson is New Zealand’s highest impact batsman in their history by a huge distance. In just five years and 44 Tests, he has already equalled the most batting SDs by a New Zealander (3) and been the second-most consistent Kiwi batsman (after Glenn Turner). Most remarkably, he has absorbed the third-most pressure in Test history (after MAK Pataudi and Angelo Mathews) – a jaw-dropping aspect for a batsman in a team that is having one of its finest-ever Test runs; it just tells you Williamson’s huge contribution to New Zealand cricket history already, and he is just 25. Do not be fooled by his merely adequate batting average of 48.

Azhar Ali is easily the most underrated batsman in Test cricket right now (which his batting average of 43 would give no hint of). Since his debut in 2010, Ali has produced three SDs in 45 Tests and is already the most consistent batsman in Pakistan’s Test history (just 33% failure rate). Interestingly, Ali’s ability to see off the new ball ( New Ball Impact ) is the best (alongwith Kane Williamson, with whom he has a lot in common) for any non-opener in Test history. Stunningly, Ali has also absorbed the most pressure by any Pakistani batsman in their Test history. Ali’s and Pakistan’s simultaneous rise in Test cricket in the last five years is not a mere coincidence.

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Azhar Ali: Most consistent batsman in Pakistan’s Test history.

Everton Weekes was one of the celebrated “three Ws” of West Indian cricket and his batting average of 58.61 in 48 Tests harmonises with the Impact finding of his failure rate being a mere 35%. If we take 40 Tests as the minimum, he is the second-highest impact West Indian batsman in their history after Lara. His proportion of runs scored in a match context is second only to Lara in his country’s history and he registered 2 SDs too.

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

Runs Tally Impact : Don Bradman, Jack Hobbs, Neil Harvey.

New Ball Impact : Geoff Boycott, Mark Taylor, Matthew Hayden.

Strike Rate Impact : Adam Gilchrist, Ian Botham, Chris Cairns.

Pressure Impact : Angelo Mathews, Peter May, Andy Flower.
If minimum Tests are reduced to 40, MAK Pataudi is higher impact on this count than Mathews, and Kane Williamson higher impact than May.

Partnership Building Impact: Don Bradman, Herbert Sutcliffe, Matthew Hayden.
If minimum Tests are reduced to 40, Norm O’Neil is higher impact in this aspect than Sutcliffe.

Failure Rate ( consistency ): Don Bradman, Len Hutton, Peter May, Jack Hobbs.
If minimum Tests are reduced to 40, Glenn Turner and Norm O’Neil come up even more consistent than Jack Hobbs.

Series Defining Performances: Inzamam-ul-Haq, Rahul Dravid, Graeme Smith.

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Inzamam-ul-Haq: Joint-most number of SDs in Test history for any batsman.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Caricature- Rajni Kanth

HIGHEST IMPACT BATTING PERFORMANCES
IN TEST HISTORY

1) Ian Botham50 & 149 not out v Australia, Headingley, 1981.

2) Dinesh Chandimal59 & 162 not out v India, Galle, 2015.

3) VVS Laxman59 & 281 v Australia, Kolkata, 2001.

4) Gordon Greenidge134 & 101 v England, Manchester, 1976.

5) Jonathan Trott184 v Pakistan, London, 2010.

6) Patsy Hendren77 & 205 not out v West Indies, Port of Spain, 1930.

7) Sanath Jayasuriya38 & 253 v Pakistan, Faisalabad, 2004.

8) Inzamam-ul-Haq329 v New Zealand, Lahore, 2002.

9) Justin Langer191 & 97 v Pakistan, Perth, 2004.

10) Mike Hussey28 & 134 not out v Pakistan, Sydney, 2010.

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Ian Botham: Produced the highest impact batting performance in Test history against Australia in 1981.

The most famous rearguard performances are right up there, at 1 and 3 – Ian Botham’s and VVS Laxman’s (who shared his impact with Rahul Dravid).

Dinesh Chandimal’s present-day rearguard classic is at number 2.

And a memorable one by Michael Hussey right at the end, at 10 (he shared impact with Shane Watson).

VVS_Laxman
VVS Laxman: His 59 & 281 against Australia in 2001 is the highest impact batting performance by any Indian and the third-highest overall.

Interestingly, there are only two instance of abject domination here – Gordon Greenidge’s performance at 4 and Inzamam-ul-Haq’s at 8.

All the others are high impact performances from either positions of some strife or equality.

There are three Englishmen, two Sri Lankans, two Australians and one Indian, West Indian and Pakistani on this list. Finally, the English top a batting list.

 

 

Impact Index Team
Caricatures- Vasim Maner