The magnificent five - II

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

By Jaideep Varma & Jatin Thakkar

Part 2 of 2 | Read Part 1

Continuing the story of the great contemporary Indian batsmen through the five phases of their glorious careers, through the singular prism of Impact Index.

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.

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.


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.

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.


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.


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.

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. His Match Batting IMPACT interestingly is behind both Gavaskar and Tendulkar and his failure rate very similar to theirs. 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. 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).

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. 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. 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 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.

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) – 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.

M Azharuddin’s relatively high rate of failure (denoting a notorious inconsistency) is considerably offset by his comparatively high conversion of series-defining opportunities – 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.

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