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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