The magnificent five

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


By Jaideep Varma & Jatin Thakkar

Part 1 of 2 | Read Part 2 


It is now clear that the Golden era of Indian cricket is coming to an end. Or more likely, it ended in 2011 itself; it has just taken us this long to confirm it.

By all accounts, that period began during the early days of Ganguly’s captaincy and ended last year in South Africa – under Dhoni’s leadership, with India still the official No. 1 Test side. The World Cup victory that immediately followed was the last hurrah.

Besides bowlers like Kumble, Harbhajan and Zaheer Khan, batsmen like Gambhir and wicketkeeper/captain Dhoni, the five people most responsible for this were the members of the famed batting line-up – Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Virender Sehwag.

Impact Index does a Test cricket analysis here to determine who contributed the most, in which period, how they combined with each other and what it all really means at the end of it. We examine certain truisms, identify some myths and confirm some facts.

We divide the entire analysis into 5 phases –

1)    November 1989 to June 1996: when Tendulkar began and gradually became India’s most important batsman.

2)    June 1996 to November 2000: when Tendulkar, Ganguly and Dravid played alongside in the early days under Azharuddin’s and Tendulkar’s captaincy.

3)    November 2000 to September 2005: India under Ganguly’s leadership.

4)    September 2005 to October 2008: India under Dravid and Kumble.

5)    October 2008 to January 2012: India under Dhoni.

The Golden Age constitutes all of phases 3 and 4, and a good part of phase 5. But what came before it, and a little bit of what happened after, helps in understanding the contributions much better. Listing the 5 highest impact batting performances from each phase sharpens the picture even more.

PHASE 1 - November 1989 to June 1996

India Played 38 Won 11 Lost 8 Drew 19.

Notably beat England and New Zealand at home and Sri Lanka away. Lost away series in Australia, New Zealand, England and South Africa. Drew with West Indies at home and Pakistan away.

Tendulkar’s early days coincided with the Indian team becoming a lion at home and lamb abroad. In a few years, he became India’s most important batsman, along with Azharuddin. This is what he achieved (compared to what Azharuddin did in the same period), using both conventional figures and IMPACT numbers.

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’s performance suggests the commencement of a significant career. An obdurate consistency was his hallmark – his failure rate significantly lower than the other Indian batting star of that era. However, contrary to popular assumption, he was not a world-beater yet – there were no series-defining performances yet. And none of his performances made it on a list of the 5 highest impact Indian batting performances of that period.

TOP 5 HIGHEST IMPACT BATTING PERFORMANCES OF THIS PERIOD


1. M Azharuddin – 182 v England, Calcutta 1993 – Batting IMPACT 5.33 (Series momentum-changing performance)

2. A Jadeja - 59 & 73 v New Zealand, Bangalore 1995 – Batting IMPACT 4.30
(Series defining performance)

3. RJ Shastri – 206 v Australia, Sydney 1992 – Batting IMPACT 8.38

4. V Kambli – 224 v England, Bombay 1993 – Batting IMPACT 6.92

5. SV Manjrekar – 51 & 66 v West Indies, Bombay 1994 – Batting IMPACT 6.55

Only two series-defining performances, and one of them against a relatively weaker side in home conditions. Tendulkar narrowly misses the list – his 1990 effort in England of 68 and 119 not out which saved a Test (his ninth) comes in at no. 6 here with an IMPACT of 6.15.

PHASE 2 - June 1996 to November 2000

India P 38 W 7 L 15 D 16.

Notably beat Australia, South Africa and New Zealand at home. Lost away series in England, South Africa, West Indies, Zimbabwe, New Zealand and Australia. Lost home series to South Africa. Drew with Sri Lanka both home and away and Pakistan at home.

Ganguly and Dravid made their debuts in the same Test match in England in June 1996. It also coincided with Tendulkar rising to his peak – he gave the highest impact performance of his career then. After their sparkling debuts, both Ganguly and Dravid quickly found their feet in international cricket, while maintaining a promising consistency. Laxman joined them later in 1996 and did not make a mark particularly (had a high failure rate) except for a scintillating 167 in Sydney in 1999-2000 in a match India lost by an innings and a series India was hammered in (but it kept Laxman in the mix, which would change the history of Indian cricket a bit later). Tendulkar achieved one series momentum-changing performance against Australia in 1998 (the year he is widely regarded to have been at his peak) but on a collective level, the Indian team was not a force to reckon with in Test cricket, especially away.


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 was quite simply at the height of his powers. Despite his team having mixed success, Tendulkar set about achieving excellence in his craft with a single-minded focus that was palpable.
Despite a marginally higher batting average (and having scored one less century), Dravid had a considerably higher impact as batsman than Ganguly, because of greater consistency and a lower failure rate.

TOP 5 HIGHEST IMPACT BATTING PERFORMANCES OF THIS PERIOD

1. M Azharuddin – 5 & 163 not out v South Africa, Kanpur 1996 – Batting IMPACT 7.23
(Series defining performance)

2. S Ramesh – 60 & 96 v Pakistan, Delhi 1999 – Batting IMPACT 6.51
(Series defining performance)

3. SR Tendulkar – 4 & 155 not out v Australia, Chennai 1998 – Batting IMPACT 5.12
(Series momentum-changing  performance)

4. SR Tendulkar – 0 & 136 v Pakistan, Chennai 1999 – Batting IMPACT 8.04

5. M Azharuddin – 103 & 48 v New Zealand, Wellington 1998 – Batting IMPACT 5.17

Tendulkar comes in twice here (at nos. 3 and 4) with two of his most memorable innings – a third innings bludgeon (which shared impact with Sidhu, Dravid and Azharuddin) that took the wind out of the Australians in a high-profile series and a fourth innings classic against a strong Pakistan – which would have had even greater impact if India had won. Ironically, the performance ahead of these, at no. 2 is by Ramesh in the same series – his stellar performance all but forgotten in the very next low-scoring match at Delhi where Kumble took 10-74 (while Pakistan chased an impossible 420) and India drew the series 1-1.

PHASE 3 - November 2000 to September 2005

India P 54 W 23 L 15 D 16.

Notably beat Australia, West Indies, England and South Africa at home and Pakistan away. Drew with England and Australia away, Pakistan and New Zealand at home. Lost away series in Sri Lanka, West Indies, South Africa and New Zealand. Lost to Australia at home.

In the wake of the match-fixing scandal that threatened to destroy Indian cricket, Ganguly was made Indian captain. As it turned out, those murky days constituted the darkest hour before dawn. The first signs of a fresh, aggressive approach came immediately, during the ICC Champions Trophy in October 2000 (where India was a finalist). However, as a Test captain, it was only during the landmark India-Australia series of 2001 that this new Indian team established its credentials, after which there was no looking back. Ganguly brought out the best in his team – Dravid and Sehwag had the highest impact phase of their careers ever in this period. Tendulkar played an outstanding support role and Laxman produced some great performances. Sadly, it was Ganguly himself, whose batting fell away considerably. But his contribution as an aggressive, innovative captain made up for that to a great extent.

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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 5 Series-defining performances in a period of 5 years are the most any batsman has achieved in the history of Test cricket (not just Indian cricket). This is what made him an all-time great player in a very short time. All these performances re-wrote cricket history and took Indian cricket several steps forward.

Sehwag, a middle-order batsman in domestic cricket, established himself in this period as an opening batsman in spectacular fashion. The most interesting number in his columns is the last one – despite the popular assumption that he was (is) a flash player, his failure rate is the lowest along with Tendulkar’s – astonishing for an opening batsman in Tests (who usually have higher rates of failure for obvious reasons). 

TOP 5 HIGHEST IMPACT BATTING PERFORMANCES OF THIS PERIOD

1. VVS Laxman – 59 & 281 v Australia, Kolkata 2001 - Batting IMPACT 12.2
(Series defining performance)

2. R Dravid – 270 v Pakistan, Rawalpindi 2004 Batting IMPACT 10.24
(Series defining performance)

3. R Dravid – 25 & 180 v Australia, Kolkata 2001 - Batting IMPACT 7.84
(Series defining performance)

4. R Dravid – 233 & 72 not out v Australia, Adelaide 2003 - Batting IMPACT 7.81
(Series momentum-changing performance)

5. V Sehwag – 309 v Pakistan, Multan 2004 – Batting IMPACT 7.14
(Series momentum-changing performance)

(NOTE: Dravid captained this match as a stand-in for an injured Ganguly)

The commencement of the Golden Age – this is the phase where every performance on this list is a series-defining one – for the first time in Indian cricket history. Not surprisingly, Dravid features in most of them, either as the lead or the main support act. Laxman is on top with the greatest performance ever by an Indian batsman and Tendulkar is narrowly missing, as his 193 at Leeds in 2002 is at no. 6.  

Notable omission: Dravid’s 148, Leeds 2002. It was he who laid the foundation for India in tough conditions after Sehwag got out early – with a 170-run partnership with Bangar (who made 68) and made things easier for the batsmen to follow –and for the only time, Dravid, Ganguly and Tendulkar all got centuries together. Despite the IMPACT points Dravid got for absorbing pressure and stabilising the early innings, the weight of Tendulkar’s extra runs edges him out very marginally (even though Dravid, perhaps rightly, got the Man-of-the-Match). Dravid’s impact in that match also reduced slightly because Bangar shared some of the impact with him.

Tomorrow, Part 2 (concluding part) of this series which looks at the next 7 years and then a final summing up (with some surprising conclusions).

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