Ever since India took its first steps in Test cricket 8 decades ago, the nation has been known as a batting powerhouse. Since the early days, when this sport was dominated by the royals and nobles, India has had some truly great batsmen walk to the crease representing the country. The focus has been so much around batting that it is hard for anybody to recall great Indian test bowlers – at least until the Indian spin quartet delighted Indian fans with their skills and ability to out-think the batsmen in the 1960s.
For most of Indian cricket’s history, bowlers have been treated as ‘inferior subjects’ by the administrators and fans alike. This has probably been one of the reasons the Indian team has failed to win Test matches abroad. But that’s a story for another day and what can’t be taken away is the fact that the country has seen more than its share of batting legends. In this feature, we take a look at some of the greatest Test batsmen to have played for India at the very highest level.
15 – Lala Amarnath
Lala Amarnath was the first batting star to play for India. While he narrowly missed playing in India’s debut test match at Lord’s, he was a part of the team that took on the English side in the first ever tour to India. While his stats may not seem impressive, he was one of the best batsmen the team had during its early days in Test Cricket. Notably, Amaranth holds the record of scoring the first Test hundred for the country. In his 24 match Test career, he notched 878 runs at a fairly modest average of 24.38, but he was an immensely influential figure in the difficult early days of Indian cricket.
14 – Dilip Sardesai
Known as Indian cricket’s ‘Renaissance Man’, Dilip Sardesai was in and out of the team for much of his career. For reasons best known to the selectors and the team management, Sardesai was never allowed to settle into a definite role in the Indian team. But what can’t be taken away from this determined man was the fact that he was willing to be in the firing line and take body blows for the team. People still recall his grit and determination facing off against the West Indian fast bowlers in 1962. In 30 Test Matches that he played for the country, Sardesai scored 2001 runs at a great average of 39.23, which included 5 hundreds and 9 fifties – and most of these came against the best of bowling attacks.
13 – Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi
The Nawab of Pataudi carried his royal image with grace on the cricket field and has always been seen as one of the best ever captains to have led the nation. The batsman in the Prince was inferior to none, though stats may not truly reflect the kind of impact he had on a team. An adventurous person in life, Pataudi brought the same approach to his batting and was never intimidated by the opposition fast bowlers. The ‘One-eyed Tiger’, as he was often called, played 46 Test Matches for the country and finished with 2793 runs at an average of 34.91 which included 6 hundreds and 16 fifties.
12 – Vijay Hazare
Vijay Hazare is often remembered for scoring hundreds in each innings of the Adelaide Test Match during India’s first tour to Australia, when others around him surrendered. But he was much more than that as a cricketer, one who defined the art of batting in tough conditions. He was one of the most consistent batsmen of his era, who often kept fighting single-handedly and earned respect from the toughest of opposition. No less than a figure than Jim Laker called Hazare one of his toughest opponents to bowl against. In 30 Test Matches he scored 2192 runs at an amazing average of 47.65 which was unheard of in Indian cricket in those days! These runs included 7 gritty hundreds and 9 fifties.
11 – Polly Umrigar
Many of today’s fans may find it hard to recall the name Polly Umrigar, but he was the mainstay of the Indian batting order from the dawn of independence and all through the 1950s. Old timers remember that Umrigar owned most of the country’s batting records until a certain Sunil Gaveskar went past him. An imposing figure on the pitch, he would play the pull, hook and cut fearlessly against the most threatening bowling attacks. His unbeaten 172 at Port of Spain against an aggressive West Indian line-up is still regarded as one of the best Test knocks by an Indian. In 59 Test Matches, Umrigar pummelled 3631 runs averaging 42.22 with 12 hundreds and 14 fifties.
10 – Mohammad Azharuddin
A stylish youngster from Hyderabad who was blessed with magical wrists, Mohammad Azharuddin made the best possible start to his career with three hundreds in his first three games! Though he never reproduced such magical form, he was an extremely dependable performer and one of the mainstays of the Indian middle order for a decade and half. There were few things as delightful on the cricket field as watching Azhar flick the ball through the leg side and find gaps at will. Though his career didn’t end as expected (owing to the match-fixing controversy), he surely was one of the best to play for India, ending his 99 Test Match career with 6215 runs at an average of 45.03 with 22 hundreds and 21 fifties to his credit.
9 – Dilip Vengsarkar
He may not have enjoyed the same fan following or aura surrounding some of his other teammates, but during the course of his 15 year career, Dilip Vengsarkar was a permanent feature of the Indian middle order. Neither flamboyant, nor artistic, Vengsarkar made good of his solid skills and piled up runs against all opposition countries. He became the first non-English batsmen to score three consecutive tons at Lord’s and played some of his finest cricket in seaming pitches in the game’s home. In 116 Test appearances, Vengsarkar scored 6868 runs at an average of 42.13, which included 17 hundreds and 35 fifties, to become one of the all-time greats of the game in India.
8 – Virat Kohli
It isn’t common for a player in the middle of his career to make it to the list of all-time greatest Test batsmen for the country, but the Indian captain is no ordinary cricketer. Kohli is currently the most highly rated batsmen in the world and has put up a phenomenal show in red-ball cricket. Going by his performances over the last few years, pundits have already put their money on him to eventually break most batting records there are to be broken. An aggressive cricketer with a classical technique, Virat reserves his best for the toughest opponents. For someone who hasn’t yet reached his peak, he has already made 5754 runs in 67 Test Matches at an average of 54.28, which includes 22 hundreds and 17 fifties.
7 – Sourav Ganguly
The run up to Sourav Ganguly’s test debut wasn’t perfect, as some dubbed him a ‘quota cricketer’ and were eager to finish his career with one failure. But destiny smiled on Ganguly as he made a hundred in his first test match at Lord’s and followed it up with another at Trent Bridge. He cemented his place in the side and also went on to completely reshape the Indian team under his strong captaincy. Following an ugly spat with then-coach Greg Chappell, he was dropped but made a wonderful comeback and played some of his most memorable knocks before hanging up his boots. In 113 Test Matches he amassed 7212 runs at an average of 42.17, with 16 centuries and 35 fifties.
6 – Gundappa Viswanath
Indian cricket has seen its fair share of stroke players, but Viswanath had a rare combination of fabulous stroke play with a magician’s wrists. There are few Indian batsmen who have played better on both sides of the square than Viswanath. While stats suggest he was far behind Gavaskar (in terms of runs and hundreds), many of those who followed Indian cricket or played against him say he was as good a batsman as the legendary Gavaskar. He plundered 6080 runs in 91 tests at an average of 41.93 which included 14 memorable hundreds and 35 fifties.
5 – Virender Sehwag
No one would have put their money on Virender Sehwag becoming a Test cricketer after seeing his aggressive and no-caution approach to the game. But Sehwag not only excelled in the five day format, but became one of the most dangerous opening batsman to have ever wielded the willow. He is only the fourth batsmen in the history of the game to score two triple hundreds – and he only narrowly missed his third being dismissed for 293. He had a phenomenal strike rate of 82.33 which is the best among batsmen who have played more than 100 Test Matches. In 104 Test Matches, Sehwag smashed 23 hundreds and 32 fifties, finishing with 8586 runs at an average of 49.34 .
4 – VVS Laxman
His marathon 281 run knock while following-on against Australia at the Eden Gardens in 2001 is rated as the best Test innings ever played by an Indian. That record win is said to have transformed India’s attitude, making them a team hungry for success. Yet the ‘Very Very Special’ Laxman was more than just a one-innings wonder. Not having made the best of debuts as a makeshift opener, he soon rose to become one of the most feared batsmen in the world. He was at his best when the chips were down and someone who often shone amidst adversity. A classy player with strong wrists, he could dominate best of attacks in the most unfriendly batting conditions. He ended his career with 8781 runs at 45.97 with 17 centuries and 56 fifties in 134 Test Matches.
3 – Rahul Dravid
Some would say Rahul Dravid is the best batsman to have played Test cricket for India and there are good reasons to think so. ‘The Wall’, as he was called for his patience and tenacity, would finish as one of the all-time greats and the four highest run getter in the history of the game. Making his debut with a brilliant 95 at Lord’s, Dravid went on to rekindle the romance of classical Test match batting in an era dominated by stroke makers. He holds the record for facing the most number of balls in Test history and always made the best out of an innings through his patience and rock solid technique. Appearing in 164 Test Matches he plundered an almost-unbelievable 13,288 runs at an average of 52.31 scoring 36 hundreds and 63 fifties. Notably, he also snared 210 catches; the highest in the history of the game for a non-wicket-keeper.
2 – Sunil Gavaskar
Though the Indian team had produced stars in different series and seasons, they never had one among their ranks who could dominate the opposition so thoroughly, irrespective of the bowling attack and in all conditions around the world. Gavaskar announced himself to the world by piling up 774 runs (including 4 hundreds and 3 fifties) in 4 Tests in his debut series in the West Indies in 1971. It was a remarkable start to a glittering career against a ferocious and hostile attack . There was no looking back as he went on to become one of the most consistent and brilliant opening batsmen in world and also the first player to ever cross the vaunted 10k run mark. In 125 Test matches, Sunny notched 10,122 runs at an average of 51.12 which included 34 hundreds and 45 fifties.
1 – Sachin Tendulkar
It is often said that Sachin Tendulkar was born only to play cricket – and who could argue? A run machine, who enjoys god-like status in India, he justified all of the euphoria that surrounded him from his early teens by becoming the world’s greatest batsmen. From the moment he made his debut against Pakistan as a 16 year old kid, through the next 24 years at the highest level, Tendulkar kept conquering peaks and breaking records as they stood in front of him. A stroke maker who was blessed with a near faultless technique, Sachin dominated bowling attacks in all corners of the globe, scoring hundreds against every Test playing nation he appeared against. He eventually hung up his boots after playing a record 200 Test matches and scoring a record 15,921 runs at 53.78 with 51 centuries, leaving him as the most decorated, accomplished and – arguably – best batsmen of all time.
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