In the midst of the isolation due to the dreaded coronavirus, ones mind wanders off to reflect upon the great batsmen who played for India.
In the 88 years of Indian cricket history, there have been many wonderful and skillful players. One can never compare performance by sheer arithmetic numbers, as conditions, rules and several other parameters were also as different as chalk from cheese. But, somehow, the ones who stood out would have done so in any era.
There will always be arguments and debates on a selected list but unlike the limited-overs version of the game, Test cricket requires technique, tenacity, calculated aggression and immense patience. This makes it, therefore, a little easier for one to differentiate between players, taking into account these traits and characteristics.
The 11 top batting performers who played cricket for India and made each one of us proud are to me as under:
First in my list would be India’s first Test captain, C.K Nayudu, a flamboyant player to head the list. His 129 runs, garnished with 11 sixes against the MCC side led by Arthur Gilligan in 1926-27, was the knock that transformed Indian cricket. This innings was what got India recognized as a cricketing nation. Nayudu played his last first-class game at the age of 68 years and could be easily termed as the “father of Indian cricket”.
Vijay Merchant and Vijay Hazare were the next in line. Both of them boasted of being unflappable in crisis because of their unfaltering technique. The enormous quantity of runs that they scored in both domestic and international cricket and the price that they put on their wicket made them head and shoulders above their contemporaries.
Indian cricket, thereafter, had some very good batting performers in P.R. Umrigar, Vijay Manjrekar, Nawab of Pataudi Jr. and Chandu Borde but all their performances paled with the emergence of Sunil Gavaskar.
The young Mumbai batsman in 1971 entered the Test arena with a bang. He remained the most technically perfect batsman from the early 70’s through to the 80’s and was during that period one of the best the world had ever seen. His patience, concentration and grit was what made him an all-time great.
The man who ran shoulder to shoulder with Gavaskar was none other than his brother-in- law, the stylish and wristy batter Gundappa Vishwanath. Vishy, as he was popularly called, was a genius in the art of batsmanship. He made batting look so elegant and easy. When on song, he was an artist at work and some of the innings that he played against the mighty West Indian attack, sans helmet, were masterpieces.
Dilip Vengsarkar and Mohinder Amarnath were two excellent players as well, but Gavaskar and Vishwanath were a notch above.
It was in 1989 when India’s and world cricket’s batting maestro, the great Sachin Tendulkar, the most popular face that at present dons Indian cricket, made his entry into the cricketing arena. He ruled the 22 yards for over two decades, breaking several records along the way. He did have an advantage over his peers with regard to protective gear and equipment but the sheer number of runs in all formats of the game does make him into one of the all-time greats.
In the company of Tendulkar, Indian batting rose to a dizzy height. The man who was just a shade lighter but as effective was Rahul Dravid. “The wall”, as he was so correctly nicknamed, was a player who had all the good ingredients of a Test batsman. He had the technique, enormous patience, strokes, toughness and the intelligence to make his batting into a product that showcased consistency.
India has had some very stylish and attractive left-hand batsmen. The most sublime of them would be India’s most successful captain and the “Prince of Kolkata”, Sourav Ganguly. His perfectly timed and effortless off-side play was a gift from above.
Along with Tendulkar, Ganguly and Dravid, India had in their midst two unorthodox masters who batted at the highest level as if they were taking a stroll in the park. V.V.S. Laxman and Virendra Sehwag made cricket into a connoisseurs’ delight. Their stroke play and shots had that element of boldness and risk which made their batting look so exciting and wonderful to watch. The pace and speed at which they got their runs was what put India, on many an occasion, in the driving seat towards a win. Their versatile and bold batting has been instrumental in changing the face of Indian cricket.
Finally, Indian cricket now has the making of another all-time great in Virat Kohli. He has already made his mark as one of the greatest batsmen to ever have played the game. He now has the world at his feet and many years to go still. Don Bradman was the batsman of the 20th century one now looks forward to Kohli becoming the batsman of the 21st century.
India’s 11 greatest batsmen in CK Nayudu, Vijay Merchant, Vijay Hazare, G.R. Vishwanath, Sunil Gavaskar, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly, VVS Laxman, Virender Sehwag and Virat Kohli does make the selected line-up a formidable one.
They have each given us hours of bliss and enjoyment while watching them exhibit their trade. “Hats off” to all of them.
(Yajurvindra Singh is a former Test cricketer. Views expressed are personal)