How the likes of Chris Gayle and Virender Sehwag have defied conventions in Test cricket

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Cricket is a funny game at times filled with oddities. Not everything makes sense and things don’t always happen the way they are supposed to.

Take attacking batsmen, for instance. These are the type of batsmen who have little regard for patience and love to take on the bowlers from the word go.

One would think these batsmen would thrive in the limited-over formats where the white-ball rarely does things after the initial few overs. On the other hand, you would expect their approach to be a risky one when it comes to Test cricket. After all, attacking fields and a red-ball should result in more dismissal opportunities for the bowlers.

However, there are several swashbuckling batsmen who have defied this convention over the years. These players have a style tailor-made for the shorter formats where they can go hell for leather from ball one. Surprisingly though, they have found more success in the five-day format instead of limited-overs cricket.

Why does this happen? One line of thinking is that the attacking fields in the Test cricket actually works to the advantage of these players. Very few fielders, if any, are positioned on the boundary ropes in Test cricket with the slip cordon and infield being jam-packed usually. In limited-over cricket, captains enjoy the liberty of having more fielders riding the boundary ropes once the powerplay restrictions are lifted.

Hence, in theory, attacking batsman who like clearing the infield have more opportunities to grab boundaries in Test cricket.

Here, we look at some of the more prominent examples of such players in recent history.

Anomalies

Virender Sehwag (India)

For a man who loved to flash his willow at nearly every delivery pitched outside off-stump, it is absolutely remarkable that Virender Sehwag has managed to register not one, but two triple Test tons.

A batsman who relied on a minimal footwork, Sehwag’s forte was his immaculate hand-eye co-ordination which allowed him to pierce infields in savage fashion. His cavalier style would have fast bowlers believing they could find the outside edge, but ball after ball, Sehwag would send deliveries crashing to the off-side boundary. Spinners, meanwhile, were treated with greater disdain with the India man’s feet suddenly coming alive like poetry in motion.

That he ended his Test career with more than 8,500 runs at a strike-rate of 82.23 tells you how effective Sehwag was in the longest format. His ODI career paled in comparison and he managed just 15 tons in the format compared to the 23 he registered in Tests. Who would have thought that India’s first triple centurion would be Sehwag, and not someone like Sachin Tendulkar, Sunil Gavaskar or Rahul Dravid.

Chris Gayle (West Indies)

Gayle (1)

His T20 exploits in franchise leagues around the world and for West Indies would give the impression that Gayle is simply a white-ball monster. However, along with Sehwag, he is one of only four batsmen to have brought up two Test triple tons over the course of his career.

The tall Jamaican could instill fear in any bowler with his powerful approach, be it his languid drive through the covers or a back-foot punch in the same area. His pull and hook shots were equally effective with Gayle’s towering presence playing into his hands when bowlers bowled short.

It wasn’t always all-out attack for Gayle who could tailor his game to dig in for the long haul, as and when the situation demanded. The Windies man has brought up Test tons in just 70 and 79 balls while also grinding it out for nearly an entire day to save the 2009 Adelaide Test against Australia.

His 15 tons and 7,214 runs in Tests is testament to Gayle’s Test productivity and his red-ball average of 42.18 is significantly better than his ODI returns. It is a shame that his declining physicality and then differences with the Windies board saw his last Test appearance come nearly seven years ago.

Adam Gilchrist (Australia)

Gilly

There was perhaps no more demoralising sight for bowlers than to see Gilchrist walk out to bat at No7 for Australia during the 1990s and 2000s. By then, Matthew Hayden, Justin Langer and Ricky Ponting had already run them rugged and Gilchrist’s entrance only promised more brutal punishment on their tiring bodies.

The Aussie was a pioneer in his own right and showed the value of what wicketkeepers who could bat brought to a Test outfit. Not only did ‘Gilly’ bat well, he batted with a savage authority rarely witnessed in Test cricket previously.

His 57-ball century in the 2007 Ashes is the third quickest in the history of the format while he once registered a near run-a-ball double ton against South Africa at Johannesburg. Coming in at No7, there were plenty of times Gilchrist had to bat with the Aussie tail. Yet, the southpaw powered his way to 17 Test tons and more than 5,500 runs.

He averaged a stellar 47.60 in the format with a strike-rate just a tad below 82. In contrast, he only managed a 35.89 average in ODIs where he actually opened the innings for Australia.

Brendon McCullum (New Zealand)

0220 McCullum

Taking a cue from Gilchrist’s no-holds-barred approach to Test batting, Brendon McCullum was another wicketkeeper batsman who thrived batting at No7.

Five of his 12 overall Test tons came in that position before the Kiwi moved up the order in the latter half of his career. However, it was at No5 where McCullum truly flourished with the right-hander averaging nearly 44 in that position with the help of five centuries.

One of them was an unbeaten 302 against India in Wellington where New Zealand were nearly dead and buried before McCullum pulled off one of the greatest rescue acts. While he showed he could dig in for the long-haul in that mammoth innings, he was equally capable of explosive brilliance. Just ask Australia, against whom McCullum slammed the fastest Test ton (54 balls) in history in 2016.

The former New Zealand skipper was a bit hit-and-miss in ODIs where he averaged a modest 30.41. He was a much more devastating batsman in the Test format where he averaged nearly 39 with 6,453 runs besides his name.

David Warner (Australia)

WARNER1

With 18 tons in just 117 ODI appearances, Warner hasn’t really flattered to deceive in the limited-overs formats. However, given the fact that he walked into the Australian Test team on the back of his T20 prowess, his red-ball displays have really defied belief.

With a style that is both aggressive and bullish, the opening batsman has taken plenty of bowling attacks to the cleaners since making his Test debut in 2011.

He lost an entire year of Test cricket due to the ball-tampering scandal and then had a stinker of an Ashes series on his comeback. Yet, Warner has already bagged 24 Test tons his name and is showing no signs of slowing down at the age of 33.

While England’s Alastair Cook has the most overall runs in the period, it is Warner who has been the best Test opening batsman of the recently concluded decade. A strike-rate of nearly 73 and a Test average approaching 49 are phenomenal numbers for a batsman who was predicted to end up as a white-ball specialist in his early days.

His Test star was further brightened recently when he joined Australia’s triple century club with an unbeaten 335 against Pakistan in Adelaide.

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