Ever since England and Australia played out the first-ever Test match in 1877, the game has undergone a lot of development and rule-changes. There was the inception of limited-overs cricket, starting with One Day Internationals, first with 60 overs and then 50 overs. T20 cricket, the shortest format of the game, came next.
A lot of great batsmen have played the game over the years. Each format needs a different approach, and currently, being consistent across all three formats is a commendable feat. While players like Chesteshwar Pujara are recognised as Test specialists, some players like Kane Williamson and Virat Kohli can bat exceptionally well in any given format.
Test match cricket is called old-school by some, but for the cricket purist, the royal whites and the red cherry always remain the testament of a player's class. There have been batsmen who have achieved tremendous success in Test cricket, which requires patience and endurance.
Here are 10 great batsmen who have never been ranked #1 by the ICC, despite their impressive efforts in cricket's longest format.
10. Damien Martyn
Although Damien Martyn got his first Test and ODI caps in 1992, he was soon dropped because of poor form, and would not play a Test match until 2000. When he did, however, he made a brilliant return. He consolidated his spot in the Test team as a permanent middle-order batsman when he scored an Ashes century at Edgbaston, replacing Justin Langer in the XI.
In Australia's tour of the subcontinent in 2004, Martyn was highly successful with the bat against both Sri Lanka and India. He collected four centuries, two each against both countries, and narrowly missed out on a 5th century in the 2nd Test against India at Nagpur (97).
His rich form with the bat continued when Pakistan toured Australia. Martyn scored two centuries in the first two Tests against Pakistan in December 2004.
The Australian has scored over 4,000 Test runs, and was renowned for his flowing cover drives. Despite his consistent exploits towards the end of 2004 and at the start of 2005, Damien Martyn could only achieve a career-high ICC ranking of 3 in Test cricket, in March 2005.
9. Faf du Plessis
Faf du Plessis is one of cricket's late bloomers. The 35-year-old former South African skipper made his ODI debut in 2011 and Test debut in 2012.
Despite making a late debut, Du Plessis showcased his worth in his very first Test against Australia. He was the last man to be dismissed in the 1st innings, scoring 78 runs in reply to Australia's 550. In the 2nd innings, he played a brilliant knock of 110* off 376 balls, lasting over 7 hours at the crease.
Du Plessis was also at the crease when South Africa were chasing 458 against India in December 2013. The game was drawn with South Africa finishing at 450/7, and Du Plessis again played over 300 balls and scored a crucial 134.
Being a fan of debut centuries, he also scored an unbeaten century in the first day-night Test involving South Africa (118* vs Australia). However, Du Plessis has never been ranked #1 by the ICC in either ODI or Test cricket. His highest Test ranking of 10 was achieved in February 2019.
8. Herschelle Gibbs
Another South African on the list, Herschelle Gibbs is renowned for his devastating batting in the limited-overs format. He was the first person to hit six sixes in an ODI game against the Netherlands. He is one of the few people who have scored three consecutive ODI centuries as well.
In Tests, however, his career did not get off to the best of starts, with 54 being his highest score after 12 games. In his 13th Test, he went on to score a double-century against New Zealand (211* off 468), a slow-paced innings which was usually not associated with Gibbs.
He hit his purple-patch in Test cricket after he scored his 2nd double century. He scored 228 against Pakistan in January 2003, this time at a strike-rate of 95. He followed that up with two centuries in the series against England in July-August 2003.
Gibbs fell short of the century mark against Pakistan in the next series, scoring 98 in the 2nd Test. He would also go on to score centuries in all games against the West Indies (142, 142, 192) in 2003-04.
Despite such a strong run of form, Gibbs did not reach the summit of ICC rankings in that season. He achieved his career-high rank of 6 after his 2nd double century against Pakistan, and a career-high rating of 825 after the West Indies series. He ended his career with over 6,000 runs in Test match cricket.
7. Brendon McCullum
The former Kiwi skipper was one of the most loved and entertaining cricketers in the world. He was a swashbuckling opener, and the immense amount of strength he possessed could clear any boundary with ease. Ask Dale Steyn, whose very first ball of the World Cup 2015 semi-final game was smashed out of the park by the Kiwi batsman.
In the first-ever IPL game, he scored 158* while playing for KKR, an innings that took the world by storm. McCullum was never quite the influence in Test cricket that he was in the shorter formats of the game, despite playing over 100 Test matches (176 innings).
The closest McCullum came to the top spot in the ICC Test rankings was in 2014. In December 2013, he scored a century against West Indies, and he started the series against India with a double century at Eden Park (224 off 307). In the next game, he went a notch higher and scored a triple century at Wellington (302 off 559).
If he had been consistent for even a few more games, he could have breached the ICC Top 10, and could have possibly reached the No.1 spot. However, he followed it up with a poor tour of West Indies.
He started the next series against Pakistan on an average note but ended it with a double-century. In December 2014, he scored 195 against Sri Lanks to follow it up, but his inconsistency struck again, and McCullum could not breach the Top 10 rankings.
He was a brilliant batsman in the shorter formats of the game, but his best ever rank in Test cricket was 12, which came after his triple-century against India.
6. Chris Gayle
Christopher Henry Gayle can be cast in the same mould as Brendon McCullum. The West Indian opener is a proper entertainer and a great persona on the pitch. Along with the likes of AB de Villiers, Brendon McCullum, and Andre Russell, he is one of the batsmen to whom you wouldn't volunteer to bowl to in a T20 game.
We don't associate Gayle with patience and running between the wickets. He has had his fair share of exploits in Test cricket, however, including a career-high score of 333 scored at a strike rate of 76 against Sri Lanka in 2010, his 2nd career triple-century.
Owing to his inconsistency in Tests, Gayle was never in the top 5 of the ICC rankings. His career-best ranking of 10 came after his triple-century in November 2010, before which he had scored two centuries in the Australian tour in December 2009.
Gayle played 182 Test innings, scoring over 7000 runs, with 15 centuries, three double-centuries, and two triple-centuries.
5. Justin Langer
Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist were Australia's tried and tested ODI opening combination for a large part of the 2000s. In Tests, Gilchrist batted down the order, and Michael Slater and Matthew Hayden shared the opening burden.
Justin Langer batted one-down till 2001, after making his debut in 1993 against a deadly West Indian bowling attack, led by Curtly Ambrose and Ian Bishop. He opened for the 1st time in Tests in the Oval Test in Ashes 2001, scoring a century (102*) after having been dropped for poor form previously. As an opener, Langer fared better.
The next series was against New Zealand. Langer scored 104 at Brisbane in the first Test, and 123 at Hobart in the next Test. In the following series against South Africa, he got two more centuries at Adelaide (116) and Sydney (126).
This was his best spell of form in Test cricket, but even this could help him achieve only a career-high rank of 6 in Test cricket. He scored a double-century (250) in the Ashes in 2003 at Melbourne, and was Australia's top-scorer with 391 runs in the Ashes in 2005.
4. Kevin Pietersen
This might come as a surprise. Everyone knew Kevin Pietersen was destined for great heights in the sport when he debuted against Australia in the Ashes in 2005. In the first Test at Lord's, he came in to bat at 18-3 and scored a gritty 57 in the 1st innings. In the second innings, he came in after a similar collapse, and this time, remained unbeaten on 64.
In the final Test of the Ashes, Pietersen smashed 158 runs in the 2nd innings before being dismissed by Glenn McGrath. The then then-25-year-old finished his first Ashes with three fifties, and a century. With 473 runs, he was also the team's top scorer in his debut series.
Pietersen's best run of form followed the Ashes. He had successful tours of India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. He managed a century against Pakistan, two against Sri Lanka, and another 158 in the 2006 Ashes at the Adelaide Oval.
Pietersen achieved his career-high rank of 3 after scoring 70 and 60* in the 1st and 2nd innings at the WACA. Pietersen reached his rating of 909, after scores of 109 and 226 in consecutive games against West Indies.
It can be seen how unlucky he was to not achieve the top ranking, considering current No.1 batsman Steve Smith has a rating of 911.
3. VVS Laxman
Indian middle-order batsman VVS Laxman was a Test specialist, who was much more successful in the longest format of the game than in limited-overs cricket. Laxman has played many handy knocks for India, and his composed run-chase against Australia at Mohali is a knock fresh in the minds of Indian cricket fans.
However, his 281 against Australia back in 2001 at the Eden Gardens is undoubtedly his most famous knock. It came after the follow-on had been enforced on India, who then went on to win that Test courtesy of Laxman's innings.
Laxman was highly successful against Australia, which is strange considering that the Aussies were a great (maybe the best) bowling side during his peak years. The wristy batsman scored six centuries and 12 fifties at an average of 49.
Shane Warne admitted after the 2001 series that he was clueless as to how to stop Laxman. Despite his great batting exploits, being a lower-middle order batsman gave him minimal chances to score many big centuries. His highest Test ranking of 6 was achieved in 2011, a year before he retired, proving that he aged like fine wine.
2. Sanath Jayasuriya
Sanath Jayasuriya was a dreadful man to bowl to in ODIs. The Sri Lankan opener was a very belligerent batsman who had no respect for the new ball, and proceeded to play his natural attacking game at the start of every innings.
In a game against Pakistan in April 1996, Sri Lanka lost their first wicket at the score of 71. The departing batsman Romesh Kaluwitharana scored a duck after playing 11 balls. All the runs on board were scored by Jayasuriya alone.
In the ODI format, he introduced the new culture of going after bowlers at the start of the innings. However, it was a different situation in Tests. In contrast to the 13,000-odd ODI runs he scored, he managed only around 6,000 in Tests.
After his debut in 1991, the two matches against India at Colombo in 1997 were possibly his best. He scored 340 in the first game at R Premadasa Stadium, and in the next game, he scored 199 in the 2nd innings at Sinhalese Sports Club Ground.
In 2004, Jayasuriya got three centuries, one each against Australia, Zimbabwe, and Pakistan. His 253 against Pakistan at Faisalabad came in the same year. On the back of these performances, Jayasuriya's rank rose to a career-high 3 in January 2005.
He retired from Test cricket in 2007, but not before hitting six fours in a single over of James Anderson in his final Test.
1. Graeme Smith
Over 9000 runs, 27 Test centuries, and five double centuries - but never been ranked 1! Former South African skipper Graeme Smith is undoubtedly the best Test opener that the nation has ever had.
Very early in his career in 2003, he went on to score consecutive double centuries against England. In the 1st Test at Edgbaston, he scored 277 and 85. In the next game at Lord's, he scored 259, which remains the highest ever score by a foreign player at Lord's.
Smith also holds some laudable Test records. He has scored the most Test centuries as a captain in a winning cause (15). He is also the player who has scored the most number of Test runs as captain (8659).
The left-handed opener has been a part of all four of South Africa's opening partnerships which made over 300 runs- 301, 338, and 368 with Herschelle Gibbs at Centurion, Birmingham, and Cape Town respectively, and 415 with Neil McKenzie at Chattogram.
Smith achieved a career-high ranking of 2 in January 2010, with Gautam Gambhir being ranked first at the time.Published 02 May 2020, 22:55 IST