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Gundappa Viswanath was 1st Indian batsman to top ICC rankings — Sachin Tendulkar stayed there the longest

While Gundappa Vishwanath (right) was the first Indian to reach the No 1 spot in ICC rankings, Sachin Tendulkar stayed there the longest © Getty Images
While Gundappa Vishwanath (right) was the first Indian to reach the No 1 spot in ICC rankings, Sachin Tendulkar stayed there the longest © Getty Images

Gundappa Viswanath was not only one of the most aesthetically pleasing batsmen ever. If one retrofits the ICC rankings for past dates, it turns out that the wristy wizard from Karnataka was also the first Indian batsman to achieve the number one spot in the world. Later Sachin Tendulkar occupied the spot for the longest period. Arunabha Sengupta analyses the ICC rankings over the years to see how various batsmen of India fared in this respect.

Whenever the name Gundappa Viswanath comes up, the image that forms in our minds is sublime artistry, poetry in the waft of the willow, the genius bat carving most lethal of bowling into offerings of beauty.

However, in spite of the impression of the batsman more associated with the temperamental than temperament, there was plenty of substance in the style, steel beneath the smooth rustling of silk.

In fact, it is scarcely known, and seldom recounted, that Viswanath was the first Indian to become the top ranked batsman in the world.

When we look at the International Cricket Council (ICC) ratings retrofitted over time, we find that  after a wonderful home season against the powerful West Indian side, Viswanath displaced Glenn Turner and climbed to the top spot of World Rankings on February 20, 1975. He held the top position for nine months till another little master, Alvin Kallicharran, went past him on November 28 of the same year.

Viswanath remained among the top bracket till late 1976 before his form dropped for a while. But by the end of 1978, he was once again one of the very best in the world. Of course, during 1978-79 the Packer Circus ensured the absence of such batting stalwarts as Viv Richards and Greg Chappell.  By late 1978, Sunil Gavaskar was at the top of the world and soon Viswanath perched at number two.

He remained among the top three before another dip of form late 1979, which proved to be rather permanent but for the occasional good innings.

In case one is wondering, Gavaskar became the number one ranked batsman in the world for the first time on December 1, 1978. He displaced Richards, at that time engaged in the  World Series Cricket. Richards resumed his position on the throne on June 17, 1980, seven months after his return to international cricket.  After that, Gavaskar did not regain his position at the top of the ladder, but remained consistently in the top three for a couple of years. He began sliding down from the top after the rather ordinary tour of West Indies in 1982-83.

The next Indian batsman to get to the number one ranking was of course Dilip Vengsarkar. Since the Deloitte Rankings were introduced while he was at his peak, the Bombay bat became the first batsman in the world to be officially acknowledged as the top ranked during his playing days.

Strangely, two years before Vengsarkar climbed to the top of the batting world, he had occupied the lowly spot of number 26 on the table. An incredible 1986 saw him take giant strides and race to number 10. And as his form continued to be supreme, on the Boxing Day of 1987 he ended up at the summit of the batting world, removing Allan Border from the pinnacle.

Vengsarkar’s reign lasted for 11 months before he was replaced by Javed Miandad.

The longest dominance at the top was predictably by Sachin Tendulkar. The first time he reached there was on November 18, 1994. There were occasional dips, but he stayed at the very top till late 2002. During 1998 to 2002, Tendulkar was comfortably perched at number one, vacating the throne for any considerable length of time only for Brian Lara. During this period Lara and Tendulkar exchanged the number one spot often enough.

Incredibly, the master regained his batting crown on October 8, 2010, almost 16 years to the day he ascended the steps to the throne for the first time. On this occasion the reign was short, and he was displaced by June, 2011. But, the span of greatness remains remarkable. Only Don Bradman, Garry Sobers and Jack Hobbs have managed comparable stints at the very top in the history of the game.

Rahul Dravid became number one for a very brief duration of 26 days on January 2, 1999 before giving up the spot to Tendulkar.  But, his real days of glory came later. On May 28, 2004 he went past Lara to become the top ranked batsman of the world. He remained number one till late January 2005. In March, he climbed back to the top for a very brief period of less than  a month amidst a tussle with Jacques Kallis, Lara and Ricky Ponting . After 2006, his form deserted him and he slid down the rankings and out of the top ten.

Virender Sehwag occupied the first position on the table for five months in 2010 from February to July. Interestingly, the man he displaced at the top was his opening partner — Gautam Gambhir. During his purple patch, Gambhir had held the top spot from July 12, 2009.

No other Indian batsman has ever made it to the top of the ICC Rankings.

The following table shows the pattern in which Indian batsmen have achieved the number one ranking. The major surprise, as discussed earlier, is the artistic genius of Viswanath leading the chronological order of this elite group of batsmen. The table also shows the difference between the protracted reign of Tendulkar and the relatively shorter stints of others.

Indian batsmen who were ranked number one in the world

Number 1 batsman in ICC Rankings Period at the top
GR Viswanath Feb 1975 – Nov 1975
SM Gavaskar Dec 1978 – June 1980
DB Vengsarkar Dec 1987 – Nov 1988
SR Tendulkar Nov 1994 – Feb 1995

Mar 1998 – Aug 2002*

Oct 2010 – June 2011

RS Dravid  Jan 1998 – Jan 1998

May 2004 –Mar 2005 *

G Gambhir July 2009 – Feb 2010
V Sehwag Feb 2010 – July 2010

* – With brief interruptions

Finally we take a look at the highest ever ranking achieved by the other batting stalwarts of India.

The highest ranking reached by other stalwart batsmen of India

Batsman

Highest ever Ranking

VM Merchant

9

VS Hazare

2

VL Manjrekar

8

PR Umrigar

6

CG Borde

9

MAK Pataudi

10

M Amarnath

8

M Azharuddin

3

SC Ganguly

8

VVS Laxman

6

CA Pujara

5

V Kohli

11

(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)

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