They are a rare breed, these artists in the guise of batsmen.
They bat with the nonchalance of a government official. They make run scoring seem like the easiest thing on earth.
They make fast bowlers' deliveries arrive at them at super slowo-mo when the less gifted at the other end are hopping about trying to save their wicket (and life!).
Words like "brilliant", "exquisite" and "sublime" seem to have been invented to describe their batting.
In an era of super-fit, hard-hitting run machines that pass for batsmen, these men make batting look like a work of art in progress. In another time, they might well have been composing music and making the Mozarts and the Beethovens nervous.
They focus on the "means" as much as the "end". They believe in entertaining themselves as much as the spectators. To them, batting is ther destiny they were born to excel in. Runs, averages and records were just unavoidable by-products of their life's purpose.
Watching them play can make spectators gasp in amazement. When they fail, you feel indignant that they have done great injustice to their abundant gifts.
They are thus the most "difficult" batsmen to follow as they can be frustrating, as much as they are exhilarating, to watch.
Here's my list of the top five "artists" in Test cricket in the last 15 years. I have deliberately avoided left-handers as I don't like to compare their artistic talent with their right-handed counterparts.
Would love to hear your comments and inputs.
Dedicated to all the cricket connoisseurs in b/r. Enjoy the show!
One of the most delightful players to watch, his decisive footwork has always left bowlers in awe of him. He was expected to be the next Sir Viv Richards due to his stupendous talent.
But the comparison could not have been more wrong. Hooper represented everything Richards did not.
Richards' swagger and presence used to intimidate the bowlers -- half the battle would be won by the time Sir Viv took the crease.
Hooper's presence at the crease, on the other hand, would almost be unnoticed if it weren't for the flashes of brilliance he'd show when he wanted to.
He always appeared to be in deep in meditation, completely at peace with himself. And yet he could destroy any bowling attack when on song with minimal fuss.
The best acknowledgement of his brilliance came from the genius Shane Warne himself when he named him in his greatest 100 players, saying, "Averages don't count".
Martyn has got to be one of the most gifted batsmen ever. Watching him bat is sheer joy. His timing and execution always left spectators breathless.
His cover drives were sublime. His strokes were almost always sheer timing and no power. He played with reckless abandon and often fell to rash shots.
His amazing footwork against spinners made him one of the most successful batsmen in the subcontinent. He helped the Aussies win the Border-Gavaskar trophy in 2004 and won the Man of the Series as well.
His class and quality of strokeplay made Shane Warne rank him at 56 in his list of 100 greatest players. One of the finest batsmen the game has ever seen.
Whenever someone talks about a batsman having plenty of time to play his shots, the picture of Inzy waiting for eternity to pull the ball casually comes to mind.
A fantastic batsman who never loses his calm veneer while batting, he always appeared to have taken up batting as a pastime. Unfazed by any situation and undaunted by any bowling attack, the Sultan of Multan has torn apart many an attack.
His footwork, though minimal, has always been precise and his phenomenal bat speed always gave him the extra bit to make batting look like a stroll in the park.
Imran Khan compared him to Sachin Tendulkar during the early nineties but somehow the sleeping giant never really woke up enough. But despite that, cricket fans have been treated to some splendid strokeplay in his own inimitable nonchalant style.
The cricket world really misses Inzy.
The wristy batsman from Hyderabad came into the Indian side almost as if to replace fellow wristy Hyderabadi Mohammad Azharuddin. And he has managed to do that.
One of the few Indian players who seemed to have plenty of time to play his shots in Australia, he has haunted the Aussies innumerable times.
His off drives are mere pushes comparable to that of Sachin Tendulkar's. His onside play is as amazingly wristy as Azza.
His silken touch, sublime timing, outstanding footwork against spin (Warney will testify to that) and the ability to play the ball through midwicket and square leg, with scant regard to the line of the ball, make his batting a treat to watch.
His epic 281 at Kolkata against the might Aussies was his crowning moment of glory. He tormented the Aussies like no other Indian, save Sachin, has.
Because of that and his surreal strokeplay, he is indeed Very Very Special.
When asked why he ranked Mark above his brother, Warne said, "Steve's numbers are better, but Mark is graceful and I'd rather watch him,"
That is exactly why Mark Waugh tops my list.
His effortless brilliance is breathtaking. His ability to attack quality spin bowling, his ability to make batting look like poetry and the sheer grace of his strokes made his batting the most elegant to watch.
His greatest weakness (or strength) has been his inability to scrap it out. He'd rather make a beautiful 30 than make an ugly hundred -- a trait which probably cost him the success that Steve managed.
But in my book, had Mark Waugh adopted such an approach, he'd have been remembered for his average and not his effortless elegance. He chose to be a Howard Roark and played true to his self, thereby bringing joy to millions of cricket fans.