The scene is Day 1 of the fourth Test between India and England at the Oval, on 2 September 2021.
Put into bat, India were in dire straits having lost seven wickets for a mere 127. Enter Shardul Thakur.
In a stunning counter attack of sorts, he played a blazing innings. He scored 57 runs in 36 balls, ensuring India got to a respectable 191.
The searing attack in which he smote every other ball took me right back to a select group of swashbucklers who hit and dispatched the ball with utter disdain and were (or are) great entertainers.
Among them, I have chosen Farokh Engineer, Virender Sehwag, AB de Villiers, Matthew Hayden and Brendon McCullum.
(Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
In over 150 years, an extraordinary feat has been achieved only four times: a century before lunch on the opening day of a Test match.
India’s Farokh Engineer came mighty close in the Madras Test in January 1967, against the most dreaded pace attack of Wes Hall and Charlie Griffith, not to mention the great Gary Sobers and Lance Gibbs.
Decades before the advent of one-day cricket and the much shorter T20 cricket, Engineer was the real precursor of all swashbucklers to come.
Sample this from the 1967 Madras Test: Griffith 0-46 in his first six overs, Hall 0-35. Engineer scored 57 in a score of 72 for no loss in 12 overs after the first hour.
India’s Virender Sehwag’s simple motto was the ball is meant to be hit. So hit it. Indeed, he did hit it and whack it. He tore into even some of the best bowlers in the world.
In a super prolific run between 2003 and 2008, Sehwag scored a record 11 centuries, all over 150. He smashed the fastest triple century ever, against South Africa (2008) in just 278 balls.
To top it all came the innings like none other: a 293-run humdinger in 254 balls at the Brabourne Stadium in December 2009 in the third Test between India and Sri Lanka, missing by a whisker to become the first ever to score three triple centuries in Test cricket.
AB de Villiers of South Africa is one of a kind. His abilities as a batter and his repertoire of strokes is simply unbelievable.
(Photo by Gareth Copley-ICC/ICC via Getty Images)
De Villiers’ dexterity is such that he can send the same ball to different boundaries with ease. The scoops over long leg, slog sweeps over mid-wicket and the coaching-book forward defensive stroke all have to be seen to be believed.
AB de Villiers is a modern-day cricketing great and holds his place among the elite. He holds the record for the fastest ODI century ever, just 31 balls against the West Indies in Johannesburg in 2015.
Matthew Hayden was an integral part of a much-feared Australian cricket team between 2000 and 2009. He could straddle across all three formats with ease and score consistently.
Part of the two World Cup winning campaigns in 2003 and 2007, Hayden smashed a 66-ball century against South Africa during the 2007 World Cup.
Big, burly and a tall southpaw, the opening bat would often step down the wicket and charge towards the fast bowlers, and smash them through the off side. In a monumental effort he scored a record-breaking 380 in a Test match in Perth in 2003 against Zimbabwe.
Brash is the word New Zealand’s Brendon McCullum used to define himself. Indeed, he was a dasher and attacked the bowlers even in Test matches.
In a clear testimony to his fitness levels, he played from debut to his last Test match without a miss.
A destructive batter in the shorter formats, McCullum often cut loose in Test matches.
He played some audacious shots like the ‘Dilscoop’ to an over-150-kilometres-per-hour delivery. His last Test outing in 2016 ended in a blitzkrieg with a 54-ball century, the fastest ever.
Right from the time these batters stepped in, their singular approach was to hit, strike, pull, heave, punch, hook, smack and send the ball high and faraway over the ropes, irrespective of the bowler or the format of the match.
When they were batting, the spectators the world over were on the edge of their seats, their adrenaline levels up and soaring, craving for much more.
These batters were swashbucklers nonpareil.