The past decade has been one of conquests, not only in terms of cricket but as a whole for India. Emerging from the shadows of dominant pseudo neighbor China by conducting successful nuclear tests at the end of the last decade, this decade has seen India come into its own. Talking about cricket, there have been numerous victories, not only on the pitch but off the pitch as well. As I sit down to detail the Indian cricket saga for the past decade, I still feel the hair on the back of my hand rise up in excitement. And before I begin, I would like to thank Mr Derek Pringle for inspiring me to write this article by naming Viru as cricketer of the decade . (By the way, did you know, the google auto complete feature in the google search box gives the first option for sehwag as sehwag hair transplant :P).
The decade began on a sour note for India. With the match fixing controversy at its height, Mohammed Azharuddin was stripped off the Indian captaincy and banned for life. But the outcome of that incident resulted in a decision that changed the face of Indian cricket in a way that it would never be the same again. Sourav Chandidas Ganguly was asked to take over the reins of the Indian cricket team.
No one could have foreseen at that time that this man from Behala would revolutionize the way India played cricket and give a new direction to Indian cricket. The election of Ganguly as captain was followed a few months later by the selection of John Wright as India’s first foreign coach. Together, Dada and Wright turned India into world beaters. Dada’s no holds barred approach and aggressive captaincy was a first for an Indian captain. With his no nonsense approach and faith in youngsters, Ganguly emerged as a role model for young India.
Perhaps the most famous of Ganguly’s victories as captain, the 2-1 test series win over Australia at home redefined the way the world saw Indian cricket. Down 0-1 after losing the first test by 10 wickets at Mumbai to an all rampaging Australian team which had won 16 Test matches on the trot, a world record, India went into the match low on confidence and morale. And a shameful capitulation looked imminent with India being forced to follow on after conceding a 244 run lead in the first innings. What followed was one of the most spirited fightback seen in the history of Test cricket. Thanks to a record breaking 281 from one Vangipurappu Venkata Sai Laxman and a century from India’s WALL, India managed to overturn the deficit and gave the Aussies two and a half sessions to bat out for a draw. Sitting pretty at 166/3 , a draw seemed comfortable enough for Australia. But they hadn’t taken into account a youngster named Harbhajan Singh. The Turbanator as he is fondly known had already sounded the bugle in the first innings by claiming the first hat-trick for an Indian in Test match cricket (feeling those goosebumps?)
He claimed 7 wickets in all in the first innings. Bhajji returned to the party in the second innings scalping 6 wickets to end with match figures of 13/196 and take India to a memorable victory. India thus became only the third team in the history of Test cricket to win a test after following on. Australia, incidentally has been at the receiving end in all three occasions. India went on to win the third Test at Chennai and Steve Waugh’s Final Frontier remained unconquered.
ODI’s that year saw the emergence of a has talent but won’t go far because of lack of footwork Virender Sehwag. Having debuted about 2 years back, Sehwag had not been a regular member of the team. With a foot injury to regular opener Sachin Tendulkar, Sehwag was pushed to open the innings in a match against New Zealand. He grabbed the opportunity with both hands and hit a century in 69 balls to cement his place in the side.
While the Border Gavaskar Trophy may be Ganguly’s best win in Test cricket, the Natwest trophy win was one of the finest in ODI’s. Set 326 to win, India were languishing at 146/5 and all seemed lost when Yuvraj Singh was joined on the crease by Mohammed Kaif. Together, they went about repairing the innings while not letting the run rate get too much on them. Victory was still far when Yuvraj got out with the score on 267 but Kaif saw India through with the help of tail enders.
In an unforeseen celebration, Dada went half-monty in the Lord’s balcony a-la Andrew Flintoff at Wankhede. While Dada was criticized by the foreign media for ungentlemanly behavior, he was showered with praise and adulation in India for giving the firangi back in his own coin.
2003 saw another cricket World Cup, this time in South Africa. India went into the World Cup with a less than impressive form and fears of a washout seemed imminent after India were destroyed by Australia by 9 wickets in the first match. But as has been the case since 1989, one man stood tall and unwavering. Sachin made the World Cup his own by hitting 673 runs during the World Cup, a record. Memorable among his innings was the 75 ball 98 against Pakistan where he single-handedly demoralized the whole Paki bowling attack into submission.
Praise for Sachin, howsoever rich, can never be sufficient. Putting country before self and working effortlessly for the past twenty years, Sachin has established himself, in my mind at least, as the most complete batsman to have played the game of cricket. I have lost count of the number of banners that I have seen which say “Cricket is my religion and Sachin is my God”. I hope that India win the World Cup in 2011 to bestow upon this great one trophy which has been missing from his cabinet.
India went on to reach the finals of the World Cup where they were beaten by Australia by 125 runs.
2004 saw the first triple century in Test cricket by an Indian batsman. Sehwag blasted 309 against Pakistan at Multan beating Laxman’s previous record. Having already established himself as a regular in the Indian batting line up, Sehwag was now breaking record after record making people sit up and take notice. From a uninhibited risk taker, he had transformed to a controlled aggressor. No wonder, he hit another triple century later and an almost triple century in the recently concluded India-Sri Lanka test series where he hit 293 in the final Test breaking numerous records on the way. He is indeed the man to look out for.
After the completion of his contract in 2004-2005, John Wright went back to New Zealand and was replaced by Greg Chappell. Tiff with Dada led to Dada’s removal from captaincy and the Indian cricket team leading to widespread protests in West Bengal. Being the fighter that he is, Dada went back to the domestic arena and scored heavily leading to his recall to the Indian team. He retired in October 2008.
With the arrival of youngsters in the team, the Indian team performed exceptionally well, rising to as high as 2nd in the ODI standings. A record of 17 consecutive successful chases followed soon after. Though India didn’t do too well in the latter half of 2006, they performed admirably in months preceding the World Cup in 2007. Hopes were high for the World Cup but losses to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka put paid to any of those hopes.
2007 also saw the ascent of Dhoni to the Indian captaincy following Rahul Dravid’s step down. Dhoni led India to a fabulous victory in the Inaugural T20 World Cup.
The league match against Pakistan was an absolute riot with the scores tied at the end of the match and a bowl out being used to decide the winner. India won the bowl out 3-0 providing great entertainment and showing why T20 is here to stay.
The World Cup conjured up another magical moment when Yuvraj Singh belted Stuart Broad for 6 sixes in an over. This was the first instance of six sixes in an over in any form of the game played between two test playing nations. In the process, Yuvraj completed the fastest half century in T20’s off just 12 balls. What is interesting here is that Yuvraj had just come off a minor skirmish with Andrew Flintoff in the previous over where Flintoff seemed to be pointing towards the boundary.
I guess Flinty just doesn’t learn from his mistakes.
The final was another cliffhanger as Pakistan looked set for victory when Misbah ul Haq committed hara-kiri by going for a paddle scoop over fine leg but only managing to give a catch to short fine leg, thus giving India the victory by 5 runs.
Since then, India’s star in world cricket has shone brighter than ever before. A “successful” tour to Australia was followed by more wins in the long, shorter as well as shortest form of the game have established India as the team to beat in the recent past.
The cherry on the cake was of course the top position in the longer format of the game which was obtained after the recent win against Sri Lanka. India ranks 2nd in ODI’s currently and has a good chance of overtaking Australia in the coming future.
Whoa, this article is already too long. I guess you will have to wait for the “off-field” successes till the next one.
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