Monday, December 28, 2009

Indian Cricket: The decade that was...

From being labeled 'lions at home and lambs abroad' to being crowned numero uno in tests, team India has taken a billion people along on an exhilarating  journey that has witnessed a lot of highs and a few lows. What follows is, in my opinion,a summary of moments that hold special significance in the team's story during the last decade in chronological order.
  •  Champions Trophy 2000,Nairobi:Where it all began
The foundations of an aggressive and resurgent team India were laid right here, when India defeated Australia in a nail biting encounter, against all odds. Two guys- both southpaws-one with the bat and other with the ball-made their mark. Yuvraj Singh with a blistering 84 followed up Sachin's aggressive cameo (one of the rare occasions where the little master actually swore at McGrath)  and Zaheer Khan's bowling at the death which included that classic yorker to Steve Waugh turned out to be the defining performances of this match. The match might have faded into the horizon of public memory now, but this was the beginning...
  • Eden Gardens,2001: VVS Laxman,Rahul Dravid. Period.
Need we say more? In one of the greatest tests of all time,David had felled Goliath. And what a match it was. The Aussies had India by the scruff of their necks, and by the end of the 2nd day it appeared as though the final frontier would be conquered with ease. But standing there were two mild mannered gentlemen who turned  warriors and carried out one of the most impossible come-from-behind acts. And the rest,as they say, is history. To this day, teams around the world think twice before imposing a follow on. All thanks to this classic.
  • The  Lords' balcony and Sourav Ganguly: The Natwest final '02
"Bowled himmm!!! this was on the cards..."  screamed a despondent Harsha Bhogle from the commentary box as Ashley Giles castled Sachin Tendulkar with India tottering at a precarious 146/5 or something, chasing a then-monumental score of 326. Who knew that two youngsters, in their early 20's would snatch victory from the jaws of defeat from there. Yuvraj Singh and Mohd Kaif's inspirational partnership blended   frenzied running between the wickets and counter attacking stroke play and in the process scripted one of India's most celebrated wins.The twosome did a Houdini act, right in front of an exasperated Nasser Hussain and team. And who can forget  that once-in-a-lifetime reaction from Sourav Ganguly which is now part of cricketing folklore.
  • World Cup 2003:The Australian jinx
If I've got my memory right, we lost only two matches in that whole tournament and both were against the eventual champions, Australia. Between these two matches however, Sourav Ganguly and his team played some really inspired cricket in the face of fans turning fanatics and going on the rampage back home after that humiliating first round loss to Australia. It took a certain Sachin Tendulkar to appeal for calm and support. The whole team rallied around each other and played like deserving champs, only to be humbled by the brats from down under.
  •  "Do you realize whose catch you've dropped?"
The tension was palpable and the hype leading up to this match had attained  fever pitch. The match lived up to all that hype and how. Sachin Tendulkar's upper cut six over third man off Shoaib Akhtar in the innings of a lifetime elevated this contest to a different level altogether. Up against a stiff target set by Pakistan with their impressive line up of fast bowlers (Wasim Akram,Waqar Younis and Shoaib Akhtar) the Indians rose to the challenge and maintained their world cup record against Pakistan unblemished. Not to forget that  assuring partnership from Rahul Dravid and Yuvraj Singh which saw India home.
p.s. The quote at the beginning is what Wasim Akram said to Abdur Razzak after the latter dropped Sachin early on in his innings. This was said in Urdu of course.
  • India v Australia, 2003-04: Exorcising the overseas ghost
Steve Waugh almost ended up with a loss in his farewell series, thanks to  some really compelling cricket from the Indians. It all started with that brilliant 144 by Ganguly  at Brisbane on a seaming wicket. It all culminated in Adelaide with India's first victory, the chief architects being Rahul Dravid,Ajit Agarkar(with the ball in case you are shocked!) and VVS. Though we lost at Melbourne, the final one in Sydney saw Australia just scraping through. The series was fought against all odds and considering that we were whitewashed 3-0 in our previous outing ('99), this one is right up there among the best.
  •  T20 World cup, 2007: A Mallu in every corner of the world, including one at short fine leg at the Wanderers
Misbah-ul-haq,more than anyone else will agree to this Indian adage about folks from Kerala.As Sreesanth tantalizingly held on to that scoop from the Pakistani  off Joginder Sharma, a nation erupted in joy. In what would later turn out to be the precursor for the IPL and the T20 revolution, this inaugural world cup gave us some eminently memorable moments-none more than Yuvraj's six sixes in that 'Broad' over and that heart-stopping  bowl out against Pakistan in one of the earlier matches. For me, the more significant consequence of this victory was the emergence of MS Dhoni as a fearless and attitude oozing leader of men who would , eventually help India scale the test summit.
  • India v Australia, 2007-08: When Ricky Ponting ate humble pie
By this time, the India-Australia rivalry was (and still is) being spoken of in the same breath as that of the Ashes. This particular tour vindicated that hype. From  the infamous monkeygate  incident in the Sydney test to the redemption in Perth, the team gave back as good as they got. Anil Kumble's leadership during those times is nothing less than the stuff of legends.Ricky Ponting and his men might have won the test series, but not any admirers. Anil Kumble stood vindicated with his "there-was-only-one-team-playing-in-the spirit-of-the-game" quote. We had lost but we won. As a sort of poetic justice that was to follow, the team under MS Dhoni thrashed the home team in the tri-series finals. This too, was after some of the seniors were axed from the ODI side and the seniors v juniors debate started raging. Not to forget, the little master's brilliant innings in the two finals. :)
  • The fab 5
This is not about just one particular moment or series, but the relentless pursuit of 5 gentlemen known as Sachin Tendulkar,Rahul Dravid,Sourav Ganguly,VVS Laxman and Anil Kumble. The golden generation of Indian cricketers whose efforts in the last ten years or so have led us to the peak today.With their combined exploits, they helped build the team brick by brick, inspired youngsters,guided them and have been the source of joy for a billion fans. We have already seen the last of a couple of them,and the rest will soon hang up their boots sooner than later.
There have been many other moments too, which deserved a mention, but for the sake of keeping this short (I know it is already long) I'm not discussing them here. Some of those include the India-Pakistan matches at home and away, the famous triumph over Australia at home (which was Sourav's and Kumble's last series) , the recently concluded series against Sri Lanka and so on. The peak on which our team stands right now is actually the result of the journey the men in blue undertook ten years back and in due course they scripted many a memorable tale, some of which are highlighted above. Hope the next decade will continue to be as exciting, if not more, for we stand to witness the farewell of Sachin,Rahul and VVS in a few years time.

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