In a way, that’s been the story of the Indian cricket team of this decade. From a group of individual stars, they have become a team desperately seeking victory. Between the start of 2000 and now, under various captains, India have won more Test matches than they have lost. And quite a handful of those 45 triumphs have come when India have found themselves in in-the-trenches situations.
During this period, India’s stature has grown from ‘tigers at home’ to one of the most feared sides under all conditions. The genesis of India’s new-found status lay in what arguably can be termed as the best Test match – the Kolkata game against Australia in 2001 -- ever played. It’s only apt that the credit for ushering in a new era should go to Laxman. The right-hander’s epic 281 lifted India out of the dumps and the rest, as they say, is history.
To drive home the point, let’s look at India’s last two Tests, one away and the other at home. In Colombo this August, India had been pushed to the corner by Sri Lanka when Laxman came up with one of his better compositions to take the team to victory and level the three-Test series. Two months later, in Mohali last week, the miracle man from Hyderabad produced another special against Australia to help India pull off a thrilling one-wicket win.
While Laxman did play the lead role on both occasions, without the effective, dedicated support cast, the scripts couldn’t have reached the desired climax. In Colombo, Sachin Tendulkar and Suresh Raina enacted their parts to perfection while in Mohali, Ishant Sharma, battling injury like Laxman, came to the party. Not even the staunchest of Indian cricket fans would have backed India to cross the line from that hopeless situation last week. But then, that has been the hallmark of this team -- their never-say-die attitude.
It was but natural for any Indian fan to give up hope the moment he found the team in a crisis in the past, but not with this generation of cricketers.
It’s not that we hadn’t won before, nor is it that we haven’t lost in the recent past. The difference is, with due respect to stalwarts of yesteryear, that India have lost, it’s not because they have cracked under duress.
Over the years, this set of cricketers has consciously tried to change India’s image as poor travellers and has done so with great success on a consistent basis.
From Kolkata to Colombo, Leeds to Lord’s and Adelaide to Perth, India have scored some stirring wins and salvaged draws from impossible positions, all this achieved with complete teams efforts interspersed with great individual contributions.
Laxman did score 281 in Kolkata, but without Rahul Dravid’s 180, he couldn’t have given shape to the miracle. More recently, in the win over England in Chennai in December 2008 when chasing 387, Virender Sehwag produced a blistering knock to set the platform for Tendulkar and Yuvraj Singh.
It was the victory in Perth in the aftermath of the Monkeygate scandal in 2008 that best revealed India’s ability to express itself in the face of adversity.
They had lost the first Test badly in Melbourne and had been undone by several poor umpiring decisions in Sydney. Add to that the Harbhajan Singh-Andrew Symonds row, and India’s misery was complete.
Under tremendous mental pressure, they came to the WACA ground, the fastest pitch where, the locals -- media and players alike -- claimed Anil Kumble’s men would be buried.
Instead, India showed great resilience to stun the hosts, a defeat that has seemingly left such deep scars that Australia have never beaten India since, in six further attempts. There wasn’t a single individual star in that victory. There wasn’t a single ton; Dravid’s fighting 93 in the first innings was the highest. No bowler claimed a five-wicket haul, RP Singh’s four-wicket burst being the best. Yet, India had done the unthinkable!
It’s easy to venerate those who are still in active cricket. They continue to do what they have been doing, but spare a thought for some who have played an equal role in creating a great legacy but have stepped away from the spotlight.
Former captains Anil Kumble and Sourav Ganguly, one the greatest match-winner for India, the other, one of the best captains.
Both their careers ran almost parallel and they retired in the same series – against Australia in 2008 – leaving indelible footprints on the finest phase in Indian cricket.