Formidable to fearsome

Formidable to fearsome


Formidable to fearsome

Virender Sehwag enhanced his reputation with massive knocks in Test cricket.

The graduation from formidable to fearsome didn’t transpire overnight. That said, 2009 will go down as a momentous year in the history of Indian cricket.

In terms of mass adulation, few sides can match the Indian cricket team. That adulation grew manifold in the last 12 months as India carved a niche of their own, twice briefly holding the number one slot in one-day cricket and assuring themselves of the coveted year-end number one status in the ICC Test rankings.

Even a country obsessed with individual accomplishments and personal milestones couldn’t have asked for more from the national side. Shrewdly marshalled by Mahendra Singh Dhoni, India went undefeated in Test cricket in 2009 and held their own in the 50-over format too.

The ICC events were, however, a completely different cup of tea. India failed to make the knockout stages of both the World T20 in England in June and the 50-over Champions Trophy in South Africa in September-October, twin disappointments that took a bit of gloss away from an otherwise wonderful year for team and individuals.
India’s progression to the top of the Test standings is an apt reflection of the quality of cricket they have consistently put on view for the last couple of years. India began the new year much like they ended the old, with a series win; this one carried greater significance because in April, Dhoni’s band became the first Indian outfit since 1968 to win a Test series in New Zealand.

India played just six Tests in 2009, winning three and drawing the other three. Seldom were they stretched or pushed to a corner. Their 2-0 triumph at home over Sri Lanka earlier this month was their fourth consecutive Test series win. There is a genuine belief within the ranks now that no matter what, there is enough quality in the ranks to bail them out of trouble.

The limited-overs game was almost equally rewarding, notwithstanding the Champions Trophy setback. Indeed, that was one of only two blips as India won a bilateral series and a triangular competition in Sri Lanka which sandwiched a maiden one-day series success in New Zealand and a 2-1 triumph in the Caribbean. The Champions Trophy debacle was followed by a 2-4 loss to a below-strength Australia at home, a pill as bitter to swallow as early elimination from the ICC’s showpiece event was.

India’s batting stalwarts had a wonderful time, while the bowlers did just enough without setting the stage on fire. Not surprisingly, Sachin Tendulkar was one of the leading lights as he went on to complete not just 20 years as an international cricketer but also 17,000 one-day runs and 30,000 international runs, mind-boggling numbers to go along with a whopping 48 international centuries.

In a further indication that India are no longer a one-man batting army, several other batsmen hogged the limelight at various stages, none more emphatically than the complementary Delhi opening duo of Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir. After grabbing the record for the fastest hundred by an Indian in one-day cricket, Sehwag narrowly – by seven agonising runs! – missed out on becoming the first batsman to score three Test triple tons, his uniquely destructive brand of batsmanship giving bowlers sleepless nights and umpires enough stretching exercises.

Without being as bruising, Gambhir was no less effective. By the time India were done with Test cricket for 2009, the left-hander had made seven hundreds in his last nine games, won the ICC Test Player of the Year award and shown that he could seamlessly flit between systematic dismantler and meticulous accumulator. Indeed, the Gambhir-Sehwag tandem was a huge force behind India’s surge in both forms of the game, their frenetic rate of scoring and prolific opening stands setting the foundation for a classy middle order to erect monumental structures upon.
Rahul Dravid shrugged off a forgettable 2008 with consecutive hundreds against Sri Lanka and made a brief, slightly confusing, return to the one-day format, while Dhoni stacked up the hundreds in both versions with staggering regularity towards the end of the year. Yuvraj Singh showcased increasing levels of comfort and assurance at the Test level, while the bench strength responded adequately when the need arose, no one more impressive than Tamil Nadu opener Murali Vijay.

The bowling suffered for long periods in the one-day game in the absence of an injured Zaheer Khan. Ishant Sharma went dramatically off the boil, and Irfan Pathan and Munaf Patel fell out of favour after ordinary performances. Ashish Nehra’s return to the limited-overs game after four years in the wilderness was the lone bright spot, but India’s bowlers continued to struggle on flat tracks in Test cricket, the retired Anil Kumble sorely missed at crucial moments.

The balance sheet shows more plusses than minuses, but the events gone by will have little meaning when 2009 gives way to 2010. New challenges lie ahead, none more demanding than the World T20 in the Caribbean in the first half of the year, as Dhoni’s men eye unfinished business.

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