Much has been written and said about the Indian cricket team of the first decade of the 21st century, and in my opinion, they deserve every bit of the accolades. The team led by one of India’s best captains – Sourav Ganguly, began its journey amidst the hoopla of match-fixing. Indian cricket was at its nadir, with the names of stalwarts like Mohammad Azharuddin and Ajay Jadeja cropping up in this controversy. Indian fans were distressed to say the least, they could digest defeat, but in this case, mere commitment of their stars was at question. Corruption in politics was one thing, but corruption in cricket (which for many was like a religion) was something that an Indian fan was not ready to live with. Given this grim scenario, the Indian cricket team had a lot of burden on its shoulders. Each and every performance of the team was going to be scrutinized by the public, and any glitch could have been detrimental for the sport in India.
The team, under pressure from all sources, did a brilliant job by winning matches all over the world, and more importantly, winning back the confidence of its fans. For the first time in the history of Indian cricket, the team started winning outside the subcontinent. However, within the team, a few players could be credited to this success more than some others.
Below is a list of five players, who in my opinion, were the prime-drivers in getting back the Indian fans back to the stands:
5. VVS Laxman
Here was a cricketer who was trying to establish himself in India’s strong batting lineup. Having failed as an opener in prior appearances, he was given a chance in the middle order, and the rest – as they say – is history. For close to a decade, he became India’s crisis man. His knock of 281 at the Eden Gardens was a knock which redefined India-Australia rivalry forever. In sports, you win some games and you lose some, and the fans are aware of this fact. But what they look for is the fighting spirit, and Laxman symbolized this spirit in every sense.
4. Anil Kumble
Talk about fighting spirit in Indian cricket history, and the image of Kumble bowling with a fractured jaw to Brian Lara comes to your mind. This brave act by Jumbo (as called by teammates), said a lot about the person’s character. A cricketer who had made winning Test series’ at home on his own for years a habit, did not need to prove his dedication. Lesser mortals would have preferred to rest in such a scenario, but Kumble was different. If this act made a fan feel proud, over the years he produced many performances which brought back smiles on to the face of once depressed and disgruntled fans.
3. Rahul Dravid
The Wall and Mr. Dependable are the names by which Rahul Dravid is known as today. But at the time of the crisis of match-fixing, he was a young cricketer making a mark for himself in the international scene. With the departure of a few senior members owing to match-fixing, greater responsibility was entrusted upon him, and he lived up to it in his own unique style. He was truly a team man, ready to do anything for the team’s sake without creating a fuss, be it opening the innings or keeping wickets.
2. Sourav Ganguly
Regarded by many as the best Indian captain ever, the task assigned to him when he was handed the captaincy was huge. As the captain of the team, he had the responsibility to be a role model for budding young cricketers, and show them that the game was still clean. He taught the Indian team to fight, and fight hard. His fearless captaincy instilled a sense of confidence within the team, and won the hearts of the fans along with winning matches.
As arguably the greatest son of Indian cricket, “The God” had the task of reinstating faith amongst his million followers. He had relinquished captaincy to concentrate more on batting, and it did work out very well for the team. Not only did Ganguly prove to be a great captain, Tendulkar’s own batting performance improved and he started playing once again like the fearless fourteen-year-old kid who used to smash balls to every corner of Shivaji Park. He lived up to the expectation of the fanatical Indian supporter, and brought back the fans to say, “Cricket is my religion and Sachin is my God”.
Below is the list of cricketers who just missed out to make the top five, but whose contribution cannot go unnoticed in any discussion on the revival of Indian cricket:
Virender Sehwag – A cricketer who started his career trying to be a clone of Sachin Tendulkar, but later on came to be known by his own daredevil style. The first Indian to score a triple century, his greatest contribution to the team is the manner in which he attacks from the word go and takes the life out of opening bowlers. For long, India had been looking for a quality opener and his success at the top solved many a problems for the captain. A couple of reasons which made him miss the top five is his inconsistency and the reckless manner in which he gets out many a times.
Harbhajan Singh – The first Indian to take hat-trick in Test cricket, finds his name missing from the top five owing to inconsistencies and a few controversies. His career has been marked with controversies, be it the monkey-gate episode with Andrew Symonds, or the slapping of Sreesanth.
Javagal Srinath – India’s premier fast bowler, and the spearhead of the attack during the late 90s and early part of the millennium finds his name missing owing to injuries, which shortened an otherwise brilliant carrier. To be a successful fast bowler on docile Indian wickets, he achieved what many can only dream of. Along with Kumble, he has been the script writer of many famous Indian victories.