Indian cricket ushers in a new era
Jagmohan Dalmiya's partnership with Punjab Cricket Association boss IS Bindra propelled him to the top of the BCCI echelons. The duo changed the rules of cricket administration as they maximized the television rights of Indian cricket. Driven by money power, they soon began flexing their muscles internationally even crashing the exclusive ICC club. The crowning glory of the BCCI arrived when Dalmiya was made ICC President in 1997.
Ever since then, BCCI tightened its grip on world cricket administration. It's no secret that a BCCI President is often the most powerful man in world cricket and therefore, its de-facto boss. Time and again, as evidence suggests, BCCI has got its way with other boards and even the ICC. It will continue to get its way. That's how the dynamics of world cricket is now structured.
The rise of Indian cricket on the field and off it occurred in unison. It was almost as though the players on the pitch fed off on the dominance Indian cricket officials displayed in the ICC boardroom. This was evident soon after Sourav Ganguly took over as captain of the Indian cricket team.
It was a time when the Indian fan had few reasons to celebrate. A Hero Cup here, a Titan Cup there. Probably the only thing that kept fans going was frequent Sachin Tendulkar hundreds. The men in blue were mostly beaten to pulp by all major cricketing powers. Playing Pakistan anywhere else but the World Cup was plain depressing. India almost always lost. Even getting past Zimbabwe wasn’t a foregone conclusion any more. It was a time when Arjuna Ranatunga's Sri Lanka and Hansie Cronje's South Africa dominated world cricket.
Last week, the wise men of Indian cricket named a list of 30 World Cup probables. Among the notable exclusions were Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh, Gautam Gambhir, Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan. It must be said that their exclusion didn't come as a rude shock to fans, however the news was greeted with a tinge of nostalgia and sadness.
After the match-fixing controversy first rocked Indian cricket, Sourav Ganguly set about rebuilding the team. Dada's blueprint for Indian cricket was based around youth, aggression and fearlessness. He gave birth to a new brand of cricket in India that probably changed the image of Indian cricketers forever. At the heart of his revolution were Yuvraj, Sehwag, Harbhajan and Zaheer Khan.
Now that they, along with Gambhir, almost look certain to walk into the sunset, one cannot help but feel it indeed is the end of an era – one that transformed Indian cricket forever.
Yuvi - the swashbuckling left-hander in the middle, Bhajji – the pugnacious off-spinner, Viru, the smiling assassin at the top and Zak, India's finest seamer (after Kapil Dev and Javagal Srinath) were drafted into the Indian side by Dada, all – young, aggressive and fearless.
This was a new team. A team that was aware of its standing in world cricket. These young guns played with freedom and expressed themselves on the field. The new Indian side stared enemy in the eye and gave it as good as they got.
Indian fans had seen a generation of Indian cricketers happy to get a mouthful from aggressive fast bowlers without giving a befitting reply. This new, in your face approach was refreshing to watch, ask any Indian fan and they'd agree.
Propelled by Sehwag's explosive stroke play at the top and Yuvraj's final flurry as the match tailed, there was now a genuine belief that a 300-plus run total was chaseable and no score was too daunting. Test matches could be won even after following-on and twenty wickets could be scalped away from home, was now a belief that resonated among players and fans alike.
The newfound swagger meant India began winning Test matches abroad. The burden of a billion fans was now rested on young, broad and capable shoulders of a new generation of cricketers. Indian cricket was ushered into an era of match-winners.
It was heartening to see Yuvraj guard the point region throwing himself around in the field. Just like it was watching Zaheer bowl yorkers with unerring accuracy at the death. Losing Tendulkar early at the top no longer meant India was condemned to a certain defeat. We began beating Pakistan frequently and not just in the occasional World Cup.
Champions Trophy, World Cup, triangular or bilateral, the Indian cricket team was now a force to reckon with in ODIs.
The brand of cricket played by India improved dramatically. It excited fans and was fitting of the passion and emotion with which they thronged to stadiums in India and abroad. There were disappointments, but the triumphs outweighed them.
The Indian cricket team is the most followed team in world cricket. Greg Chappell once called them the “Beatles” of the sport. The national fervour and sustained drama surrounding the national team is truly unique, a bit like the football team of Brazil. This Indian team revelled in such drama. They loved the attention. Getting to milestones with sixes rather than an easy single was the new way.
Though Ricky Ponting's Australia dominated that era, the constant run-ins Indian players had with their Aussie counterparts was a sign of their changing attitude. Even the Aussies were taken aback with the new body language of Indian players, as Adam Gilchrist later admitted. They hated it.
Today, as young Indian cricketers enter the international arena, they are armed with self-confidence – a quality that probably rubbed off on them, watching the likes Yuvi, Viru, Zaheer, Bhajji, Gambhir and others.
The stars that fashioned India's 2011 World Cup triumph no longer have an opportunity to do an encore in Australia and New Zealand. However, fans of Indian cricket owe them a deep debt of gratitude. The baton has been passed and a successful era has ended. That's the nature of sport.
As the national selectors seem to have indicated, new faces are set to usher Indian cricket into a new era. The responsibility of 'nurturing' the sport as Sachin Tendulkar said during his farewell speech is now with a tattoo emblazoned, moustache-twirling generation of cricketers.
They are of course, just as capable and fearless as their predecessors.