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500 Stories to tell

2nd October 2016

Boria Majumdar


Despite winning against England at Chepauk in February 1952 and following it up with a series win against Pakistan, Indian cricket continued to struggle in the 1950s and 1960s. Series wins against England in 1960, a rare away win against NZ in 1967 and some important wins against Australia notwithstanding, it was not until 1971 that Indian cricket made giant strides and gained world recognition.
The miracle of 71
Beating the West Indies
This tour, regarded as a watershed in India’s cricket history, saw India compete in all the five Test matches. The win in the second Test, which resulted in India’s first series win in the Caribbean, was followed up by other, no less tangible, performances against the world’s most feared cricket team. K. N. Prabhu, one of India’s senior most cricket writers, who covered the tour for the Times of India, summed it up in the following words, “The 1971 tour of the West Indies will be remembered for three distinct achievements. These are- India’s first victory in the Caribbean, our players team spirit through the series and the emergence of a young batsman who can lay claim to a place in cricket’s hall of fame.”
This is how he described the performance of Sunil Gavaskar, “Gavaskar’s performance in this series could well serve as a theme for a cricket historian. He should serve as a model to all aspiring cricketers. He learnt as he went along, cutting out his faults and perfecting his strokes. Unspoilt by success, he accepted all the praise showered upon him as the day’s routine.”
That the win in the Caribbean was no flash in the pan was evident when the Indians beat the mighty English at the Oval thanks to the magic of Bhagwat Chandrasekhar.
In his words, “My bowling in the first innings at the Oval was nothing special, though I did get the wickets of Basil D’Oliveira and Ray Illingworth. The second innings…well, that was just one of those days. I had never been a bowler who planned things. Most of the time, I bowled whatever I like, without giving much importance to the conditions or who I was bowling to. I always believed that if I bowled well, I could trouble most batsmen because I could get extra bounce from a placid pitch and get some nip of it. That afternoon everything just fell into place. We won the match, if I’m not wrong, on Chaturthi day- someone had even brought an elephant to the ground. But it was only when we arrived back in India that we realized the enormity of our achievement. They took us from the airport to the Brabourne stadium in open cars and some of those cheers still echo inside my head even today.”
Despite these two amazing series wins the consistency that a champion team craves for was still lacking in Indian cricket. Getting bowled out for 42 in England in 1974 was a serious blip and it was not until the famous run chase at Port of Spain that things came back on track. Finally, a group of champion batsmen in Gavaskar, Mohinder, Vishwanath and Vengsarkar had started to carry the team forward. With the champion in Kapil Dev joining the ranks soon enough, by the early 1980s India was a formidable opposition in every sense reflected in the team winning the one day 50 over world cup in England against all odds.
The arrival of Tendulkar
When Tendulkar faced up to Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis in 1989, coming back to score a 50 after being badly hit on the face, India knew that its cricketing general post Gavaskar had arrived. And a nation, which is perennially searching for someone to worship, was suddenly enthralled as to what a five foot five could do.
And when he was joined by Anil Kumble a year later and Saurav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid in 1996 and VVS Laxman a while later, India had started to take strides to becoming the world’s leading Test team and take on the mighty Australians who were winning everything everywhere. This turnaround finally happened in Kolkata in 2001 when under Saurav Ganguly India stopped Steve Waugh’s marauding Aussies and went on to script history in the following test match at Chennai winning the series 2-1.
But by the turn of the millennium Indian cricket had turned into a national obsession. It was the only symbol of nationalism that had currency in all parts of the country alike. With cricketers standing forth as the new icons of a nation that was beginning to break into the global market, cricket emerged as the new aspiration of the country’s youth. The 1990s were also marked by an unprecedented democratization of the game that had started out as the patricians’ forte. With the influx of multinational sponsors, who brought the game into the forefront of the national economy, cricket was no longer merely a sport. Cricket became an industry employing close to 500,000 people, in addition to a subsidiary economy that grew around it. The game was now a symbol of meritocracy, and the dreams it spawned led to its becoming central to national life.

To Be Continued...