Cricket, just like any other sport, needs its iconic moments and superstars to inspire the young generation. Just look at the just concluded summer in England. The ridiculousness of Ben Stokes’ performance in the World Cup final and the Headingley Test against the improbability of odds, the renaissance of Steve Smith and the emergence of Jofra Archer and off-course that World Cup final and whatever happened around it hooked and inspired a plethora of ten-year-olds to take up the game.
Just like English cricket this summer, Indian cricket during the course of its history has had multiple magnanimous moments; one that not only inspired the younger generation but also changed the game forever.
Here’s the compilation
1. Test series win in WI and England, 1971
If 1983 kickstarted the ODI cricket revolution in India, the year 1971 was equally symbolic for its Test side. It was a year where the Ajit Wadekar-led side did what the captains of both present, past or even future would have as the first thing to achieve on their bucket list: win a Test series in overseas conditions.
Wadekar and his team did that twice during the summer of 1971, beating West Indies and England in their own den. The series in the West Indies unleashed Sunil Gavaskar to the world. The opening batsman had a breakout debut series where he scored 774 runs across 4 Tests and along with Dileep Sardesai, who scored a double hundred in the opening Test was a key contributor in the series win.
Riding on their maiden series win in the Caribbean, India went to England riding high on confidence. England had not lost their last 24 Test matches which they would take to 26 after drawing the first two Tests. But, India, buoyed by Chandrashekar 6-38 in the second innings rattled England for a mere 101, leaving themselves a target of 173, which they duly achieved courtesy valuable contributions from Sardesai (40), Vishwanath (33) and Engineer (28*).
It would take India another 25 years (2006) to win their Test series in the Caribbean and almost 15 (1986) and 21 years (2007) in England to register the other two series wins, putting into context why the summer of 1971 was truly special.
2. Kapil’s devils defy the odds to kickstart a cricket revolution [1983 World Cup]
The foremost reason why Indian cricket is there where it is today. Nothing would have happened. You won’t have been hooked to the game like you are now, I won’t have been making a living out of this game. Hell! Even the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid or any youngster from that generation wouldn’t have aspired to hold a bat or a cricket ball for India.
There are moments. There are landmarks. And, then there is 25 June 1983. A day that saw the biggest underdog heist in the history of sports or at least cricket. A day where millions of ten-year-olds aspired to become the next Kapil Dev or the next Mohinder Amarnath or Sunil Gavaskar. It was a moment that was symbolic as to what can be achieved even when the odds are stacked against you (In India’s case it was 500:1).
India had just won a solitary World Cup in the last two quadrennial events and by the admission of that World Cup-winning side himself, they weren’t expected to do much that time around either. Some had even made plans for a trip to the US after the event was done and dusted.
And it was only when they proceeded to beat the West Indies by 34 runs in their opening game that a sense of self-belief started to come in the Indians. Successive defeats to Australia and defending champs West Indies threatened to derail the campaign and when the side was reduced to 5-17 in their must-win game against Zimbabwe, it looked like another World Cup will end up with embarrassment.
But Kapil Dev produced an innings for the ages, smoking Zimbabwe to the tune of 175 and sealing his sides’ spot in the semis where the Kapil’s devils brushed aside England with ease to set up a finals date with the defending champions; a date that ended with Kapil Dev holding the coveted trophy from the balcony of Lord’s; a moment no Indian can or should never forget.
3. The 2001 Test series win against Australia
India had lost just one Test series at home for more than a decade, the Australians hadn’t won in this part of the world since 1969. Steve Waugh’s side was on a 16-match winning streak when they toured India in 2001, prompting the skipper to declare the tour as ‘The Final Frontier’ for his bunch of ‘invincibles’. Australia routed Ganguly’s men in the first Test in Mumbai in under three days, prompting the likes of Bishan Singh Bedi to declare the imminent death of Indian cricket.
And, when the Aussies asked India to follow-on in the second Test at the Eden Gardens, it looked like the ‘death’ of Indian cricket with coincide with Australia breaching the ‘final frontier’. Enter VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid. And, an all-time great partnership ensued. Both batsman, battling form, fitness, and fever [in Dravid’s case] put on a masterclass of skills, patience, artistic strokeplay, and most importantly character to defy the Aussies for a day and a half, helping India to set 370 odd for the beleaguered visitors to chase on the last day.
Most wickets for India v Australia, Border-Gavaskar Trophy 2001
Harbhajan Singh: 32 wickets in six innings at 17.03
Zaheer Khan: 3 wickets in 4 innings at 63.00
Sachin Tendulkar: 3 wickets in 5 innings at 50.33
But, as they say, batsmen set-up the matches but its the bowlers who win you games. Laxman and Dravid had ensured India couldn’t lose the game but the bowlers still had to take ten Australian wickets. And, remember it was a bowling attack without Javagal Srinath and Anil Kumble, both of whom were out of the series due to injury. It puts into perspective the contribution of Harbhajan Singh in that 2001 series; a bowler who single-handedly walked past the famed Aussie batting line-up throughout the series, taking 32 of the 49 Australian wickets that fell in the series with the second-best being Zaheer Khan and Sachin Tendulkar with three wickets each.
Bhajji took six out of those 32 wickets on that historic last day at the Eden Gardens including the final wicket of McGrath to help India become only the second team in history to win a Test match after following on. And, he did not stop there. The off-spinner went on to claim 15 wickets in the next match before scoring crucial runs at the end with Sameer Dighe  to seal a memorable series win for India and deny Waugh’s dream of breaching the final frontier.
That win against Australia not only gave Team India two superstars in VVS Laxman and Harbhajan, both of whom when on to play over a hundred Test matches, it also gave Ganguly’s men the confidence that they can compete and win against any side in the world. It gave the much-needed cutting edge; one that would help them beat England in England in 2007, stay competitive with Australia Down Under [1-1 in 2003/04 & 1-2 in 2007/2008] and scale a lot of unchartered territories [ a maiden Test win in South Africa in 2007] in the years to follow.
4. The NatWest Trophy Final, 2002
It was a win that was symbolic of a new India; a young aspirational India, an in-your-face 21st century India, who were not prepared to be the ‘nice guys’ who are still submerged in a colonial hangover and let someone dictate the terms to them. This was an India that knew how to retaliate back on the slightest of provocation by the opposition; an amalgamation of legends and precociously talented youngsters led by a leader whose prime objective was to restore the credibility of Indian cricket after the 2000 Match-fixing fiasco. This was Ganguly’s Team India.
And, the win in the final at Lord’s was a reflection that of that team in a nutshell. An opening pair determined to give their side the best possible shot at chasing the down Mount.326, two youngsters- Yuvraj Singh and Mohammad Kaif- converting the adversity into a golden opportunity to showcase not only their precocious talent but also their temperament followed by that iconic celebration by the captain which is now a part of the folklore. Ganguly whirling his shirt at the Lord’s balcony is not just an iconic image- one that has got impinged with this win- it is also symbolic of an India who knew how to give it back to the opposition. And, Ganguly’s line to Boycott, when asked why he chose to remove his shirt at Lord’s, summed it up beautifully.
“Lord’s is your Mecca, and Wankhede is ours!” referring to Fintoff’a antics at the Wankhede, months before the NatWest Trophy.
5. 2007 World T20 win and the subsequent emergence of the IPL
As I write, it is 12 years to the day when it all started: The Dhoni era. An era that saw India create a dynasty of ICC trophies: T20 World Cup, 2011 World Cup, Champions Trophy, ICC Test Maze. An era that saw a leader who taught us that it’s possible to stay insanely calm even in the direst of situations.
It all started with that inaugural T20 World Cup in September of 2007. India, off-course wasn’t in favor of participating in a T20 World Cup initially and had to be outvoted by the member nations to eventually participate. The seniors decided to give the tournament a miss and a young team under a new captain- MS Dhoni- was sent to South Africa in the competition.
What happened in the tournament was something no one could have perceived. With minimal expectations considering the obscurity of the format back then, Team India played like fearless tigers. Outstanding individual performances by Yuvraj Singh ( six 6s and 70 off 30 vs Aus in the semi), Rohit Sharma (53 vs SA), Gautam Gambhir (77 off 57 in the finals), Irfan Pathan, RP Singh, Sreesanth and not to forget Joginder Sharma, backed by their equally fearless leader in Dhoni, helped India pip Pakistan in the finals to become the inaugural T20 World Champions.
Buoyed by India’s win and the threat of the rebel Indian Cricket League, the BCCI decided to launch what is now one of the leading franchise tournament and certainly the best T20 tournament in cricket: The India Premier League. The IPL apart from all its riches has also given a plethora of discarded and upcoming Indian and foreign cricketers to showcase their talent in front of near packed stadiums and lock horns with and against the best in the world.
It has also led to the popularization of franchise-based tournaments in the country with various leagues like the Indian Super League and Pro Kabaddi taking the leap out of the success story of the IPL, giving a lot of athletes an opportunity to showcase their talent and also at the same time becoming financially secured.
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