History’s weight will be felt when Kanpur’s Green Park Stadium hosts the first Test between India and New Zealand from September 22.
The aura of a major milestone will linger as India will play its 500thTest, a steady progress from its maiden venture against England at Lord’s in 1932 when C.K. Nayudu’s men showed that they could compete despite a 158-run defeat.
After 84 years and 499 Tests, the country’s cricketing journey has been one of growth and a gradual bucking of the stereotype.
The nation, perceived to lean heavily towards the instant pleasures of the shorter formats, has also been loyal to Tests. The current home season, featuring 13 Tests, starting with the one against New Zealand, reiterates that.
Measure of confidence
From being diffident travellers for long, the Indians have, of late, acquired a measure of confidence when the seas have been crossed; from being confined into the two boxes of being either high on aesthetics (wristy batsmen) or cunning (wily spinners) to now being labelled as a squad that has a wide range of players — be it unconventional batsmen or fast bowlers, India has come a long way.
A glance at the results reveals a pattern that moves from a draw-oriented approach to one that pushes for victory.
Yet, in the overall sweepstakes, India’s winning percentage of 25.85 is better than only New Zealand, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, while its shot at draws (42.48 per cent) is the highest among all Test-playing countries.
Since Sachin Tendulkar made his debut in 1989 and others like Anil Kumble and Rahul Dravid, to name a few, joined him, India has given a better account of itself both at home and away. The successive 0-4 losses to England and Australia in 2011, as twilight engulfed a few greats, dented the gloss, though.
The story of Indian cricket has been one of growth. If it was about drawing succour from individual performances in below-par results in the earlier era, it is about the confidence of delivering, irrespective of the opposition, in the latter part.
Doing a Houdini
Perhaps, the birth of belief occurred when Sourav Ganguly’s men did a Houdini at Kolkata’s Eden Gardens in 2001 as V.V.S. Laxman and Dravid, together with Harbhajan Singh, conjured up a victory from the jaws of defeat against the hitherto invincible Australia.
An earlier generation, when the team lost, would have felt happy to draw strength from Sunil Gavaskar’s brilliant batting while countering the fiercest of fast bowlers or derived joy from the exploits of the famous spin quartet.
En route to its current position, India has busted a few myths. Cannot produce fast bowlers? Remember Kapil Dev striking Sadiq Mohammed’s helmet in Pakistan in 1978.
Inferior in verbal duels? How about when Australia’s Mike Whitney threatened to knock down Ravi Shastri, the latter quipped: “If you were so good, you wouldn’t be the bloody twelfth man.” Scared of fast bowling? Recall Mohinder Amarnath coming back with a bloodied jaw and hooking the first ball in the West Indies in 1983.
Be it the sheer miracles that Tendulkar uncorked in his prime or the irreverence that Virender Sehwag reserved for the best of bowlers, the rousing tales of Indian cricketers cannot be compressed into a few words.
The collective self-esteem that permeates Indian cricket today and the widening demographic profile with players emerging from far and wide — Ranchi’s M.S. Dhoni being the most glittering example — are are among heartening factors.
As skipper, Virat Kohli has to build on the edifice bequeathed to him by many predecessors ranging from the great M.A.K. Pataudi to the charismatic Dhoni.
It has been a good ride so far but the road ahead is long and a young squad has promises to keep.