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September 17, 2001

Seminal moments in Indian cricket

Roshan Paul

Which games have been turning points in Indian cricket?

I had just finished an article for my college newspaper on some of the most influential moments in recent global history when, being a cricket buff, I began to wonder what some of the seminal moments in the history of Indian cricket were. The next step of course, as a true cricket fan, was to rank these moments.

I'm not necessarily talking of great performances here. Rather, I refer to moments that have shaped the future of the game in India, not just the way it is played, but also the way it is run. This is Indian cricket's equivalent to the landing on the moon or the attack on Pearl Harbour or, I suspect, the destruction of the World Trade Centre. These are moments when you will always remember what you were doing at the time, or in this case, how you sat glued to the television or the radio with bated breath.

All these moments are necessarily the result of great performances, but not vice versa. Thus, Anil Kumble's 10/74 against Pakistan does not qualify nor does Tendulkar's dust storm-interrupted century to take India to the Sharjah final, to give just two examples.

So here are my top 5, highly subjective, defining moments in Indian cricket.

Ganguly and Dravid breakthrough 5) Test debuts of Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly, Lord's, June 1996. This game heralded a major change in India's batting line-up and introduced our current captain and vice-captain. Ganguly hit 131 and Dravid raised eyebrows by walking when on 95. The partnership was only 94 (Ganguly batted at #3 and Dravid at #7) but it was the first of several future match-winning efforts from the duo. Who can forget what they did to Sri Lanka in the last World Cup? This Test also practically ended the careers of Sanjay Manjrekar and Ajay Jadeja (as a Test batsman) as India's batting line-up revamped itself to become one of the most formidable in the world.

The continued success of Dravid and Ganguly, even if in different forms of the game, have also taken enormous amounts of pressure off Sachin Tendulkar's troubled back, leading to Shane Warne describing India's 1999 batting line-up the best in the history of one-day cricket. Ganguly and Dravid are still young as far as batting goes and they are standing up for their colleagues against the BCCI. I think we can all be excited about the future of their careers.

4) Scoring 406/4 to beat West Indies, Trinidad, April 1976 As much as this was a seminal moment for Indian cricket, it was even more of a seminal moment for world cricket. A formidable West Indian team, already leading 1-0, set the then minnows of cricket, India, 403 runs to win in the fourth innings at Port-of-Spain. This was a rare West Indian team, however, for it had three spinners. India defied the odds to win with centuries from Sunil Gavaskar and G. R. Vishwanath, and a fantastic 85 from Mohinder Amarnath. That innings is still the highest successful run chase in Test history.

A furious Clive Lloyd told his spinners their careers were over and ushered in an era of fearsome fast bowling in which his team would sweep all before them. Pace would be the way of the future and in the next Test itself, he ordered his bowlers to go around-the-wicket and bowl to hurt the batsman. It was in this game that Bishan Bedi made his famous declaration at 97/6 to shield his bowlers from injury. By this time, Vishwanath, Gaekwad and Brijesh Patel were all in hospital.

Sachin Tendulkar3) Sachin Tendulkar's 82 off 49 balls, Auckland, March 1994. Would we be happy today if Sachin Tendulkar did not open the innings for us in one-day cricket? The man around whom our batting has revolved for most of the last decade first provided a glimpse of his true prowess in this game. Until then he had been wasting away in the middle-order, untapped potential waiting to be turned on. Then he was promoted to open and promptly went berserk. Granted the target was small but no one who saw it will ever forget the look on Danny Morrison's face that day as Tendulkar assaulted him and began a new chapter in Indian cricket.

Let me put it this way. Before that game, Tendulkar averaged under 31 without a century. After that game, Tendulkar has averaged 47.29 with 29 centuries. And there's definitely no 'fuzzy math' there.

2) Away series victories over West Indies and England in 1971. 1971 was the year that India showed it could play with the big boys. First we defeated West Indies 1-0 in a 5-Test series. The biggest factor is this victory was undoubtedly the emergence of Sunil Gavaskar, who scored 774 runs at 154.80. Then, we went over to England and defeated a very strong team 1-0 in a three-Test series. For a team accustomed to being the whipping boys of the world, the confidence that would have come with these triumphs can only be surmised, but I'm positive it was huge. And it made the cricketing world sit up and take notice.

Kapil Dev 1) World Cup final triumph over West Indies, Lord's, June 1983. The greatest triumph of David over Goliath in the history of the game. No-hopers India beat a West Indian outfit that were not only two-time World champions but also arguably, the best team ever; and they did it by defending 183. The ultimate team performance that gave us hope as a nation and will forever be a sparkling reminder, no matter how mercurial our current team chooses to be. Need I say more?

An interesting point to make about the last one is that if not for Kapil Dev 's stunning 175 not out against Zimbabwe, when India was 17/5, we may not have even made it to the semi-finals. Thus, I suppose, it could be argued that it was Kapil's innings that brought Indian cricket around the corner. However, that innings would have not held its magic until today if we had lost the final.

There are other moments that could be on this list. The World Championship Cup in Australia in 1985, when India, for my money, had the best team it's ever had. One could also argue that the six hit by Javed Miandad off Chetan Sharma in Sharjah was a defining moment in our cricket for it initiated the dominating reign that Pakistan has had on us ever since. And it's too early to tell what the long-term effect of the Calcutta Test against Australia will be; and how important Harbhajan's hat-trick and V V S Laxman's 281 will be for the future of Indian cricket.

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