April 16, 2017

How India became a cricketing heavyweight

The team's evolution over the decades has led to today's formidable and combative unit that has reached the upper echelons of the sport
136

India are a well-rounded team who will not easily give up their No. 1 Test ranking © Associated Press

Watching India defeat Australia in a highly entertaining series reconfirmed how far the home side has progressed as a cricket nation in the years since I played against Tiger Pataudi's men in 1967-68.

Pataudi led a side that had two fine spinners, Erapalli Prasanna and Bhagwath Chandrasekhar (much like the current Indian team does), and they soon added a third in Bishan Bedi. The one advantage Pataudi's team had over Virat Kohli's group was close catching; no one could match the bravery and skill of Eknath Solkar. He used to field so close at leg slip, you felt like telling him, "Ekky get out of my back pocket."

What Pataudi's team really lacked was a genuine fast bowler. Kohli's side is way ahead in that regard with a talented group to choose from, headed by the tireless and talented Umesh Yadav. Despite the undoubted skill of Pataudi - he belted the Australian bowlers all over the MCG while batting on one leg with a hamstring strain and only one good eye - and a few of his comrades, Kohli's side is a stronger line-up.

There have been many individuals in the past who have worn the India cap with pride and stood firm against the strongest of opponents, but in this century it's the whole team that competes

Even without a substantial contribution from Kohli, India were able to hold at bay a strong Australian pace attack, thanks to the skill of KL Rahul, the dogged and relentless concentration of Cheteshwar Pujara and the defiant strokeplay of Ajinkya Rahane. Rahane's calculated counterattack in the final innings, which carried India to a series win, was symptomatic of how combative Indian cricket has become.

A few former Indian Test cricketers have told stories of how a number of players were more interested in proudly displaying the cap and sweater than competing at the highest level. One player, who had shown fine form in the tour matches in Australia in 1977-78, was informed he'd been included in the next Test side. On hearing the news he was about to face the fast and furious pace bowling of Jeff Thomson, he responded, "Why me?"

For some time now, the Indian side has been more than willing to compete with the best. Consequently, they have risen to the top of the Test rankings, in addition to holding a similar spot at different times in the shorter forms of the game. There have been many individuals in the past who have worn the India cap with pride and stood firm against the strongest of opponents, but in this century it's the whole team that competes.

MAK Pataudi's fighting spirit is now a trait the whole India team displays © PA Photos

Players like Pataudi, Prasanna, Bedi, Farokh Engineer and Sunil Gavaskar are good examples of past Indian players who were out there to compete. Playing against those guys, you knew you were in for a fight. They spoke of how they were inspired by past players like Vijay Hazare, Vijay Manjrekar, Vinoo Mankad and others of that ilk. In turn, Pataudi and Co inspired the next generation, which included standout competitors like Ravi Shastri and Kapil Dev.

The inspiration of these past players led to a golden era in Indian cricket with the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble, Virender Sehwag and VVS Laxman not taking a backward step against any opponent. Along the way, the leadership also became more combative and the players acclimatised better to overseas conditions. All these factors have culminated in India rising to the No. 1 Test ranking.

India's path to the top wouldn't have been possible without some strong leadership off the field. The man who showed the way was Jagmohan Dalmiya, who set both the BCCI and the ICC on the path to riches, and with the money came power. Indian cricket is now a rich and powerful operation - the Facebook of the international game.

While Kohli is currently the face of Indian cricket, there have been many players along the way who have helped raise the standard to this lofty level. With many established stars, and rising talents like Rahul and Kuldeep Yadav, India will remain a highly combative and eminently watchable team in the foreseeable future.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is a cricket commentator for Channel Nine, and a columnist

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Jay on April 22, 2017, 12:28 GMT

    Ian is spot on: Yes, this is the "golden era of Indian cricket" inspired by many players of past decades as described below. The present breed of star players - led by Kohli, Rahane, Ashwin, Jadeja, Umesh & Co - are Heavyweights in a class by themselves. Call them "fitness freaks": lean & mean, rigid exercise & diet regimen aided by modern training & sports medicine. Perhaps, IPL has a lot to do with this Weightwatcher mentality of "fat is the enemy of speed"! Just watch the "Thrilla in Manila" finishes. Seriously, IPL has become a sports model in world cricket. With its nationwide "ecosystem" it provides livelihoods for over 500 players from all corners. A great cross-cultural leveler, these aspiring youngsters get to play with the best of players, coaches & staff from around the world. Despite scandals, BCCI (now being "cleansed") generates ~70% of all cricket revenues. Frankly, I never imagined Indian cricket would become a world-class cricket Powerhouse in my lifetime, Ian!!

  • Jay on April 22, 2017, 1:01 GMT

    6) The 2000s saw the dramatic rise of Team India after overcoming the 2000 match-fixing scandal. The Team was solidly built around a critical mass of matured "Young Turks" - Ganguly, Tendulkar, Dravid, Kumble, Laxman - led by Coach Wright & Captain Ganguly. They inducted promising youngsters - Sehwag, Zaheer, Harbhajan, Yuvraj, Gambhir, Dhoni & Co. Their rise was however abruptly halted by a humiliating fall. India was knocked out of WC 2007. Coach Greg Chappell left. But like a true boxer, India bounced back to win the inaugural WC T20 2007 - another major breakthrough milestone - with the newly anointed Captain Dhoni. It reclaimed ascendancy under Coach Kirsten & Dhoni to lift the Test Mace & WC 2011. Team India reached the top or near it in all 3 forms of the game. A genuine Heavyweight by all measures. India embraced T20. BCCI seized the moment to launch IPL in 2008 - a significant transformation in Indian & world cricket. Indeed, 2008 was Tipping Point 3 in Indian cricket!

  • Jay on April 22, 2017, 0:04 GMT

    5) The 90s saw the arrival of the "Young Turks" of Indian cricket - Tendulkar, Kumble, Ganguly, Dravid, Laxman & Co. Their upward trajectory was boosted, coincidentally, by the economic reforms of the early 90s, and a big spurt in TV satellite networks. Which In turn boosted the popularity of cricket in the sub-continent with the hosting of WC 1996. SL won it then as did Pak in 1992. Importantly, Dalmiya was unanimously elected ICC President in 1997, the first Asian. Bangladesh was awarded Test status; it hosted the first-ever ICC Knock-out Trophy in 1998. Importantly, Power shifted from the old Eng-OZ duopoly ("Imperial" Cricket Conference) to a multi-nation ICC ("International"), relocating its HQ from Lord's to Dubai in 2005. Ian is right: Dalmiya deserves credit for a major overhaul of ICC and enriching its & BCCI coffers with WC 1996 revenues. A Billion+ Dreams. India emerged as an influential Heavyweight in world cricket!

  • Jay on April 21, 2017, 13:23 GMT

    5) The 90s saw the arrival of the "Young Turks" of Indian cricket - Tendulkar, Kumble, Ganguly, Dravid, Laxman & Co. Their upward trajectory was boosted by the coincidental economic reforms of the early 90s, and a big spurt in TV satellite networks. Which in turn boosted the popularity of cricket in the sub-continent with the hosting of WC 1996. SL won it then as did Pak in 1992. Importantly, Dalmiya was unanimously elected ICC President in 1997, the first Asian. Bangladesh was awarded Test status; it hosted the first-ever ICC Knock-out Trophy in 1998. Importantly, Power shifted from the old Eng-OZ duopoly ("Imperial" Cricket Conference) to a multi-nation ICC ("International"), moving its HQ from Lord's to Dubai in 2005. Ian is right: Dalmiya deserves credit for a major overhaul of ICC and enriching its & BCCI coffers with WC 1996 revenues. A Billion+ Dreams. India emerged as an influential Heavyweight in world cricket!

  • Jay on April 21, 2017, 0:29 GMT

    4) The 80s marked another breakthrough milestone, as Kapil Dev's team pulled off a dramatic upset win in WC 1983 vs defending Champs WI at Lord's. The turning point was Kapil's stunning catch to dismiss the great Viv Richards. India defended a "fighting total" of 183 runs by bowling out the era's most formidable batting side for only 140. David vs Goliath! What's more, it speeded up Indian cricket's transformation to ODIs after adopting it just a decade ago. Recall the turmoil in the 70s, when Packer's rebel WSC league lured away leading cricket stars from Oz (incl Chappelli) + Eng, SA, WI & Pak. India resisted joining WSC by taking a principled stand. Not only did BCCI help to preserve Test cricket, it also shook up the Heavyweight ICC power structure by winning the right to host the 1987 WC in the sub-continent. Dalmiya was BCCI chief. He also enabled the re-entry of SA to international cricket in 1991. David defeated Goliath: Indeed 1983 was Tipping Point 2 in Indian cricket!

  • Jay on April 20, 2017, 15:59 GMT

    3) The 70s started off with a huge Test breakthrough in 1971 with Wadekar leading India to a 1-0 series win over WI in WI. It was marked by rookie Gavaskar's historic 774 runs in 4 Tests. Later India beat England (considered the best team then) in a 1-0 series win on English soil for the first time, another major breakthrough. I was there at The Oval in Aug 71 to witness the epochal triumph - spearheaded by Chandra's match-seizing spell of 6 for 38, assisted by able spinners Bedi & Venkat and superb close-in fielding, especially incredible Solkar & keeper-batsman Engineer. Wadekar was chosen as skipper over the Nawab as he chose instead to fight elections over the Weighty "privy purse" political issue. Still I felt it was Pataudi's team - as he had groomed many of the players into a Light Heavyweight class, outmatching the Heavyweights on their own turf. Indeed, 1971 was Tipping Point 1 in Indian cricket!

  • Jay on April 20, 2017, 14:44 GMT

    Ian - Spot on! Indian cricket has evolved over decades in sync - curiously - with various dictionary definitions of "Heavyweight." Meaning: How Weight & Weighty issues impacted progress by effecting critical Tipping Points along the way. Let me weigh in: My glimpses of Indian cricket history are time-capsules since Independence in 1947: 1) The 50s: core foundation laid by boyhood heroes - Hazare, Mankad, Roy, Umrigar, Phadkar, Manjrekar & Co - selfless, toiled for a pittance. But they were mostly above average Weight (big waistlines). Much as I watched them play, they were naturally slow & got knocked around by Heavyweights WI & Oz; 2) The 60s saw an ascendant path under 'accidental captain' Pataudi's bold leadership, after Contractor's tragic knock-down in WI. Tiger led by example with his attacking batting & agile fielding, inspiring "tiger" traits of power, acute senses & sharp reflexes. Players embraced Team spirit. Lighter in Weight, quick on their feet & minds like the great Ali!

  • Ibrahim on April 20, 2017, 14:40 GMT

    I see many Indians here berating Pakistan team. India were a good team between 2001 and 2007, but over the last 7-10 years they have done nothing special to be called the no.1 team... Any team can reach the top by simply playing 14 back to back tests at home. Pakistan on the other hand haven't played any cricket at home since 2009 and considering all the mistreatment Pak received by ICC ( who we all know is controlled by India), what they have achieved in the last 8 years is something India can never do. Many people keep bringing up India's and Pakistan's record from the last 20 years, but if we look at the present Pak are a much better team than India... better bowling and better batting in tests. And for those who still think India is better than Pakistan, keep this in mind: Last 7 years, 21 overseas tests, 1 win, 15 losses, and 5 drawn, that is how horrible and dismal India have been outside Asia in the last 10 years..

  • venkatesh on April 19, 2017, 14:12 GMT

    There is a yin yan balance in the indian team which is the reason for the performance but will kohli be aggrressive in his captaincy in overseas tours we dont know only time will tell but sign are good.

  • wimals9183211 on April 18, 2017, 12:52 GMT

    Ian always talks giving some sweets to India.

  • No featured comments at the moment.