By Prof Satya Narayan Misra*
As India strides forward to celebrate its 75th year of independence, it coincides fortuitously with its 75 years in Test cricket after Independence. The Indian team under Lala Amarnath played a five-test series in Australia in 1947-48 and was pulverized by a superb Australian team led by the iconic captain Don Bradman, who by common consent is considered the greatest batsman that cricket has seen. Bradman’s pulsating bat plundered 715 runs against friendly Indian bowling and Indians did not have a clue how to handle the pace duo, Lindwall and Miller, losing the series 4-0. The only saving grace was a century in both innings by Vijay Hazare at Adelaide.
India’s dismal record in test series took a surprise turn when Chandrasekhar’s googly magic from a withered wrist walloped the English team at Oval in 1971. It was preceded by another Calypso jugalbandi in batting by Sunil Gavaskar and Dillip Sardesai, when India trounced the mighty West Indies led by Garfield Sobers 1-0. The year 1971 can be considered a watershed moment in Indian cricket when the colonizer and best in the business, were humbled by a combination of the guile of the spinners and the grit of Gavaskar. However, pace bowling remained India’s Achilles heel. Vishwanath was an exception and an ideal foil to Gavaskar’s technical solidity. Vishwanath’s square cut in the words of Tony Cozier, the ace cricket commentator was like ‘an extension of his hand’. Vishwanath’s 97 not out is considered by the connoisseur as one of the best played by an Indian at Chepauk in 1975 against a rampaging Andy Roberts at his best. Gavaskar’s 221 against England in 1979 at Oval, nearly won India an impossible match. Mohinder Amarnath has possibly shown the best possible spunk against the best pace attack of Pakistan and West Indies in the 80s. India’s epic win against a challenging target of 403 at Port of Spain in 1976 against the searing pace combine of Roberts, Holding, and Holder was orchestrated by three musketeers; Gavaskar, Vishwanath and Amarnath.
The victory in the 1983 world cup is another watershed moment for India in the short format games, where India showed enormous fragility in their two outings in 1975 and 1979. Kapil’s blistering 175 against Zimbabwe in 1983 had a Viv Richards in souciant touch. He repeated the magic when he took an incredible catch running back to see the back of a rampaging Viv in the 1983 world cup final. Like Dhoni’s helicopter six to win the World Cup in 2011, Kapil’s incredible catch is the best visual memory of Indian cricket.
The 1990s and early twentieth century were lit by the majestic presence of Sachin Tendulkar, ably complemented by Rahul, Sourav, and Laxman. VVS played the greatest test innings by an Indian at Eden Garden in 2001 when his 291 won India an incredible match after being asked to follow on. In Kumble, India discovered a real match winner and in Sehwag, an opener whose hand-eye coordination helped India to win over Pakistan in their backyard in 2003-04. This series purged India of its fear of the Pakistan team led by Imran Khan in the 80s. The Indian team nearly won over the best Australian team in 2005. The captaincy of Sourav has been a high point in leadership. Sourav mentored stormy petrels like Sehwag, Harbhajan and Yuvraj exceptionally well. While Sourav brought in belief in the Indian team that they can win against the very best team away from home abroad, it was MSD like cool cucumber that won us the World Cup in 2011. He has been the best leader that Indian cricket has seen.
As we step into 2022, and prepare for the World Cup, India is ironically plagued with an embarrassing assemblage of talent in terms of openers and pacers. India never had a third credible opener to choose a combination of two. We now have at least five; Rahul, Rohit, Gill, Rituraj, Ishan, and Dhawan to choose from. But the biggest windfall has been in terms of fast bowlers; Bumrah, Umran, Shami, Siraj, Avesh Khan & Arshdeep. This has been because of the facility we have created at NCA, Bangalore, and the training they get under the tutelage of the two greatest fast bowlers of our time, Dennis Lilee and McGrath. Don Bradman, commenting on India’s test performance after 1947-48 had said: ‘They lack a really fast bowler and are weak in the field’. He would be certainly happy with the way Indian bowlers have emerged as a pacy side. In fielding also, the likes of Jadeja would have warmed his cockles. In Rishabh Pant, India has a rare talent & match winner. The way India won the test at Perth, the paciest wicket, last year is thanks to the sterling knock of Rishabh and grit of the tailenders. The test series against Australia for the first time in 2020-21 is another milestone, India can be genuinely proud of.
Despite such solid advantage of our bench strength, the Indian selectors have a Hobson choice; whether to retain Kohli or not. Kohli’s form has plummeted far too long. If any Indian batsman can challenge Sachin for the batman’s crown, it has to be Virat. In terms of fitness and match-winning potential, he has very few peers. It’s a pity that the likes of Dravid, Sachin, and Gavaskar are not helping him to sort out his technical glitch. One recalls, how Bradman helped out Sobers to handle Lilee, whose bunny he had become in the 1971 series of Australia vs Rest of the World. His 254 against Lilee is considered by Bradman as the greatest innings he has seen. Similarly, AB de Villiers writes in his autobiography ABD how Kallis helped ABD to get over his flaws as a susceptible slam-bang hitter to become one of the most dependable matchwinners of our times. Besides the Kohli conundrum, the dodgy fitness of Rohit Sharma leaves the leadership issue in an open loop. Indian cricket @75 is at the crossroads of choice aplenty with the looming uncertainty of its stars. Its time to groom the youngsters and abdicate the baggage & nostalgia of the past.
*Prof Misra is a cricket buff
DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of Sambad English.