2009: Year of India Cricket - Sunil Gavaskar column

2008 Dec 29 by

What a year it has been for Indian cricket. It all started at the Sydney Cricket Ground where Australia took on India in the second Test of the series.

What a year it has been for Indian cricket. It all started at the Sydney Cricket Ground where Australia took on India in the second Test of the series. India had arrived in Australia barely a week before they played the first Test at Melbourne and with the warm up match being rained off they went into the first Test badly underprepared for Australian conditions. Sure enough they lost that Test in less than five days in a manner that didn't give much hope for the rest of the series.

The Australians under Ricky Ponting now had 15 successive Test wins and were looking to equal the record of 16 wins of Steve Waugh's team. That desperation showed in the way the first day of the Test unfolded. It is well known in the cricketing world that the only walker in Australia is Max and he is long retired. Yes, Adam Gilchrist started walking in 2003 world cup but he was not shy of appealing even when the batsman had not played the ball as was seen later in the Test.

That happened on the last day as the Australians pushed hard for their 16th consecutive win and the manner in which it was eventually achieved created an uproar. The Australian team were taken aback to see the largely negative reaction to their methodology of winning at all costs with former Australian players and other sports stars joining in the condemnation. Fortunately there was a time lag before the next Test could be played and it allowed the Indians regroup after the loss as well as the incident where their spinner Harbhajan had been accused of using a racially vilification word against Andrew Symonds. That was later proved to be a false allegation after a sitting judge of the New Zealand high court heard the case. Harbhajan sportingly did not claim damages from the publications in Australia that had vilified him especially a daily that had called him a racist even before the case was heard by the match referee.

The next Test was played at a ground where the Australians feel most safe but it was some fabulous bowling by Indian seamers particularly newcomer Ishant Sharma that helped India to lodge what must surely be its greatest win in Test cricket. The next Test was dominated by India again and they went on to take that form into the tri series that followed and beat Australia in the finals 2-0. The hopes were high when South Africa came over to play a 3 Test series and when Virender Sehwag got his second triple century in Tests it looked as if India would win the series. However in the next Test they were all out in 20 overs before lunch on the first day and never recovered and lost it easily. They levelled it with a win the third Test but the momentum of the wins in Australia seemed to have been lost. Sure enough despite dominating the early rounds in the tri series in Bangladesh they lost in the finals to arch rivals Pakistan and then lost in the finals of the Asia Cup to Sri Lanka.

They then went to Sri Lanka and had a horrible time against Ajantha Mendis and spin king Muralitharan and lost the series there but recovered some sheen by winning the one-day series. The Champions Trophy cancellation gave some rest for the Indians who had played virtually non-stop for more than a year and they thus seemed better prepared to take on the visiting Australians in what was seen mainly by the Australian media as a grudge Test series. Why a grudge was never explained but it was presumed that it was Harbhajan being cleared of the racial allegation against the word of the Australian players that seemed to be the reason. It's understandable that the Aussie media thought so for after all why would those who don't walk when they are out or claim catches with the ball grounded give incorrect evidence about anything? That's playing hard on and off the field, isn't it?

Be that as it may they were received warmly because they are a tremendous side with an awesome record and play some incredible cricket. When their skipper Ponting got over a personal hoodoo and got his first Test century in India it looked as if the champions were back to doing what they do best and that is, beat the opposition out of sight. However an injury to the Indian skipper Anil Kumble meant that reins of captaincy went to the charismatic Mahendra Singh Dhoni and lo and behold the India team playing superb cricket on all fronts beat the champs by an astonishingly large margin. They then were on top of the next Test and ended the series with another win to wrap up the series 2-0. The two test series against neighbours New Zealand eased some of the pain before an astounding defeat to South Africa opened up the wounds again and clearly highlighted that without those two champions Shane Warne and Glen McGrath Australia is just another Test team.

India too is learning to cope with the retirement of Anil Kumble and Sourav Ganguly but in home conditions look to have weathered that loss better. Yuvraj Singh batted with not just great skill but fine temperament to show that he is ready to take the place vacated by the 'Prince of Kolkatta' while Amit Mishra has displayed a big heart which is such an essential requirement for a leg-spinner. England's magnificent gesture in returning to India with a full side will not be forgotten in a hurry and though they lost the series they won many more hearts than they would have ever imagined. The Test at Chennai was a gripping one with India batting magnificently to claim an unlikely win which may well have inspired South Africa to chase an even bigger target the following week. Test cricket was the winner too.

India thus have ended the year on a winning note after the troubled beginning to 2008 and that is a big positive indeed.

Happy 2009 to all the readers.