Is this Indian team profoundly different from Indian teams of the immediate past? Yes and No.
T-20 success has helped India rediscover its small towns. Suddenly Mahendra Dhoni, RP Singh, Sreesanth and Co are being looked upon as unnatural Indians, men who arent afraid of reputation and who arent intimidated by powerful opposition.
This small town hangover, if we may label it as such, is yet another passing phase. If Dhonis India loses to Australia in the forthcoming one-day series, this will no longer be a unique team. Rather, multiple flaws would have arisen by then and undaunted small town men will suddenly have been transformed into run of the mill Indian sportsmen, cowed down by pressure and afraid of failure. In sum-this preoccupation with the small town is yet another example of the fickle fan culture that we have come to associate with Indian cricket, which makes gods and villains out of its stars by the hour.
Is this Indian team profoundly different from Indian teams of the immediate past? Yes and No. It had a new captain at the helm, which merited a change of strategy and approach. However, a look at the other players and the myth of profound difference is blown. Robin Uthappa, Yuvraj Singh, Irfan Pathan, Sreesanth, Harbhajan Singh, Dhoni himself and R P Singh have all been around for nearly two years now. Most of them have already played in one world cupIndias disastrous Caribbean caper, and have also played against the English in England coming second to the hosts in the limited overs series.
What was different to this team was that individual performance had seized to matter. There was no singular icon like Tendulkar, nor was there a backbone in Dravid. Even when Yuvraj did not play, the Indians won. For the first time in Indias cricket history perhaps since the 1983 world cup and the 1985 world championship of cricket, the Indians played as a team.
And this isnt a small town phenomenon. Rohit Sharmas knock against South Africa, which made a huge difference to the eventual outcome wasnt one played by a small town boy. It was batting at its gritty and classical best, a trait we have long come to associate with the Mumbai school of batsmanship. It was a miniature copy of Gavaskars legendary 221 against the English at the Oval in 1979. Faced with a mammoth 438 to chase, India led by Gavaskar had almost achieved the impossible stopping at 429-8. Anyone who has watched that knock on video will vouch that it was a mixture of classic cricket combined with resilience we had long linked with Mumbai batters. Sharmas 50 on debut may also be termed a new generation remix of Gavaskars debut in the West Indies in 1971, when he in tandem with Dilip Sardesai had transformed Indian cricket for all times to come.
Yet another stand out performance was the six sixes by Yuvraj Singh, which has now fetched him a crore of rupees. This was simply a reaction to the insult hurled upon him by Dimitri Mascarenhas in England when Yuvraj had been hit for five in the last over of the English innings at the Oval. That a batsman as talented as Yuvraj would forget such ignominy in a hurry is least expected. It was simply an act of breathtaking individual brilliance, a reaction to a deep-seated sense of humiliation. People who had watched Yuvraj run out to the middle in London after Robin Uthappa had won India that game chasing 316 would realize the pain inflicted by Mascarenhas. A hapless Stuart Broad was the cure to this injury.
The flurry of pieces celebrating the rise of the small town is thus a mere travesty. In the absence of things to celebrate, it is our newfound fad. The victory in the T-20 world cup hasnt heralded the birth of a new India, one that is fundamentally different from the past. It is a victory of team spirit, of grit, courage and above all cricketing skill. It is an indication that these players, even if they have a bad world cup, are capable of spectacular achievements. It is proof that over the top fan behavior is the biggest evil plaguing contemporary Indian cricket. If this victory fundamentally transforms the nature of fan behavior it will indeed have heralded something new.