On 22 March 2001, India made a compelling statement to the world of cricket. On that day, on a dusty track in Chennai’s M. A. Chidambaram Stadium, a week after that match in Kolkata, Sourav Ganguly’s men stopped Steve Waugh’s Australian juggernaut in its tracks in a Test match.
India had won against the Australians and other major teams before — mostly on Indian soil. So what was it about this victory in Chennai — almost exactly 10 years ago — that inserted a special marker on an important journey? The victory in Chennai in 2001 felt different. It tasted different. The victory somehow meant more than just a victory to me.
That victory came after Indian cricket had plunged to its worst lows — and that was off the field with the betting scandal. There was no place to hide for the proud and yet tragic Team India fan!
The first article I read this morning — the morning after the night before — was by @sidvee! In a piece titled, “The Baton Passes”, he writes about the 28-year wait for the baton to be passed to a new generation. This excellent writer, who is 29 years old, is a part of “young India” that has not suffered through being a Team India cricket fan as much as fans of my generation have. That does not give me bragging rights. It just provides a different perspective.
For many of us who are part of “older India”, the 1983 win was almost a one-off. We supported a team that often flattered to deceive. We supported a team that had few men who had the stomach for a fight. We supported a team that would crumble at the first sign of trouble. We supported a team that in-fought so much that it almost did not need to see an opposition to wave the white flag! We supported a team that was run by corrupt individuals (It still is, but that’s besides the point — a victory like last night’s victory serves as a good sandpaper!) We supported a team that had a Board that suddenly found money in the mid-90s through television money and a sudden realization that they had something that few other nations had — a billion adoring fans! We supported a team that was run by a Board that suddenly had power and did not not know how to use it!
So, we could only talk about the exquisite grace of a GR Vishwanath square cut, the steely resolve of a Mohinder Amarnath forward defense, the athleticism of Kapil Dev (“that catch“), the technique of a Sunil Gavaskar straight drive or the loop of a Bishen Bedi ball.
But all of that changed for me on 22 March 2001. I felt that, as a long-suffering cricket tragic, I could start thinking about that dream house I wanted to live in as a fan of Team India. I had seen my architect in that landmark 2001 series! On 22 March 2001, it was almost like I had reached a final agreement with the architect on the design of my dream home.
I could not wait for that home to be built.
It has taken a decade for that home to be built.
And finally, that home was built last night, when India won the Cricket World Cup, 2011.
If Sourav Ganguly was the architect with John Wright as his chief consultant, then MS Dhoni was the final builder with Gary Kirsten as his chief consultant. Along the way, we have had a senior engineers who have toiled assiduously and bravely. Considerate, careful and composed men like Sachin Tendulkar, Anil Kumble, VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid — ‘The Wall’ which is quite appropriate in the context of this building analogy!
For a keen follower of Indian cricket, this has been an exciting decade when brick has been laid carefully upon another brick by the above players. All of them knew that India could build that home for an ardent fan. And build it, they did! And credit to last night’s World Cup win must go to each and every one of them. I wrote about these architects and initial builders a year ago.
It was Sourav Ganguly who changed the relationship between the BCCI and players. He fought for all that Sachin Tendulkar had pleaded for, before him, but could not get: a physio, a professional coaching set up, and more. But more importantly, he built a team in his image. A team that had a stomach for a fight; a team that wanted to win it; a team that was not scared of boarding a plane!
And the core elements of his team are still there — Harbhajan Singh, Yuvraj Singh, Virender Sehwag and Zaheer Khan are his proteges and represent the start of that so very non-Indian generation of cricketers that loved a fight; a generation that did not back down; a generation that did not give up at the first sign of danger.
But that initial blueprint, which was first stabilized by Rahul Dravid and Anil Kumble, is now Dhoni’s team!
Apart from the reassuring constancy of Sachin Tendulkar in Indian cricket, Dhoni’s team contains the key elements of the team that Sourav Ganguly architected so carefully. A team that took the fight to the opposition. A team that had a point to prove.
However, today, it is an India team that is built on Dhoni’s image. He is self-assured. He is completely centered and is not there to prove a point. He knows that the men who traveled the path before him have proved a point or two! He does not have a point to prove. He acknowledges that he stands on impressive shoulders. Witness the manner in which he invites Anil Kumble to the presentation ceremony to lift the Border-Gavaskar trophy in the 2008 series against Australia.
Today, Dhoni stands on broad shoulders and admits it. But it is his firm hand on the wheel of the bus that takes Team India forward. It is his team. He takes decisions. We may not like some of them. But he does what he thinks is best for the team and cops it on the chin when it goes wrong. He is about building a strong team that will keep winning comfortably, compellingly and conveniently. He is about consolidation of a considerable strength. His is a team with young individuals who are cut from his cloth. It has individuals like Gautam Gambhir, Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina who will take the baton forward (as @sidvee says so eloquently and compellingly).
In yesterday’s game, Dhoni promoted himself in the batting order. It was a strong statement. If Ganguly had a point to prove in Brisbane on 7 December 2003, Dhoni read a book — not just a statement — last night by coming ahead of Yuvraj Singh in last night’s game. It may have been to keep the left-right combination going. However, I think Dhoni wanted it. I believe he wanted to make that statement. He also knew that the spinners were on at that time. With Yuvraj Singh’s initial shakiness against spin, it needed someone who could nullify the spinners. He walked in purposefully.
Here was a proud leader of a proud team. He did not have a point to prove. He wanted to make a statement. Team India had changed right before our eyes in the last decade from proving a point to making a statement.
It was therefore fitting that Dhoni hit the winning runs yesterday. The steely eyes that stay transfixed on the trajectory of the ball as it crosses the boundary line for the winning runs communicates to all of us the sharpness and ferocity of his intent. Please watch this (thanks again to @sidvee). It tells a story on its own and does not need a commentary. As the ball reached the fence, the bat twirl at the end of it communicated that he was satisfied that the job had been done. He was there at the end as the leader. He had completed the job that had been started by the fabulous architects and the fastidious builders before him. He was leader of a team filled with potential leaders who not only just prove a point — that chapter has been written — but, who will go forth and make a statement.
And how fitting was it that, at the end, when asked what it felt like to hold Sachin Tendulkar aloft on his slender shoulders, Virat Kohli — a future Team India captain perhaps — said, “Sachin carried the burden of the entire nation for 21 years and now it is our turn to carry him on our shoulders.”
It has taken a decade for me, the average Indian fan to see this house being built brick-by-agonizing-brick. At times, it looked as though the house might get blown away — for most Team India fans, for example, the year 2007 did not happen! There were times when we were ragged. There were times when we were completely pear shaped.
But the last decade has been a thrilling decade of dreams which have now become a compelling reality.
It is now time to enter that dream home. Do enter this beautiful house with me…
– Mohan (@mohank on Twitter)