Many believe that cricket in India is currently in its glory days. However, the reality is different. Amid all the fanfare surrounding the repeated successes of the Indian Premier League, large earnings worldwide and the buoyed performances of its star cricketers, Indian cricket continues to be in a state of distress.
The recent attempts to reform cricket in the country notwithstanding, the BCCI has cut a sorry figure in trying to restore the credibility that it once enjoyed. While there are no two thoughts about the intent behind the work that has been initiated in the post-Srinivasan era, tangible results are yet to be seen.
Conflicts of interest are still rampant, player integrity continues to be a matter of concern, the apex court of the land is soon expected to interfere severely in matters of the board’s governance, prominent officials face charges of corruption, and some state associations hang under the cloud of financial irregularities.
With dwindling cricketing returns overseas and doubts surrounding the capabilities of some players to perform in challenging conditions too, only a perpetual optimist could claim that all is good with the sport.
To understand the crossroads Indian cricket finds itself at, one needn’t look further than the early-2000s when top names came under the spotlight for indulging in nefarious activities and engaging with dubious elements right throughout the 1990s.
To go with that, the on-field results were torrid – promising players were often picked and dropped for non-cricketing reasons, India’s greatest cricketer in 20 years was an abject failure as captain, the coach was accused of fixing matches and the team was consistently drubbed overseas.
A SPECIAL QUINTET IS FORMED
It was then that the golden generation of Indian cricketers came together. While they had been around for a while, it was for the first time a quintet was formed, later to be remembered as the ‘Fabulous Five’.
Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Anil Kumble weren’t ordinary cricketers, but they had been a part of an ordinary team for way too long. Fortunately for Indian cricket, when all came crashing down, these five gentlemen of impeccable character and astounding skill stood up and volunteered to clean up the mess.
Heralding the change was a warrior captain in Ganguly who had the stomach for a fight. Closely on his heels was India’s greatest strength in the post-globalisation era – an audacious batsman in Tendulkar who could score runs in heaps at any corner of the world; there was a deputy too in Dravid, some called him ‘the Wall’ and he could fight adversity without breaking a sweat.
Add the other two – a perennially underrated hero from Hyderabad and an Indian spinner who could take wickets everywhere, be it in Delhi or in Adelaide – and one has a list of Indian cricket’s finest.
For a bunch of young players learning their craft in the late-90s and exploring opportunities in the early-2000s, this quintet symbolised Indian cricket at its peak.
And the results weren’t ordinary. All of a sudden, India became fierce competitors, both home and away, playing a firebrand style of cricket with flamboyant young turks – emerging from nondescript corners of the country – turning into world beaters overnight. Kolkata, Port of Spain, Leeds, Adelaide, Johannesburg, Nottingham, Perth – the transformation was evident.
Five extraordinary men, all competitors, played with each other not against, and managed to stitch many memorable moments that changed how cricket would be viewed in the country.
Players who took up the game then or made their debuts around that time knew that their baptism would take place in the holiest of dressing rooms and as a result, plied their trade oft governed by an unspoken code of conduct.
With the coming of the IPL though, things changed. Old heroes were auctioned in the market, new ones were born, and the long drawn initiation via domestic cricket was sidestepped for two-day selection trials & cash rich contracts. Somewhere down the line, the ethos was lost.
Things hit an absolute low in the new decade and almost overshadowed India’s first World Cup triumph in 28 years. Abject performances overseas for a period of nearly four years, interspersed with corruption taking place right under the noses of highly credible individuals like Dravid and India captain MS Dhoni raised serious concerns – the rot was far reaching and wide.
No matter what the romantics might say, for a while Indian cricket never quite managed to get back on its feet after the skeletons came tumbling out of the closet in 2013.
URGENT NEED GETS ADDRESSED
Something extraordinary happened on June 23 this year, though. Anil Kumble, an important part of the famed quintet, was appointed head coach of the Indian side.
After what seemed like an age, a decision had been arrived upon, that even though populist, was eventually a cricketing one. No matter how hard people tried to malign the call, it was the right one, taken on the basis of some insurmountable contributions that Kumble could offer.
There were no longer zones, lobbies, quotas or cosy clubs to consider, the appointment was strictly on its merits.
Two things made the appointment special – the fact that it came on the back of Rahul Dravid’s appointment as junior coach last year, and that the selection panel recommending Kumble’s name as coach had on it Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman.
When people look back, this moment in time will be recognised as the soft takeover of Indian cricket by the ‘Fab Five’. Soft, because they continue to work under a lot of limitations and constraints. Takeover, because in a first, major cricketing decisions are being taken by India’s modern day greats.
A NEW ERA AWAITS
Heartiest welcome to @anilkumble1074 Sir. Look forward to your tenure with us. Great things in store for Indian Cricket with you 😊— Virat Kohli (@imVkohli) June 23, 2016
Just when a lot seemed lost in the chaos, five good men have taken charge and with them, they have a captain who apart from being a work-in-progress icon, does not like losing.
This new dawn should be welcomed with unmatched enthusiasm and excitement, for these are good times. Precedence shows that the last time Tendulkar, Ganguly, Dravid, Laxman and Kumble came together and resolved to resolve, they managed to change how history would view the game in their country.
Hopefully, this time too, they will start a similar chain of events. It is the perfect time to celebrate.