Between 2001 and 2011,the Indian team achieved its highest peaks. Earlier this year,Sachin Tendulkar listed for The Indian Express the 10 things that changed in those 10 years.
It was the year 2001 when we really picked up as a team. We took on the Australians at home and beat them. That series and the memorable Kolkata Test were the turning points for Indian cricket. Since then,year by year,we only improved sometimes gradually and at other times in every series. By the time the 2003 World Cup came around,we were consistently producing top-notch performances. It was an incredible decade,with our great Test wins and the two World titles being the high point for me.
Chasing and winning away
The secret behind performing away from home,where we hadnt done too well leading up to the 2000s,was simple we started to score more runs with the bat. With enough runs on the board,our chances of winning improved dramatically. It put an end to an era where the team banked on a few players to deliver the goods. As a team,we had struggled to post more than 240 runs at a go when playing abroad,and it is impossible to win matches with those low scores. But post 2001,that changed for good. We started to score totals of 400 and more regularly. So I believe that in this case,statistics do show the full picture. We managed to score more runs and got the results we were looking for.
Small town revolution
Nothing else describes Indias sheer passion for cricket like the rise of international stars from the smaller towns. I highly doubt if the likes of Mahendra Singh Dhoni or any other cricketer from the rural parts of India had the privilege of practising in renowned academies or training centres. But where they lacked facilities,they made up with hard work and passion. They may not have had advanced training sessions in high-tech centres,but their desire to play for India made them who they are today. Over the last decade,the BCCI has done an incredible job of not ignoring talent from these smaller towns.
Rebooting the system
For a very long while,it was difficult for a player to break into the Indian team. It had a settled look about it,with Rahul,Laxman,Ganguly and me filling up the top and middle-order spots for some time. While the process of inculcating fresh blood is an ongoing one for teams worldwide,it was slightly different with us due to our batting line-up. So taking that into consideration,it was really hard for the youngsters to replace any of us. Then Sourav retired in 2008,and we had the likes of Yuvraj Singh and Rohit Sharma ready to replace him. That has been the challenge for all top teams,to replace a great with a stage-ready and confident youngster. Australia still havent managed to fill Shane Warnes void. But thanks to the National Cricket Academy,we have a system in place where we are producing and giving finishing touches to many a finished product,ready to take our places when we leave.
One cannot blame any of Indias coaches pre-2000,for every coach is different in the sense that he deals with situations and teams according to his experience and personality. With John Wright and Gary Kirsten,their way was to fall in love with their team. Plus,they were extremely hardworking,professional men. From throwdowns in the nets to heart-felt team talks in the dressing room,Wright and Kirsten gave it their all for Team India. And personally,I enjoyed their company very much. What really changed with foreign coaches taking over the Indian team in this decade was that they inspired the players to play as a unit. We began clicking as a group,and that changed our fortunes and results for the better.
We have had a few great captains this decade,a fact that is exemplified in Mahendra Singh Dhoni. MS is very sharp and always alert. He reads the situation well and is open to sharing ideas. MS always conducts discussions with bowlers,batsmen and senior players separately. What makes Dhoni great is the fact that he is forever calm and never shows his frustration. These are some of the human qualities which have made him a fantastic captain. Even before MS,Ive had the privilege of playing under a few good captains this decade. Sourav was one of them. I enjoyed playing cricket with Sourav. I saw him grow as a cricketer,as a captain and as a person. They have helped India improve immensely as a cricketing nation.
Rise of pacers
All our fast bowlers performed in the important phases of the previous decade. The key to our success was when Zaheer Khan became Indias leading strike bowler,and many others gave him incredible support. Ashish Nehra was one of them,who often came up with special moments such as the match against England in Durban during the 2003 Cup. We then saw the likes of Munaf Patel and Praveen Kumar staking their claim in the shorter versions. At the same time,we had bowlers like R P Singh and S Sreesanth who rose to the challenge of Test cricket,even if in patches. All those patches contributed,such as Irfan Pathan and Ishant Sharmas splendid tour of Australia in 2003 and 2008 respectively. Finally,we not only had a group of quicks,but also a good bunch who came up with vital contributions to our success this decade.
In any team,whether in T20s,ODIs or Test cricket,the opening pair is of utmost importance. In fact,in Test cricket alone,I feel that the openers role is the most important one in the team as their success or failure sets the tone for the rest of the match. With Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir,we had more success than failure. They have been fantastic. The Sehwag-Gambhir opening stands created a strong base for the rest of us to build grand totals on. Right through this decade,both have performed brilliantly and have taken many an early blow for the sake of the team.
I have always believed that if you constantly talk cricket with the youngsters,they tend to grasp the international game much better. It isnt so much about passing on tips as it is about just speaking about the game – from the technical side of it to the emotional aspect of cricket. Experience of course counts when you work with a youngster in the nets,and quite a few of us Kumble,Dravid,Laxman,Ganguly and I had plenty of it. It works both ways,for if any player had a certain problem with the game,he used to approach us with it and we would clear the doubts with simple conversations.
Sometime after the 2003 World Cup,I began suffering injuries to my upper body. Those injuries took their toll by 2004. And then,when I suffered a tennis elbow,I was forced to alter my bat swing. So,to protect myself from relapsing into any of those injuries and to ensure that I did not develop new niggles,I induced certain changes in my game. Many changes were intentional,others happened automatically. Also,my body started to respond differently to situations,and I had to accordingly modify my game. After four surgeries,your body cannot be the same as before. I realised that it was impossible to play cricket like I did before,and went about understanding my bodys needs and listening to it closely.
With the advent of the IPL,cricket has changed dramatically in terms of the financial benefits. Now,playing one season of the IPL is as good as playing five seasons of domestic cricket. It has helped the Ranji player make enough money to look after his family well. And there is nothing bigger in life than securing your familys needs. Earlier,one had to play for India to earn a decent livelihood. Now,even those who cannot make it to the top can have ambitions of leading a financially good life. On the cricketing front,it has helped domestic cricket immensely by allowing local players to share dressing rooms with international players. That has helped,as one can learn many things by just playing alongside cricketers from different parts of the world. I feel that the basic level of understanding has improved,and players now know what its like to perform at this level. The IPL has also given the domestic player a platform to enter the Indian team as there cannot be a bigger stage than this in non-international cricket. Overall,the IPL is the right step forward for both cricket and India as a nation.