On January 2nd, 2000, India played a test match against Australia at the Sydney cricket ground. Almost predictably, India ended the day at 120/8. Almost predictably India lost the test match in three days. Almost predictably India lost that three test match series 3-0.
On January, 2nd 2010, when the ICC chief executive Dave Richardson switched on his computer and looked at the test match rankings, he would have found India at the top of the pile. It has been a most unlikely and a most amazing transformation in the Indian cricket team. No longer are we poor travelers, no longer are we a team which thrives only in certain conditions, no longer are we short of fast bowlers, no longer do we have timid opening batsman. In the last 10 years India has won test matches at Perth, Jo’burg and Jamaica, a feat that was considered as unlikely as a white Christmas in India. One Indian opening batsman was the ICC’s test player of the year in 2009 and the other is the only batsmen since Bradman to score three 290’s. India has a decent pace attack and 5 of its top six have very very good test records abroad.
Much of the credit for this success has been given- and rightly so- to the likes of Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman, Ganguly, Sehwag and Kumble. Dhoni, Gambhir, Zaheer and Harbhajan have been significant contributors as well. But the number one ranking has been achieved because India has played as a team and almost everyone who has donned the blue cap has contributed in some form or the other. Over the last 10 years, Ajit Agarkar, Sanjay Bangar, Parthiv Patel, Sreesanth, Wasim Jaffer and Ajay Ratra have all contributed to test victories abroad. Indeed the delightful thing about being an Indian supporter these days is that the team has a number of match winners and match savers- a far cry from the late nineties when the team depended heavily on Sachin Tendulkar.
These are great times for every Indian cricket supporter. Irrespective of how long this lasts, it is an occasion to be proud of.
On a cold evening in December1998, I watched with great enthusiasm as an Indian Hockey Team won a thrilling final of the hockey event in the Asian games against South Korea. The star of the show was undoubtedly Ashish Balal, the goalkeeper who saved a couple of penalty strokes. It is one of Indian sports greatest tragedy that Balal never played for India again. His crime- He gave an interview after the event stating that Indian hockey players deserved better remuneration.
I was reminded of this incident when the impasse between the hockey players and the federation continued for one whole week. If you are supporter of Indian hockey, and I am certainly one, this conflict must have saddened you. The players were asking for better pay, surely this was their right. A game cannot be alive without its players. Unfortunately the hockey India chief did not realize this. As if preventing the players from getting their dues was not enough, Hockey India chief then made the most unbelievable statement ever made stating that players wanted money more than the honour of playing for the country. Bollywood Style, Mr. Mattoo tried to project the Indian players as villains, someone whose greed made them sacrifice National honour. Fortunately the public in general did not fall for this. If Hockey India wants its players to play professionally, then they must act professionally as well.
The State of Indian Hockey is one of the greatest tragedies of this country- no other sport has been destroyed as much by internal politics as much as this game. Once the pride of our country, hockey has now become a subject of ridicule. Don’t blame the players, Don’t blame the coaches- blame the system and the people who run the system.
Just as a matter of thought let us consider a majority of India’s successful sportsmen and sportswomen. The Cricket team, Bhaichung Bhutia, Leander and Bhupati, Sania Mirza, Gopichand, Geet Sethi etc. You will find one thing common in all these sportsmen or teams- They have never depended on the Indian Government for any support. Therein lays a story of Indian sports. Of course Abhinav Bindra, Sushil Kumar and Vijeynder Singh provided a delightful twist to this scenario in 2008. But they did well inspite of the system, rather than because of it.