I was born two days after India had won the World Cup in 1983. My very first memory of watching cricket was 1992 World Cup which is quite faint. Infact the only match I remember was the one against Australia which we lost by just one run. No one explained to me what cricket was, how it was played, what were the rules etc. I don’t know how but I learnt them instantly. Looks like cricket is in the blood of every Indian.
I never saw Sunil Gavaskar frustrate West Indian bowlers. Kapil Dev was struggling to break Richard Hadlee’s record and I didn’t see the best of his bowling. Spin quartet of India was also one of the legends I had only heard, never seen.
One player that everyone talked about was Sachin Tendulkar. He was just nineteen years old while playing 1992 World Cup. I don’t remember his debut. He made kids like me to dream that one can reach high even at a young age. Everyone wanted to be a Tendulkar.
We also saw the emergence of another player called Anil Kumble. This man was bespectacled, mustached spinner who didn’t turn the ball much and had a very amusing bowling action. The Hindi commentators of Doordarshan reminded us atleast twice a day that he was an engineer.
I can proudly say that I witnessed India whitewashing the hapless England 3-0. Vinod Kambli suddenly caught the imagination of the whole nation.
A few months later happened the Hero Cup. The semi final between India and South Africa was the first one day thriller that I had seen. Sachin bowled the last over of the match when South Africa just needed six runs to win. Sachin just gave away three runs. Yeah, I was there to witness the first time South Africans choked!
Then came the final against West Indies. Mind you they were still considered the best team then. Kumble tooK 6-12 and we won the Hero Cup.
Sachin and Kumble became permanent heroes for us. People stopped making fun of short heighted boys while we played cricket. Spectacles became cool for spin bowlers and funny bowling actions were feared not laughed on.
Later came the 1996 World Cup and Sachin went on hitting good scores in almost every match. Jaysuriya started playing his own style attacking cricket and Sri Lanka took the cricket world by surprise (Mind you, they were respected as we respect give Bangladesh nowadays). I saw the great West Indies being bowled out for 92 by first timers Kenya. This was the beginning of end of West Indies cricket. South Africans choked once again and after winning all their league matches, lost the quaterfinals.
The India-Pakistan Quarterfinal match is still there in my memory. No one can forget the way Jadeja thrashed Waqar Younis. Amir Sohail hit Venkatesh Prasad for back to back boundaries and showed him the direction of the boundary line. Prasad clean bowled him the next ball and showed him the direction of Pakistani dressing room.
India reached the Semi-Finals. We were playing quite well, but Jaysuriya spun a web with his spin bowling and India was in a hopeless situation. The crowd started misbehaving with players and burning the stands. The match was awarded to Sri Lanka. The first time I cried after watching a cricket match. (Vinod Kambli was not the only person to cry after that match)
Indian cricket was going to the dogs and we looked to help from Lord. And help came at Lord’s. Here we saw the emergence of two players who became the pillars of Indian cricket for more than a decade. Ganguly showed that off side belonged to him. Dravid showed us what technicality was.
Immediately the boys were divided into either Ganguly camp or Dravid camp. Lefties were being called as Ganguly and every left handed batsmen (including myself) felt a sense of flattery when anyone referred to us as Ganguly. Any person who wasted balls but stood on the crease was being termed as Dravid.
I remember the time when Australians were also mortals. South Africa and India defeated them in all the league matches of Titan Cup. I can never forget the 50+ run ninth wicket partnership between Kumble and Srinath which lead to India winning a very close match against Australia. I had my geometry paper the next day. I saw the match till late in night and screwed my paper the next day. Still I didn’t have any regrets!
I am the one to witness the start of Harbhajan-Ponting rivalry. Harbhajan got Ponting stumped and told him to F**k off. The rivalry still continues. In the same series Tendulkar hit back to back hundreds and we won the Sharjah Cup. It prompted Steve Waugh to say, “We lost to a good player.”
Yes Indian batting at that time was only Sachin Tendulkar. If he played well we won. If he didn’t our batsmen collapsed like a pack of cards. Thankfully at a later stage India got a player like Robin Singh who despite being in mid thirties taught us to give our hundred percent.
I also remember the debut of a player named VVS Laxman. He was forced to open innings for India as there was no place for him in middle order filled with names like Azhar, Tendulkar, Dravid and Ganguly. He struggled. He looked as confused as a child in a topless bar.
We had heroes like Tendulkar, Dravid, Ganguly, Jadeja, Azhar and Kumble. Our parents were happy that we had such gentlemen as role models. This generation sadly tries to emulate Shreesanth and Harbhajan. No doubt they are good players. But I would rather have a Dravid as my son-in-law than a Shreesanth!
Then came 1999 World Cup. India lost a very close match to Zimbabwe. This time I didn’t cry. I just couldn’t believe it for three days. It was the only topic of discussion for the whole country. I think we were more shocked than we were in 2007 World Cup. India however played well in next matches and ended its campaign with some respect. Ganguly and Dravid hitting Sri Lankan bowlers in Taunton fascinated me for more than a week!
In 2000 happened the match fixing controversy. I think was big enough at that time. I was in my graduation. My childhood was over. We all felt cheated. Some players were banned. We swore that we will never watch cricket again. But I guess we loved cricket too much to do that. We continued watching cricket.
We saw Dravid struggling as a One-Day player. We saw Dravid keeping wickets to keep his place in team. We remember India thrashing Australia 2-1 at home and later getting thrashed 3-0 in Australia. We saw a spinner like Shane Warne treated like a school level bowler by Indian batsmen. We remember Anil Kumble taking 10 wickets in an inning. We remember India losing a Test to Pakistan by mere 17 runs and Tendulkar’s painful century went in vain. We saw the emergence of Laxman from a struggling opener to a solid middle order batsman.
We saw Ganguly taking the reign of Indian cricket and it started a new chapter. Tendulkar, Dravid, Kumble and Srinath were still very much a part of Saurav’s team. These were our childhood heroes, but they continued to play even when we went to college. They played even when we started working. It felt as if our childhood was stretched.
I saw them all. But now it looks like my childhood will end. We took for granted that Tendulkar, Kumble, Ganguly, Dravid and Laxman will stay forever. They never felt like leaving us anytime. The Indian Board was also kind enough to retain such players for such a long time, quite opposite to what Pakistani Board did to some of its best players.
Sachin taught us class, Kumble taught us accuracy, Dravid taught us endurance, Ganguly taught us aggression and Laxman taught us elegance. This didn’t happen just for a couple of years. They taught us for a decade and a half.
The reality however seems to have come. Kumble is retired, Ganguly is playing his last match and very soon Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman will also go and I will have no memories of my childhood left.
The day I will not see any of the above five names in the Indian team, probably I will stop watching cricket. I won’t be able to!