The journey of cricket from Sachin Tendulkar to Virat Kohli

From floodlit Tests, pink ball and four-day matches to the World Test Championship (WTC) bringing context to bilateral Test cricket, the ICC has shown the eagerness to allay fears surrounding the future of the longest format.

Sixth time lucky!: Sachin Tendulkar subjects Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni to a bear hug after the latter had won India the 2011 World Cup with a soaring six in the final against Sri Lanka. It was India’s second World Cup triumph. It was also Tendulkar’s first experience as a part of the winning team in six appearances.   -  GETTY IMAGES

In the last five decades of Test history, it is doubtful whether there have been so many concerted attempts to sustain the game’s most enduring format, like the ones in the 10 years gone by. From floodlit Tests, pink ball and four-day matches to the World Test Championship (WTC) bringing context to bilateral Test cricket, the ICC has shown the eagerness to allay fears surrounding the future of the longest format.

According to a survey conducted by the BARC (Broadcast Audience Research Council) on TV viewership in India, 93 per cent of all sports viewers in 2018 watched cricket. India’s ascent in the Test format helped engage TV audiences. But as one team ascended, another declined.

South Africa went further and faster down the slippery slope, as administrative instability, poor form and the Kolpak rule resulted in the team suffering its worst-ever performance in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019, followed by a 3-0 rout against India in the Test series.

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Pakistan began the 2010s, stripped of hosting rights, because of a terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team, and ended the decade by hosting the Sri Lankans at home once again. Meanwhile, despite a fractious relationship with the home cricket administration, the West Indies became the only team to win the T20 world title twice, but finished the decade ranked No. 10 in T20Is!

Even good things have to come to an end: Tendulkar being chaired by team-mates after his glorious career of 200 Test matches came to an end on his home ground, the Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai, on November 16, 2013.   -  K. R. DEEPAK

 

Elsewhere, the ball-tampering crisis involving Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft represented the nadir of Australian cricket this decade. But Smith’s calm fortitude in the face of adversity quickly became his ally as yet another rebuilding began.

The two-way rivalry of Smith and Virat Kohli was not only thrilling but also aesthetically fulfilling. Taken together, they conjured an aura of inevitability around their batsmanship across three formats. If Kohli’s singular brilliance made him the face of Indian cricket, Smith’s run-glut at the Ashes in England captured the fall, recovery and redemption of an elite athlete and a sport-loving nation.

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The last four years also witnessed the natural evolution of women’s cricket finally encompassing India. The women’s cricket team proved its worth at the 50-over World Cup in England two years ago where it reached the final, and then at the World Twenty20 in the West Indies when it sealed a semifinals berth at a canter.

These feats have ensured that women cricketers and their achievements don’t get ignored any more. Smriti Mandhana was Wisden’s Leading Cricketer in the women’s game in 2019, after racking up 1291 runs across limited-overs formats, including 13 half-centuries.

Meanwhile, in 2013, Cricket Australia raised the annual central-contract wages to an amount resembling full-time pay for any top female player in the country. By 2015, all full member nations, including India, implemented full-time contracts for their women cricketers. The ICC Women’s Championship (IWC) added more context to ODIs, with direct qualification for the 50-over World Cup up for grabs.

Speaking of World Cups, the men’s silverware changed hands thrice in the last 10 years. In 2011, the Mahendra Singh Dhoni-led India broke the hoodoo of home teams never having won the title, while Australia waltzed its way to a record fifth World title four years later. At the turn of the decade, Jofra Archer, and England held their nerve in the World Cup’s first Super Over finish to claim the trophy for the first time.

Elsewhere, while the Indian Premier League’s revenue increased multi-fold — Star Sports spent $2.55 billion on five years of exclusive broadcasting and digital rights for the IPL — the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) got embroiled in chaos.

The high water mark: Virat Kohli has given India a big push in terms of performance. His biggest achievement could well be the winning of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy by beating Australia in Australia in the 2018-19 series, the first time an Indian team had done so in over seven decades of touring.   -  GETTY IMAGES

 

The decade-and-a-bit thus had stories of vindication, the inexorable downward slides and the truly exhilarating highs. Through it, cricket found new confidence and power and with its economy thriving and the cricket captivating, India reaffirmed its status as the game’s nerve-centre.

India endured eight straight defeats in England and Australia in 2011-12 and three years on, another tour to the English shore that began promisingly ended with three successive thumpings. Kohli totalled a mere 134 runs in five Tests and India’s fortunes in five-day cricket were at the crossroads.

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However, in the five years since that fateful 2014, Kohli’s averaging 63.65 in 90 Test innings and as captain, has infused a style of leadership that demands consistency and continuous improvement. Kohli’s India eventually became the world’s No. 1 Test side. To put things in perspective, India was ranked No. 7 when Kohli took over permanently in January 2015, above only the West Indies, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. India’s rise up the ICC Test rankings had as much to do with Kohli’s captaincy as with the pace revolution he has overseen, with zeitgeist.

This home season, India’s three spinners took 37 wickets between them, while the three fast bowlers took 59 — in the absence of premier seam bowler Jasprit Bumrah.

India’s record in the four years before November 2014 (from December 2010), read: Played 38, Won 14, Lost 16, with the 12 months before that seeing the team lose 3-1 to England, 1-0 to New Zealand, 1-0 to South Africa.

Advocating reforms: Justice R.M. Lodha (centre) Justice Ashok Bhan (left) and Justice R.V. Raveendran (right), first went into the Indian Premier League (IPL) betting scandal. Later, the Lodha Committee also recommended drastic changes in the functioning of the BCCI.   -  R. V. MOORTHY

 

After a 2-0 series loss in Australia in 2014-15, several series victories including a 2-1 win away in Sri Lanka, put India back on track. But its crowning moment came when it registered a 2-1 series win to break a 71-year cycle of unsuccessful tours to Australia.

The turnaround in India’s Test fortunes was happening simultaneously with England’s resurgence in the 50-over format. The Three Lions endured a miserable World Cup campaign in New Zealand and Australia in 2015, sustaining a series of crushing defeats and failing to make it to the quarterfinals.

The embarrassing exit precipitated a remarkable improvement in England’s ODI cricket during the four years that followed. England got a couple of key things right in its overhaul. Firstly, individual contributions. Secondly, it played with a higher tempo through all periods of the innings. By keeping wickets in hand, it inflicted a lot of damage at the back end with a middle and lower order that boasted the likes of Eoin Morgan, Jos Buttler, Moeen Ali, Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes and Jofra Archer.

Trevor Bayliss’ appointment as the head coach was a step in the right direction. Bayliss replaced Peter Moores, who led England through a disastrous winter of one-day cricket, culminating in its failure to qualify for the World Cup 2015 knockout stage after losing to Bangladesh. Bayliss’ coaching CV now includes a World Cup victory, two IPL titles, the Sheffield Shield twice, the Big Bash, and the Champions League.

It was a decade of two halves for England’s arch-rival, Australia. Phil Hughes, a Test opener with 26 first-class hundreds, was struck on the neck while batting on 63 in a Sheffield Shield match at the SCG in November 2014. A few moments later, he fell to the ground. He never regained consciousness and died in hospital two days later. The tragic death of Hughes started a conversation about the safety of players, which eventually led to the introduction of Concussion substitutes during the men’s Ashes Test series in 2019.

If there was a great sense of pathos to the first half of the decade, then the Ball-tampering scandal at Cape Town in March of 2018, triggered widespread national outrage. The Newlands controversy led to the suspensions of Smith, Warner and Bancroft, with Cricket Australia handing the trio severe sanctions. Stricken by tragedy, Smith was in a tailspin but emerged stronger than before at the end of his year-long ban.

He dominated the Ashes series in England, despite missing a Test with an injury. His 774 was the fifth-highest aggregate ever in an Ashes series, falling just 200 short of Sir Don Bradman’s tally in the 1930 series. Smith now has 11 centuries in The Ashes. Only two batsmen have scored more hundreds in Ashes history: Don Bradman (19) and Jack Hobbs (12). Smith has scored 11 tons in 48 innings and averages 65.11 in The Ashes. With a spirited run to the men’s World Cup semis and both men’s and women’s Ashes trophies in its cabinet, Australia surely has the wind beneath its wings.

Sourav Ganguly has taken over as the BCCI President and there are high hopes that his tenure would be dynamic.   -  PTI

 

But one of the decade’s most inspiring feel-good stories came from Afghanistan. Nearly two decades of warfare since the U.S.-led invasion may have left people on all sides of the country’s conflict, afflicted with fear but amid the grim of the war, cricket found them. In 2014, for the first time, Afghanistan qualified for the Cricket World Cup, which was held in Australia and New Zealand in 2015.

Despite not having a long tradition of its own in the sport, Afghanistan has qualified for four T20 World Cups and two ODI World Cups. During the 2016 World T20 in India, Afghanistan was the only side to beat eventual champion West Indies. Nearly a decade after Afghanistan first began to catch the world’s attention at the ICC World Cricket League Division Five in 2008, it was approved as Full Member by the ICC in 2017, making it the 11th Test-playing nation.

Rashid Khan and Mohammad Nabi meanwhile became globally recognised stars. Nabi became the first Afghanistan player signed by an IPL team when he was picked for Rs. 30 lakhs by Sunrisers Hyderabad. Nabi’s country-mate, Rashid, went to the same team for a mindboggling Rs. 4 crore. A month later, the duo became the first pair of Afghan cricketers drafted in the Caribbean Premier League, when Nabi was lapped up by St. Kitts and Nevis Patriots for $90,000, and Rashid by Guyana Amazon Warriors for $60,000.

Playing only its third Test, Afghanistan pulled off a historic win, beating Bangladesh away in Chattogram. Rashid starred with an all-round show on his captaincy debut. From refugee camps to plush five-star hotels, the Afghans finally took their turn in the limelight.

Afghanistan’s much illustrious and experienced neighbour, India, was meanwhile caught in turmoil. On January 4, 2016, R. M. Lodha, the former Chief Justice of India, headed a three-man committee whose recommendations were aimed to bring in line the hierarchy of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and its member associations. It set in motion a major overhaul of the way cricket was run in the country — from the very top down to the grassroots — affecting all stakeholders.

In 2017, the Supreme Court-appointed a Committee of Administrators (CoA) comprising four eminent personalities to oversee the running of the BCCI until the board could hold fresh elections for office-bearers.

The panel consisted of Ramachandra Guha, a historian and cricket writer, Diana Edulji, a former India women’s captain, Vinod Rai, a former Comptroller and Auditor General of India, and Vikram Limaye, CEO and managing director of IDFC (Infrastructure Development Finance Corporation). Guha and Limaye stepped down shortly, with Rai and Edulji supervising BCCI.

Showing the way: Smriti Mandhana was Wisden’s Leading Cricketer in the women’s game in 2019, after racking up 1291 runs across limited-overs formats, including 13 half-centuries.   -  RITU RAJ KONWAR

 

What followed was a two-year-long legal tussle which saw the Board and the CoA at loggerheads several times. It all came to an end on October 23, 2019, when former India captain Sourav Ganguly assumed charge as BCCI president, marking the formal end to the tenure of the CoA.

With 157 wins from 249 ODIs, India tops the list of most ODI wins between 2010 and 2019. It has lost just 79 in 249 ODIs (with 6 tied games and 7 No Result). Australia comes second with 125 wins out of 216 matches and England third with 123 wins from 218 matches. India also leads the tally of maximum ODI series wins between 2010 and 2019, with 35 victories followed by England, which has 32, and Australia 30.

If the decade began with India’s superpower status in the boardroom ringing hollow without silverware, the team made amends soon with a stellar World Cup win at home in 2011 and a Champions Trophy victory in England in 2013.

In the middle of this spectacular rise was Dhoni: the paradoxes of his carefree attitude on the one hand and ultra-competitiveness on the other forming the crux of India’s dominance. Dhoni’s bat twirl after creaming a six to win the World Cup became the cornerstone of his legend.

Finally, it was England’s World Cup, in 2019, the event having begun in 1975. A lot of planning had gone into the preparation of the England team, after its sub-par performance in the previous event in 2015.   -  GETTY IMAGES

 

Eight years later, he once again found himself at the centre of a World Cup knockout: this time, he followed up his six, in the semifinal against New Zealand, with a glance to wide square-leg and pushed for two. Martin Guptill swooped on the ball and hit the stumps directly to mute Dhoni’s World Cup swansong and end India’s dreams.

The first half of the decade also saw, probably the most famous man in India, Sachin Tendulkar walk into the sunset. Tendulkar not only dominated his era but told us there is more to greatness in batting than a fabulous straight drive or a delicate square cut. After playing 463 one-day internationals, Tendulkar announced his retirement from ODIs in 2012, finishing with 18,426 runs and 49 hundreds.

What a redemption!: It was a terrific comeback for former Australian captain Steve Smith in the Ashes series in England in 2019 after the terrible times that he faced consequent to the ball tampering scandal in South Africa in 2018.   -  GETTY IMAGES

 

Less than a year later, having played 200 Tests, Tendulkar ended his 24-year long career with a home series against the West Indies in November. He had amassed 15,921 runs and 51 hundreds. To this day, Tendulkar owns the records for most runs and centuries in both Test and one-day cricket.

If Tendulkar was the prism through which Indians viewed cricket in the late 1990s or early 2000s, then this decade witnessed the seamless passing of the baton to Kohli: his exuberance and youth complementary to Tendulkar’s steel, dignity and belief. Dhoni was the sturdy buffer that eased the transition from a team trying the best it can be to the best team in the world. The present state of Indian cricket holds out immense promise for the future.

Quotehanger

“That was a lovely tweet, I really enjoyed it. It was a very timely one. I don’t know how it struck him but I really enjoyed it.”

— India’s chief selector, MSK Prasad, on being amused by batsman Ambati Rayudu’s jibe that he would watch the World Cup with 3D glasses after Prasad had picked a “three-dimensional” Vijay Shankar over Rayudu for the tournament

“My secret is very simple. The wife came to watch me today.”

— AB de Villiers after his electric 129 off 52 balls for Royal Challengers Bangalore at the Chinnaswamy Stadium

“Tendulkar has carried the burden of the nation for 21 years. It is time we carried him on our shoulders.”

— Virat Kohli leading the Tendulkar tributes after India’s World Cup triumph in 2011.

“We’ll ask Virat (Kohli) and see if we can get his permission to play here and maybe even get a pink-ball Test if he’s in a good mood.”

— Australia captain Tim Paine making it clear as to who he thinks has the final say on India’s itinerary when it tours Australia.

“Maybe, but only for the five days. If the young man is listening, unfortunately, that’s how it is.”

Sourav Ganguly, when asked during a TV commentary stint whether Sachin Tendulkar would be more popular than him in Kolkata during the latter’s penultimate Test match.

 

HIGHLIGHTS

2011: In his sixth attempt, Sachin Tendulkar finally won his first World Cup, as India beat Sri Lanka in the final at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai.

2012: Marlon Samuels’ 78 off 56 balls led the West Indies to its first World T20 title against host Sri Lanka.

2013: Sachin Tendulkar brought an end to his glittering 24-year international career after plays his 200th Test against the West Indies in Mumbai.

2014: Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara powered Sri Lanka to the World T20 title with a comprehensive six-wicket win over India.

2015: James Faulkner starred as a bowler as Australia romped to a seven-wicket win over New Zealand and its record fifth World title.

2018: India became the first Asian team in 71 years to win a series in Australia.

2019: England beat New Zealand to win its first Cricket World Cup.