One of the childhood nightmares that has refused to leave me over the years was the feeling deep inside when I saw Javed Miandad hike Chetan Sharma for a six and take Pakistan to an astonishing win at the Sharjah Cup. The year was 1986.
And for an 11 year old kid, it was devastating. India would spend the next 10 years losing to Pakistan at every conceivable opportunity. Somehow, as a Cricketing team and as a nation, we had lost all confidence that we could really beat the Pakis in Cricket.
And that is the theme of this post. As I breathlessly followed the Indians give it back to South Africa today, I kept thinking about it. What is it that has fundamentally changed in the Indian team compared to that of the late 1980s and the 1990s. What is it about the Indian cricket team – that took the uncouth sledging of the Australians or the condescending comments of the Brits when they would visit India (complaining about the facilities etc. – anything to justify their lack of performance) and just kept trudging. And frankly, performing without any consistency or quality. And definitely never be included in the world beater category.
Versus now, the Aussies growl ( like they always do) and Team India growls back. When we have visiting team by the balls, Team India actually squeezes. In the 60 odd years, India has been playing Cricket, we have had many many great players. But India has never had a team with the kind of killer instinct, the self confidence, the spunk and the irreverence of the so called “traditional” power houses as we do now.
The Dhonis and the Sehwags exemplify it. And when I compare to the Vengsarkars of the yesteryear, I know we are at a better place.
So what caused it? How can one explain the metamorphosis?
I think there are two fundamental reasons that can explain this. First, India itself. I left India in 1999 and the country I left is unrecognizable from the India of today. The country has changed beyond belief in the last 10 years. India today is a much more self confident nation. A nation much more sure about its place in the world than it ever has been in the post-colonial era. A nation much less given to the natural fawning of anything western. And that permeates through the Cricket team – it enables us, perhaps for the first time, to face any nation in the world as equals – and not as a team already beaten mentally.
Secondly, the social composition of the Indian cricket team has changed. The cricket team has traditionally been populated with kids from privileged middle class, public school, anglophobe backgrounds. What has changed is that the Dhonis and the Sehwags are finally not only making it to the team – but also making it big. This has led to a shift in the traditional deference to the power houses. Scrappy kids make great players. Football proves it. And so it has been with cricket in India. They are less encumbered with the colonial hangover that afflicted most of our elites post-independence, their less privileged backgrounds enable them to be much more scrappier fighters.
And the fact that they made it from humble beginnings probably also imply that they have much more raw talent as compared to those who made it earlier due to their backgrounds or family.
Sport is ultimately a metaphor of society. Look at the medal standings of any Olympic games and you more often than not, will find the most confident nations and the economically most prosperous winning the most medals.
Which is why, I think, Indian Cricket is in good position and in good hands. Now, go win the third test match, Team India. And maintain your #1 ranking.