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India, masters of their destiny now

columns Updated: Jul 21, 2011 01:45 IST
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Nostalgia can drown a person into a well of sentimentality and exaggerate the significance of the past, well beyond its contextual import. Drawing sustenance from Gabriel Garcia Marques' lines that "life is not what one lived, but what one remembers and how one remembers it, in order to recount it," I dare say that Chandrasekhar's stirring spell of 6 for 38 in the Oval Test of 1971, that gave India its first ever victory over England, is the most exhilarating memory I have of cricket.

The India-England rivalry becomes a 100-Test old affair today and, unlike in the past when the "White Men" in matching flannels were to us like Gods descended from the Heavens, today India are the masters of their destiny. But there was a time when saving a match was a badge of honour for India, and the meaning, context and feel of the game was conveyed to us live on BBC Radio in lyrical tones by John Arlott, in typical British humour by Brian Johnston, supplemented by the rich baritone of EW Swanton or a Trevor Bailey.

Those were the days when the game was described to listeners through words, leaving it to our imagination to create images of how it must have been on the field. The epochal event at the Oval, when for the first time we realised we could beat the Masters at their own game, that too in their own backyard, is and will always gain precedence over anything that has followed in India's cricketing history for those who were young, impressionable followers of their country's fortunes then.

Sunil Gavaskar had taken his first steps towards greatness and the spin quartet, backed by the unimaginable catching skills of the frail Eknath Solkar, was making the world take notice of us. But it took another decade-and-a-half, when a strapping, dynamic all-rounder in Kapil Dev led India to our most decisive Test series win till date in England in 1986, for India to be taken as equals among the best.

Ten years later, 1996, saw the debut of two men - Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid - at the Lord's. They went on to shape the destiny of a team, which today is the best in the world. One molded the team into an aggressive, self-believing unit; the other made a virtue out of adverse batting conditions and scored runs when others panicked.

India today is no longer a team, which shies away from challenges and has in its ranks a man whom the world acknowledges as the best the game has ever seen. In 1990, when in his teens, Sachin Tendulkar scored his first Test hundred in England. And, if the stars are favourably inclined, he may well score his century of international centuries in the 100th Test the two countries are playing against each other.

Even his worst enemy - the English team - will not grudge Test cricket's greatest ambassador this feat in circumstances which seem to have been literally designed for a genius to achieve a milestone.