It has been 86 years since India entered the fold of Test cricket, and they will play their 500th Test against New Zealand at Green Park, Kanpur from Thursday.
In another milestone, the second Test at the Eden Gardens, Kolkata, will be their 250th at home.
With many skilful players but with modest ambitions, the India team has been the catalyst for the country emerging as the financial hub of global cricket in the last three decades.
Down the years, India have featured in some remarkable matches, with many firsts along the way. It was under ‘Tiger’ Pataudi --- many consider him India’s finest Test skipper and the man who unified players as a team --- that India won their first overseas Test, in New Zealand in 1967.
In 1971, under Ajit Wadekar, India’s registered their first Test series triumphs in the West Indies and England. If the 1-0 win over England raised the patriotic fervour, the series win in the Caribbean marked the arrival of India’s finest opener, Sunil Gavaskar.
Gavaskar, had a sensational debut series starting with the second Test in Port-of-Spain, which India won to eventually seal the series. He struck fifties in both innings of the Trinidad Test, aggregating 774 runs at a mind-boggling average of 154.80 in four Tests.
In 1989, a 16-year-old Sachin Tendulkar burst on to the scene, two years after Gavaskar’s retirement, and held the cricket world’s attention for 24 years.
As India get set for the historic contest under Virat Kohli’s captaincy, here is a look at their five most memorable Tests:
1971, Port-of-Spain --- Gavaskar arrives
Led by Wadekar in a series where the other four Tests were drawn, the spin trio of Bishan Singh Bedi (5), Erapalli Prasanna (4) and S Venkatraghavan (6) played prominent roles to seal a seven-wicket victory in the most spin-friendly venue of the region. It was India’s first-ever Test victory in the West Indies, on their third tour of the region. Senior batsman Dilip Sardesai’s form and a young Gavaskar’s class played significant roles in the victory.
1999, Delhi – Kumble’s perfect 10
The Ferozeshah Kotla was originally supposed to host the first Test against Pakistan, only for rightwing activists to dig up the pitch in protest of the series, forcing the two Tests to be switched. After Pakistan sealed victory in Chennai despite a heroic fourth-innings century by Sachin Tendulkar, India were under pressure.
On the fourth afternoon of the Delhi Test, when nothing seemed to be happening, skipper Mohd Azharuddin threw the ball to Anil Kumble. And the rest, as they say, is history. He ran through the batting to claim a match-winning 10/74, becoming only the second bowler after England spinner Jim Lakerin to take all wickets in a Test innings. India wrapped up the series-levelling win in four days.
2001, Kolkata – Laxman masterclass
A seemingly unstoppable Australia, led by Steve Waugh, had brushed aside India in the first Test in Mumbai to extend their record for most Test wins in a row to 16. At Eden Gardens, in the second Test, they looked set to seal their first series win in India since 1969 when they forced the hosts to follow-on. Even ardent Indian fans had little hope, the hosts having lost by 10 wickets in Mumbai.
Then began a magical revival. With India asked to follow on 274 runs behind, coach John Wright switched the order, asking VVS Laxman to bat at No 3 and Rahul Dravid at No 6. Laxman’s sublime batting, amassing an Indian record 281 and raising a 376-run partnership with Dravid (180), saw Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne tamed.
India spinners, led by Harbhajan Singh, then ran through the Aussie batting to seal a 171-run win, sparking an incredible turnaround that saw the hosts seal the series 2-1.
2004, Multan -- Viru the Sultan
India were playing their first Test in Pakistan for almost 15 years. Rahul Dravid was leading the side after skipper Sourav Ganguly returned home due to injury. Virender Sehwag seized the occasion, hammering the first triple Test ton by an Indian batsman (309), crossing the mark with a six no less.
Sachin Tendulkar weighed in with 194 not out, but Dravid showed the kind of decisiveness which none would have associated with Indian cricket. With Tendulkar not heeding the messages to reach his double ton quickly so that the innings can be declared, the skipper called off the innings, stunning the man in the middle as well as the opposition. Any debate was almost swept aside when India went on to clinch an innings victory.
Pakistan rallied to make it 1-1, but India won the final Test in Rawalpindi by an innings to seal the series 2-1, their first in Pakistan.
2008, Perth -- Lamboo’s ninth over
The previous Test in Sydney, the second of the series, had ended in acrimony. Debatable umpiring had pushed India, who had looked set to upset Australia and level the series, into defeat. The ‘Monkeygate’ scandal involving Harbhajan Singh’s comments directed at Andrew Symonds had erupted on top of it, tearing the cricket ties between the two nations apart.
This was the background going into the third Test at Australia’s fortress, Perth. At the WACA, tall teenager Ishant Sharma was making Ricky Ponting’s life miserable but had bowled a long spell. That was when Virender Sehwag, having just made a comeback into the side, asked his Delhi teammate: “Lamboo, ek aur over dalega?”
That ninth over of the spell consumed Ponting for 20, triggered a collapse which led to India’s 72-run victory, their first at Perth. It helped India avenge everything that had happened in Sydney. The win was made even more significant as Australia had lost at the WACA after 11 years. Also, it was the second time India had halted Australia’s record run, again at 16 matches.