By Vivek Krishnan

Ganguly took the Indian team in a new direction under his leadership, and the 2001 Test series win over Australia played a big part in that

At the beginning of the new Millennium, Indian cricket was going through a massive churn. The match-fixing scandal and the phasing out of a few seniors resulted in Sourav Ganguly getting the captaincy while New Zealander John Wright was named the team’s first foreign coach. The 2000 ICC Knock-Out Trophy (now called Champions Trophy) was the first big test for Ganguly’s captaincy, and India’s march to the final – they lost the summit clash to New Zealand – helped infuse a lot of positivity. Zaheer Khan and Yuvraj Singh made their debuts during the event while other younger players like Virender Sehwag and Harbhajan Singh were also making their way.

The turning point for Ganguly and his team, of course, was the 2001 Test series against Australia. The Aussies had come into the tour with 15 consecutive Test wins and made it 16 with a 10-wicket rout at Wankhede Stadium. They seemed set for a 17th straight win at Eden Gardens when they enforced the follow-on, but VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid turned it all around with an iconic 376-run partnership. India went on to miraculously win the Test and the series 2-1, heralding a new era where India could compete with the best teams in the world. They shed the tag of underperformers overseas by scripting memorable wins against England at Headingley in 2002 and Australia at Adelaide in 2003. In March-April 2004, India toured Pakistan after a gap of 15 years and clinched a 2-1 series victory, their first in the neighbouring country.

In ODIs, too, India had their high moments under Ganguly. They were under the cosh at the start of the 2003 World Cup after a challenging tour of New Zealand, and things went further downhill following a nine-wicket loss to Australia in the group stage. But they picked up momentum with victories over England and Pakistan, reaching the final with dominating victories over all their opponents before running into the unstoppable Aussies in the final.

Top batter: Rahul Dravid

Dravid was under a bit of pressure at the start of the 2001 home series against Australia, but his partnership with Laxman at Eden Gardens (he was demoted to No 6 in the second innings) helped him regain his confidence. Dravid went on to become the most reliable Indian batter during that period, producing epics in each of India’s famous overseas Test victories.

While his rock-solid defence earned him the nickname of ‘The Wall’ – not one that he particularly liked – he was a capable batter in 50-over cricket too. He took up the gloves ahead of the 2003 World Cup for the benefit of the team and delivered some valuable contributions at No 5.

Top bowler: Anil Kumble (Tests) and Ajit Agarkar (ODIs)

While Kumble wasn’t particularly successful outside Asia in the first half of his career, he course corrected in the latter half. In 27 Tests outside Asia from 2000 onwards, he took 121 wickets in 27 Tests at a strike rate of 64.6. In the decade prior to that, he managed just 79 scalps in 23 Tests at a strike rate exceeding 90. While it was often a choice between him and Harbhajan Singh in overseas Tests if the team could accommodate only one spinner, they formed a lethal combo when they operated in tandem.

In ODIs, Ajit Agarkar played the most number of games among bowlers in this period and claimed 190 wickets.

2001 - 2006