By Vivek Krishnan

The 1990s were all about one man — Sachin Tendulkar. He ruled the cricketing world with the willow in hand even though India didn’t register many wins

While the arrival of Sachin Tendulkar as a 16-year-old in 1989 was a seminal moment in Indian cricket, the 1990s was largely a decade of disappointment due to a lack of support from other players. India’s win percentage in Tests was still below 25 and victories away from home proved all too elusive. From 1989 to 1999, India won just one of 47 Tests away from home, the sole victory coming against Sri Lanka in Colombo in 1993. At home, India won 17 out of 30 Tests and lost just five, leading to the unflattering tag of ‘tigers at home and lambs abroad’.

While India’s overall record in 50-over cricket was much better during this phase, there wasn’t much joy in terms of trophies. India failed to make the semi-finals of the 1992 and 1999 World Cups. Their best chance was in 1996 when the event was being held in the subcontinent, but they suffered a semi-final exit, losing to eventual champions Sri Lanka at Eden Gardens as crowd trouble forced them to forfeit the game. That game was symbolic of India’s travails in that period. Chasing 252, they seemed on course till the time Tendulkar was at the crease. As soon as he got out on 65, though, the rest of them folded like a pack of cards.

Top batter: Sachin Tendulkar

While Tendulkar’s precocious talent was there for all to see on his very first trip to Pakistan in 1989, his first Test hundred came against England at Old Trafford in August 1990. It was a fourth-innings hundred that helped the visitors avoid what seemed a certain defeat.

Tendulkar’s reputation went up a few notches further when he hit centuries in Sydney and Perth on the tour of Australia in 1991/92. From then on, chants of ‘Sachin, Sachin!” started reverberating across stadiums as he became the lynchpin of the batting unit while still in his teens. While fans were obviously in awe of Tendulkar’s mastery, his teammates seemed to be equally spellbound by his genius.

Among Tendulkar’s top Test knocks during this period was his 169 against South Africa at Cape Town in 1997, 155* against Australia at Chepauk in 1998 and 136 against Pakistan at the same venue a year later. In ODIs, you cannot look beyond his scores of 143 and 134 against Australia at Sharjah in the Coco-Cola Cup in 1998. The first ton helped India qualify for the final amid a wild sand storm while the second ensured that they got the better of the mighty Australians.

Top bowler: Anil Kumble

A bespectacled Anil Kumble returned figures of 3-170 on his Test debut against England in Manchester in August 1990, and it took him another two years to play another Test. For the first few years of his career, he was derided for not being a big turner of the ball. His accuracy was his main strength though, and as he gained experience, he added subtle nuances to his repertoire. His first five-wicket haul in ODIs was the 6-12 that he took against West Indies at Eden Gardens in the final of the Hero Cup in 1993.

By the end of the 1990s, he was very much India’s star operator. In 1999, he became the second bowler after Jim Laker to take 10 wickets in an innings, against Pakistan at Feroz Shah Kotla in Delhi to level a highly engaging series.

1989 - 2000