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And when runs fail the master, others step in

In any traditional stage production, there?s always a lead actor, the hero, the slayer of demons, the last man standing.

india Updated: Jan 04, 2004 01:06 IST

In any traditional stage production, there’s always a lead actor, the hero, the slayer of demons, the last man standing. It was thus with the Indian team this past decade. There was always Tendulkar.

Sachin was the man who could not fail, who could not be allowed to fail. Invariably, his failure was associated with a collective Indian failure. Of team and country and of a nation’s collective psyche.

In an India in a state of constant flux on all fronts — economic, political, social — Sachin, whatever his own feelings on the subject and his own touch-me-not persona, came to stand for stability, security and success. He wasn’t just the golden boy. He was the Godhead.

The strange thing is that despite the various singular performances over the years — by V.V.S. Laxman and Rahul Dravid, Virender Sehwag and Sourav Ganguly — everyone still looked to Sachin to succeed for India to be successful. Sachin’s success spelt salvation, all others were almost indulgently enjoyed.

Despite Kolkata, 2001.

The only thing is, that as those extraordinary performances by other players moved from being rare to regular, the first flutterings of change was felt. Many things caused the transition of Indian cricket from one man’s story to a story of many facets. But right there at the top, probably, are two things. The rise of Sourav Ganguly as an exceptional captain and the emergence of Rahul Dravid from Sachin’s shadow.

First there was God. Then came the Trinity. And then, with the addition of first Laxman and then Sehwag, there was suddenly, a virtual pantheon.

There was still a problem though. While Yuvraj Singh and Mohammad Kaif (and we’re talking only about the batsmen here) completed the new India as far as the shorter variant of the game was concerned, the purists still decried India’s Test record. Despite the excitement over the emergence of this new India, even as the team left for Australia a little under two month’s back, it was seen off with a sense of inevitability. For the vast majority of the followers of Indian cricket, it would have been enough if they had not been whitewashed or if the Tests had lasted the full five days.

And, despite the heroics of a Laxman, Dravid or Sehwag, most believed it would all come down to how Tendulkar performed.

And then came Adelaide. Incredibly, Sachin failed again but Laxman and Dravid showed that miracles are not a once-in-a-lifetime affair. Their 303-run, eventually match-winning performance, came on the back of Ganguly’s 144 in the first Test at Brisbane. These, combined with the quite exceptional showing by the unlikely opening combine of the incendiary Sehwag and the unobtrusive Chopra, showed a gobsmacked India that a new era had arrived. The success of the near-mad genius of Sehwag and the steadying influence of Chopra completed the jigsaw puzzle. Indian cricket had been looking to put all the pieces together and finally, things had clicked and that too, in cricket’s equivalent of God’s own country.

Perhaps not unforeseen but definitely unheralded, the actual passing of the baton from one man to an entire team was a sudden, drastic development.

Before this New Year’s Test and Tendulkar’s rediscovery of form and self, there was an incredible statistic from this series —four of the top six batsmen had struck centuries in three Tests. One of those who hasn’t is Chopra, who had played only two Tests before this series and the other was Sachin Tendulkar.

This is Shining India. It’s no longer a one-man show. If you bring in Parthiv Patel, who’s had a very happy time out there in the middle (at least with the bat) India’s batting line-up is more like the Magnificent Seven or something. Or at least, it’s getting there. Like Yul Brynner, Sachin will still get top billing but there’s been a definite change. From the age of the golden boy to the golden age of cricket. What lies ahead is the great unknown but it’s also perhaps the Promised Land.

Sourav Ganguly:

Set the tone for the series with a fighting century in the first Test. Clearly the leader when it comes to raw courage

Virender Sehwag:

Along with the sedate Aakash Chopra, has put together a successful opening partnership for India in a long time

Rahul Dravid:

His captain referred to his god like performance in the last Test. Is the man most likely to fire when everyone else fails

V.V.S. Laxman:

Evidently relishes the Australian attack. Has scored consistently and given ample evidence of his class as a batsman

First Published: Jan 04, 2004 00:35 IST