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India in 2005 - Part 1
03 Jan 2006
By: Sudeep Popat


When India won the first ODI against Sri Lanka in a series of seven, back in late October, Cricket Web ran the headline "The Dawn of a New Era". The phrase can probably sum up entire year for the country too.

India began 2005 with Sourav Ganguly at the helm of affairs, tottering from poor personal form, but still quite the chieftain. By the time the team for the Pakistan tour for early next year was announced, he was the one who was most unsure of getting to board the plane for the neighbouring country. Rahul Dravid, his able successor, has rejuvenated the team, after what seemed a bleak 2004-05 season.

Ganguly's detainment was largely a result of his spat with supposedly former buddy Greg Chappell. While only a couple of years back India's most successful captain sought the Australian's help with his batting technique, the two hardly saw eye to eye since when the latter took over from John Wright as the team's coach.

The fact that the only fracas Ganguly fans have created has been to do with his selection in the team shows how well Dravid has led India during what could have been trying times, if it weren't for the spirited performances of the Men in Blue.

Captain Cool and Coach Courageous

When India tied 1-1 with Pakistan in the home Test series, and managed to lose the six-match ODI series 2-4, after leading 2-0 at one point, ominous signs seemed to be looming large. The second half of 2004 had been horrendous, but the excuse of lack of match practice stopped being a valid reason when the poor form continued throughout till the Pakistan tour. John Wright decided to depart, before losing the reputation that he had established in a 5-year stint.

Sourav Ganguly was one of the chief enthusiasts for getting Greg Chappell on board. Little did he know that he was scripting his own demise, at least as captain. Chappell, with his no-nonsense attitude has changed the face of Indian cricket, at least on the field. Wright was more methodical, while Chappell has a certain radical approach to the game, apart from being more technically au courant. He showed an immense belief in his players, glaring especially in the case of Gautam Gambhir who despite failing on occasions still finds himself a first-choice opener, or in how he hyped Sachin Tendulkar's return, which was filled with its equal share of pessimism owing to the master batsman's poor run of form before being ruled out for months due to a tennis elbow.

Chappell also brought about the maturing of Irfan Pathan, who seemed to be failing the early comparisons with Pakistani legend Wasim Akram. Although Pathan is not close yet, the first step in becoming a worthy all-rounder has been taken, thanks to the new coach. Chappell had an active part in the development of Mahendra Singh Dhoni as well, channelling his aggressive batting in the right way, apart from helping him refine his wicket-keeping. He also helped continue the trend of improving fielding, as even the oldies seem fresh as a daisy on the field.

Rahul Dravid, as captain, couldn't have asked for more from his players, at a time when moods could have swung to the extreme negative, effecting on-field performances. Although this made his task easier, there was no rest from his side. He was most agile, be it in field settings or bowling changes, as well as any innovations that the coach or fellow players sprung at him. His own batting was as rock solid as ever.

Glimpses of Dusk

Sourav Ganguly just recently said that 2005 had been his worst year yet. He had been on a decline, and sooner or later had to face the fate that he eventually ran into, if he wouldn't have been able to resurrect matters. His horrendous form in both formats of the game continued; add to that the fact that he was banned for slow over rate, bailed out of a match under gloomy circumstances, and it was sure that he wasn't the same guy who led India to their first series win in Pakistan.

Ganguly's chief opposition within the team turned out to be the coach he was probably most looking forward to work with. As things turned out, Greg Chappell didn't want anyone not performing playing, which ultimately led to Ganguly's dismissal from the side, although after quite a lot of media upheaval. Meanwhile, India did quite well without Ganguly, in the ODIs against Sri Lanka and South Africa at home, adding to his woes, and making it that much more harder for him to make a comeback.

Ganguly did return to the side though, quite to the displeasure of Chappell, but when there's political pressure being put on the cricket board, there was nothing else the selectors could probably do. Ganguly probably did enough to warrant a comeback too, scoring a century in a Ranji match just immediately after being dumped. On his return, Ganguly, although not looking his best self, did play a couple of decent knocks. But there was more controversy brewing. He was left out of the squad for the Ahmedabad Test, the final one against Sri Lanka, which caused Bengali fans to erupt in rage. The Parliament was to discuss Ganguly's abrupt exclusion; ministers questioned the selectors' motives behind the dismissal. The end result of all this balderdash was that the Bengal Tiger was reinstated for the tour to Pakistan, Mohammad Kaif being the unlucky one to miss out.

Ganguly's future depends largely on how well he does in Pakistan. This is probably his last chance to show the selectors, and indeed the entire country, that the old magic still exists, that form is temporary but class is permanent. It all depends rather on whether he gets a chance to actually play. It wouldn't surprise anyone though if he doesn't get to play for not being in Chappell's larger plan, is dropped after the series, and there's another controversy on hand.

The Return of the King

They said he was past his best. They said he wouldn't last long, he was crippled. But he proved them wrong. 2005 saw Sachin Tendulkar break Sunil Gavaskar's record of 34 centuries in Test cricket, when he brought up his 35th, against Sri Lanka. The whole nation erupted in joy, their hero had put his name on another record in history.

Tendulkar missed a large part of the year owing to his tennis elbow injury, which induced doubt not only in the fans whether he could be back at his best, but as well as self-doubts as to whether he could be worthy enough of playing for India. He made his return in the ODIs against Sri Lanka, and proved that the old magic was still there, only it was lying dormant, by scoring a lively 93. He followed it up with another half century.

However, he hasn't made the critics eat their words yet. He failed to be as consistent as his old self, especially throwing away good starts when it just looked as if he was set in and on the highway to a huge score. The fact that he has finally got past Gavaskar in Tests, should relieve some pressure, and hopefully, he entertains the fans just as consistently as he used to.

This was Part 1 of the 2005 in review for Indian cricket. Part 2 (reviewing Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Irfan Pathan and more) will be available shortly.

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