Arguably the best cricket series on Indian soil has just come to an end, and what's more is that it could not have come at a better time for the game. With Test cricket about to step into its 125th year, this series is possibly its best birthday gift. After an extremely torrid 124th year when the match-fixing controversy had threatened the very existence of the game, this series is also cricket's best advertisement in the current context.
After a fiercely competitive Test series it was suspected by all and sundry as to whether the one-day series would be able to match the drama and the ecstasy of the Test matches. Even if that failed (with four of the encounters being fairly one sided) -- it was not by much, as the last match lived up to the expectations of being the grand finale.
What is the biggest gain from this series? Cricket enthusiasts will tell us it is the emergence of stars like VVS Laxman and Harbhajan Singh. Indeed they are correct. But there's more to it that evades the naked eye. This series has prompted a realization among all cricket enthusiasts across the country about their almost forgotten nationality. Our realization that we are all Indians -- a factor evident when the entire country stood up to salute Sachin, Laxman and Harbhajan -- is by far our biggest gain.
Even during the Kargil war, dissension emerged in the political circles on the justification of the nation's involvement in it. But after the wins in Kolkata and Chennai and after Sachin reached his extraordinary milestone of 10,000 runs and 100 wickets, be it the Left Front in Bengal, the DMK in Tamil Nadu or the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, the announcement of cash awards for the heroes followed thick and fast.
This is why even in Oxford, the normally poor Indian student community organized wine parties in which foreigners, irrespective of their nationality, were invited to share the wine without having to contribute. A rare Indian treat at that! This is why Sujit Mukherjee had commented in this very magazine "Cricket exemplifies an amity otherwise missing in the nation." In a nation torn by strife and turmoil, ravaged by incidents like the Tehelka expose, shaking the foundation of our belief in our elected representatives. This welcome realization about us being Indians -- ushered by this extraordinary cricket series -- is definitely its biggest gain.
Coming to strictly cricketing gains, the emergence of India as a team is indeed the biggest plus from this tough (put very mildly) series. This is why Saurav Ganguly could confidently assert after losing the final match that he was looking forward to turning the tide of our poor runs abroad in the very next series in Zimbabwe. Until recently, Indian cricket was all about its cricketers and not the game in totality. That is why we lamented about the extraordinary feats of Vijay Merchant, (scoring centuries in both innings against Australia down under) Mohammed Nissar and Amar Singh (in the 1932 tour of England) or Sunil Gavaskar (scoring 221). The common string in all these laments was that India had lost. Except the last occasion i.e Gavaskar's 221, the losses were meek surrenders.
In the current series the trend reversed with "lesser mortals" like Harbhajan, Laxman, Shib Sunder Das, Zaheer Khan, Virender Sehwag and Hemang Badani heralding this dramatic turnaround. A journey down memory lane reveals that most players in this series played their part, be it the match-winning 22 by Samir Dighe or Nilesh Kulkarni bowling a tight line from the other end to support Harbhajan. In the one-dayers we saw the top order click more often than not even if Sachin had failed to score.
The reason most commonly cited for our string of defeats in close encounters was the lack of killer instinct. But one who had seen the Indians fling themselves at everything even when the last one-dayer was all but over, would not dare to repeat this complaint. The aggression of Zaheer & Co towards Glenn McGrath and his compatriots took gamesmanship to new heights in India. Going by what Saurav had to say after the series (every Aussie action was meted by an equal Indian reaction), one cannot fail to laud the meticulous planning. For without it, aggression would have continued to be an Aussie forte.
Here one cannot but spare a thought for Laxman. He appears to have killed Ravana without Ram's help. Even the real Ram would have been proud of this mortal brother. Steve Waugh could not have imagined in his worst nightmares that Laxman would answer every Aussie attempt to disrupt his concentration with the bat. Had he the least of inklings, he would certainly have stopped McGrath and Shane Warne from unnecessarily hurling balls at Laxman when he firmly stood his ground. Alongside a show of character, this Indian performance also carried ominous signs for the continuing white hegemony.
Arguably the two best teams in world cricket, Australia and South Africa have age firmly against them. In both these champion sides more than half the players are over 30. Infact, Steve's current side has nine such war horses. Hoping that all can't do an encore as Courtney Walsh, it would be safe to assume that many of these stars will retire in the next 2-3 years. Keeping in mind the long drawn format of the World Test Championships, propounded by the ICC, it is almost certain that by the end of the championships Australia will have an entirely new-look side.
India, on the other hand, has a young and enterprising bunch of youngsters who should certainly continue to serve the country for the next five years or so. Unless, of course, some of them find themselves out of the team, chasing balls outside the off stumps, when playing genuine seamers. In this situation it would not be unjust to pin our hopes on India as the team of the future, a potent force to win the 2003 World Cup, or even the ICC Test Championships.
Finally, let's turn to the economic significance of this victory. In a country where maximum foreign exchange is earned from the telecast rights of this lone sport, where a stingy national broadcaster pays millions to bag cricket telecast rights, the economic significance of the game is beyond doubt. This dominance had been challenged by the match-fixing controversy, with the integrity of the game itself in doubt.
For a renewed successful commercialization of the sport, the current series indeed has a lot to offer. In a revised frame of mind, where we perceive sport as "industry", and not as mere leisure or entertainment pursuit, (Sport, as Tony Mason and Richard Holt have suggested in their recent work "British sport over the past half century", is Britain's eleventh largest industry contributing £3.5 billion in tax revenues. From this they go on to conclude, "no government can ignore an industry the size of sport and leisure, which not only accounts for about £10 billion of consumer expenditure but also employs 750 000 workers). This series is expected to strengthen the national economy significantly.
Under these circumstances, keeping in mind the Vishwanathan Anands or Gopichands, it can be asserted that Indian cricket may well look at its less privileged counterparts as Lillyputs, crawling beneath the feet of this Gulliver.It has been proved once again, that in India "Nothing succeeds like cricketing success."
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