Long known as tigers at home but lambs abroad, Team India turned things around in 2010 capping it off with a fantastic win in the 2nd Test at Durban against South Africa.
They went to Bangladesh and won; travelled to Sri Lanka and fought back to draw the series on a difficult fifth-day’s wicket; came back home, blanked Australia and beat New Zealand. But, not many were impressed.
For the skeptics, India’s No 1 ranking remained hollow. The tag still stuck — tigers at home, lambs overseas. The Indian stalwarts did not protest. They just steeled themselves; confidently waiting for the right stage to prove their worthiness.
In current times, there is no tougher challenge in world cricket than taking on South Africa in South Africa. Knowing their aversion to playing on grass, the world’s No 2 team welcomed Tendulkar & Co by literally rolling out the green carpet.
Following the first-day disaster at Centurion, there were some more jokes on the tigers at home. But, after the sensational turnaround at Durban, no one will ever talk about this Indian team being lambs overseas.
The 2011 New Year’s bash should be very special for Team India. It is the end of the 12 months in which they have proved themselves of being worthy of the No 1 Test team in the world.
There may have been better all-round teams, but by taming the SA Lions in their bastion, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman and Zaheer Khan’s team has made an emphatic statement of their place in history.
It was the biggest year in Indian cricket. For the first-time ever, our cricketers were in an unfamiliar position of being the favourites each time they played a Test. Thanks mainly to Laxman, Tendulkar, Khan and Harbhajan, the team did not do its cause any harm by fighting back every time their reputation was at stake.
The legend of Tendulkar touched another level after he rolled back the years to bat like the champion he has always been.
For great players it’s not just about personal glory. They know it all counts for nothing if it doesn’t help their team’s cause. Sensing an opportunity to taste the team’s success, in his 37th year, Tendulkar, batted like a man possessed, always leading from the front in tight situations. His double hundred against Sri Lanka in the second Test, back-to-back hundreds against South Africa in India and his 98 against Australia at Mohali were all important for his team’s cause.
In 14 Tests, Tendulkar scored 1,562 runs at an average of 78.10, completing 50 Test centuries and becoming the first batsman to score a double hundred in a one-day international in April. He was equally successful in T20, leading Mumbai Indians to the Indian Premier League final with astute captaincy and brilliant batting.
As an icing on the cake, Tendulkar was adjudged the International Cricket Council’s player of the year for the first time.
Laxman proved once again that there’s none as steely as him when it comes to handling pressure. Three of his innings were the stuff of legends — 103 not out on the final day of the third Test against Sri Lanka at the P Sara Oval; 73 not out on the final day of the first Test vs Australia at Mohali (on both occasions he single-handedly won the Test) and then the 96 vs South Africa on an unplayable Kingsmead wicket at Durban. In fact, in the eight Tests India won out of the 14 they played in 2010, Laxman played a decisive hand in five of them, adding his unbeaten 69 vs Bangladesh in the first Test at Zohur Ahmed Stadium and the 143 not out at Eden Gardens vs South Africa in the second Test.
Harbhajan was India’s unlikely batting hero against New Zealand with back-to-back hundreds. Just when he was almost written off as a bowler, he turned on the magic with a brilliant spell in the Kingsmead Test, his four for 10 putting India on top.
Zaheer Khan assured himself of a place among the pantheon of India’s pace bowling with some brilliant performances. His masterly exhibition of the art of reverse swing at Mohali against Australia was a treat. He was sensational at Durban. Seldom has a player’s presence lifted a team as Zaheer’s did at Kingsmead.
His contribution was more than the wickets he took. His 47 wickets in nine Tests (Avg: 21.97) were a big factor in India maintaining their dominance on all surfaces.
The only cause of complain about MS Dhoni’s captaincy was his poor luck with the toss. In all other aspects, he did not put a foot wrong, leading India to eight wins in 14 Tests. With Chennai Super Kings, he completed a double of the IPL title and the Champions League T20 title.
But, the main battle was fought off the field when the Board of Control for Cricket in India took on Lalit Modi. From one of the most-powerful men in Indian cricket, the IPL czar has been reduced to a fugitive on the run.