March, 1994. It was a 6 hour bus ride, tiring one at that. I was in my 11th standard and just finished my exams, while studying in a hostel. The bus that I took brought me home. My mother did not ask me how did my exams go. First thing she said was – “You know what, Tendulkar opened the innings today”. And I was brought back to life suddenly. Sachin Tendulkar opened the innings in a ODI match and smashed the New Zealand bowling attack all over the ground. This is the best moment for a cricket fan in India. Sachin. God. Tendulkar.
Indian cricket’s period of 1990 to 2020 (30 years) can be termed as an era. This era saw many great players making an impact for India. And some are still doing it. Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble, VVS Laxman, Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh, Javagal Srinath, Zaheer Khan, Harbhajan Singh, Ishant Sharma, Gautham Gambhir and many other good players.
But the men who defined this era are the magical three – Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and Mahender Singh Dhoni. Sachin started this era in 1990 and it came to an end with the retirement of MS Dhoni in 2020.
Sachin Tendulkar had a phenomenal entry into Indian cricket. For 10 years, he was the ONLY face of Indian cricket. I remember the utter silence in stadium and outside whenever Sachin used to get out. He was, is and will always be the GOD! No one, in any cricket playing nation, will ever come close to the passion and loyalty that Sachin commanded. He epitomized consistency, power, technique, calmness and passion. Ask anyone who followed Indian cricket in 1990s and 2000s. The one name that comes on top of their mind is S-a-c-h-i-n. And Tendulkar did this consistently for 20+ years. What a player!
Sourav Ganguly was a fantastic batsman. His cover drives and front foot sixers were legendary. But these are not the attributes that made Sourav the game changer in this era. His captaincy. Yes, he was the first Indian captain to take the fight to opposition. India was not known to play fearless cricket until then. But once Sourav took up captaincy, things changed pretty quickly. His aggression was built on the trust he had on his team. Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh, Zaheer Khan, VVS Laxman and Harbhajan Singh flourished in his captaincy. Of course, he had great support in Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid. Sourav Ganguly is the captain who transformed Indian cricket team into a well knit and tough fighting unit. He was the one who started and completed the transformation.
Mahender Singh Dhoni had a contrasting entry into Indian cricket. He struggled initially, had to face lot of difficulties due to his unconventional playing style. But with time, MS Dhoni mastered the art of the cricket. Captain cool, great finisher, thinker, strategist, expressionless on field, long term vision etc etc.. He is called so many things. He is attributed to so many successes India has seen. From being ranked #1 in world cricket, winning T20 World Cup, Champions Trophy and the icing on the cake, ODI World Cup. MS Dhoni is has the highest winning percentage in IPL till date. Dhoni and Yuvraj made India’s middle order the strongest in the world cricket during their time. He is also the one who had captained the other two legends – Sachin and Sourav. Dhoni took the team which was transformed by Sourav and made it into a force that started to win big titles on World stage. Something that no Indian cricket team has never done so consistently.
With MS Dhoni’s retirement in 2020, a dream era for Indian cricket comes to an end. It lasted for 30 years – from 1990 to 2020. Curtains down!
The next era has already begun. Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma have carried this forward from the previous era. What we have to wait and watch is if this new era will be defined by individual legends or complete teams.