The year 1989 was a significant one; it was the year when a certain Sachin Tendulkar made his debut and was identified as the man to carry Indian cricket to the next level. The Kapil Devs, Ravi Shastris and Amarnaths were at the brink of their careers. After 22 years we can say, Sachin has not disappointed. He certainly has taken Indian cricket to the next level, he did it, not on his own but with the ‘Class of 1996’.
Yes, 1996 is probably going to be the most significant year for Indian cricket. Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman entered the Test arena to join forces with Sachin Tendulkar. Often referred to as the ‘Fab Four’, they gave us hope; hope to compete away from home. Despite winning the 1983 World Cup and despite Sunil Gavaskar, India did not necessarily compete away from home. We were considered to be ‘Lions at home and lambs away’. However, this new generation of Indian batsmen were intent on changing the way opponents looked at us. They were willing to fight and India were not pushovers anymore.
Like in the education system, where the first few years you are a nervous young child in primary school and then move on to become a more confident senior, the start of the 21st century marked this transition for the ‘Fab Four’. Sourav Ganguly was handed over the captaincy and we also saw our first foreign coach, John Wright. We instantly saw a change in attitude. One name which often doesn’t get enough mention is that of Anil Kumble. He defied cricketing logic to become one of the best spinners in world cricket. This ‘new and improved’ attitude of the Indian Team got them more die-hard fans than they ever had. People believed in the team and took pride in being an Indian cricket fan.
Apart from Anil Kumble, we also had the likes of Javagal Srinath, Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan. Virender Sehwag at the top of the order put pressure on the opposition straight away and played a match winning knock every now and then. We beat Australia in our own backyard in 2001 which is considered to be one of the best Test series ever. India also started winning Test matches away from home. We won Tests in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, England, West Indies, New Zealand and South Africa. We even beat Australia in Adelaide in 2003 and Perth in 2008. The one constant in all these wins would have to be the contribution of the ‘Fab Four’. It is hard to imagine a single Test match which India has won, without some kind of a contribution from this wonderfully gifted set of batsmen. Indians all over the cricketing world were ‘respected’; yes respected for being from the same country as these ‘Greats’. I say it again, this special lot made us proud to be Indians.
Sourav Ganguly and Anil Kumble retired with a series win against Australia and probably left at the right time. Sachin, Dravid and Laxman continued to pile on the runs but were closer to the end of their careers. India reached the No. 1 ranking in Test cricket but talks were now centred on what happens after the retirements of these three. Neither of Sachin, Dravid nor Laxman were considering retirement, but speculations were on, not just in India but around the world. Experts said that its time for the selectors to start looking at the future, but these legends let their bats do the talking and kept silencing the critics.
The recent humiliation in England and now in Australia does hurt, it is most probably going to hasten the retirements of atleast 2 of the 3. Virat Kohli has shown us that India’s next generation of batsmen is ready to take on the world. Rohit Sharma, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane are waiting for an opportunity. As much as we hate to admit, it is probably time for the ‘Class of 1996’ and Sachin to graduate from the school of Indian cricket and make way for a fresh batch. We can only hope that the ‘Class of 2012’ will be able to fill in the boots of their predecessors, they are huge boots to fill, but do not make the mistake of not hoping.
My only request to the Indian Board is to allow each of these 3 greats to retire. They deserve to have a special farewell in front of a jam packed stadium at home, our tears – the least we can offer for their service to Indian cricket.
Do not remember them for these last 2 tours, remember them for what they have given us over the last two decades. Sachin, Laxman, Dravid and the rest of the Indian team – we love you and will always do so.