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Monday, July 4, 2011

The Rise of the Indian Cricket Fan

by Freehit @ Sportskeeda

The rise of Indian cricket in recent years has been an emotional ride for the nation's die-hard fans
At the start of the previous decade as a young 9-year old, I was a fan of Steve Waugh and his dominant Australian side. Keenly following Australian cricket was in fact, one of my favourite hobbies. There were so many wonderful players who would turn the game on their head when least expected. Everytime the chips would be down, someone would put their hand up and pull out the team from the jaws of defeat.

Seeing India win would obviously make me happy, but phrases like “India ka kuch nahi ho sakta”(translation: India can’t make it big) were heard far too often. They were an talented yet inconsistent side. As Indian fans who followed the game in the 80’s and 90’s would tell you, there were far too many heart breaks.
Then came the Kolkata test of 2001. India performed poorly in the first two innings after having already lost the first match. Even the Australian fan inside me wasn’t enjoying such bashing that the Indians were getting. Like many others, I too believed this test would decide the series in Australia’s favour.

The Marathon innings: Unforgettable moment in Indian cricketing history
Then came the 3rd day, where VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid were batting at start of play. They batted and batted AND batted, all day long. As Steve Waugh later said “It seemed as if their bats got wider with every ball.” I can still remember Zaheer Khan walking off the field as India declared on 657-7 after following on. Heroics of Harbhajan Singh meant we had stopped the mighty Australians in their prime. The Indian in me smiled. No prizes for guessing who I supported in the final test of that series.
Fast forward to the 2002. India were visiting England and just a day before the series was about to start, various news channels and newspapers kept talking about how India had always failed in English conditions. It seemed as if hardly anyone in media believed that the team could fight. For some reason, I had this intuition that India would do much better than expected. It had no cricketing logic associated with it. Just that I still had the memories of Kolkata test of last year and other wins around that time. So, I was hopeful that they would come up with a respectable performance.

The Natwest Series Triumph: The day the nation woke up to new heroes
Nasser Hussain’s men were stunned as two hardly known youngsters by the name of Mohammed Kaif and Yuvraj Singh snatched victory out of no where to chase down a massive 325. No longer were we dependent only on Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid or Anil Kumble as another youngster Zaheer Khan emerged as the highest wicket taker for the ODI series. Then came the 4-match test series. Having not won any test series in England for 15 years, India’s chances at best, were not great.
The test series finished at 1-1, thanks mainly to the efforts of Kumble, Zaheer, Harbhajan and of course, Dravid in his fluent prime. How many in India, would have bet on India coming back without losing the series ? Hardly anyone. From being pushovers overseas, India had started showing fight.
The batting was looking superb from Virender Sehwag at top till the late middle-order, all filled with classy players. A lot of other things were changing too. The bowling was getting better all the time and India had started its journey towards being consistent. The feel-good factor started kicking in and everyone back home, supported the team with their full heart. Fielding was now given a lot more importance and to see Kaif, Yuvraj among others dive around gave us immense pride. As Indians, we were tired of the tag of being clumpsy in field and felt glad that we were improving on this important aspect.
All those who felt the Natwest win was just a fluke were silenced as the team showed they could perform repeatedly under pressure by chasing 325 yet again in Ahmedabad against West Indies. The players were getting better at holding their nerve and giving their best when the chips were down. Probably the most important thing that was changing was their attitude. We had learnt to never back down in a fight. Two incidences I particularly remember I are Ganguly’s shirt waving at Lord’s and later, Rahul Dravid staring back at Mohammed Sami in Pakistan.
By the time 2003 World Cup started, India had a good balanced team and hence a fair chance. However, the Australians were clear favourites and in spite of Steve Waugh’s absence, I was hoping they would do well. India,  managed to win 9 out of 11 matches during this campaign, but unfortunately, the two they lost were one-sided defeats to eventual winners Australia. Nevertheless, India had come a long way from their previous World Cup showing in 1999. The ’03 WC had some amazing performances from various Indian players, with the star being Sachin Tendulkar.
The Adelaide Test of ’03 was wonderful for Indians who dearly wanted to beat Australia after the bashing at the WC Final. The heroes of Kolkata ’01 stood tall yet again and made sure that Australia were trailing in a test series down under. This didn’t happen too often those days, after all, Australia had been the #1 team for quite a while. As one of my heroes, Steve Waugh retired from international cricket, Dravid was steadily becoming my favourite and has remained ever since.
With the departure of the Aussie captain, my inclination towards Australian cricket decreased for sure. However I remained a fan of these men, since their fitness, skill and ability to handle different situations was very professional and impressive. Good thing was that Indian cricket was taking major but silent steps towards becoming a superb team. Whether at home or abroad, India was becoming more and more competitive and determined.
The second match that I saw live in a stadium(1st that I actually remember watching),was India v England at Faridabad in 2006. Sure, I did appreciate Kevin Pietersen’s aggressive batting, but it was no match to Suresh Raina’s match-winning 81 or Ramesh Powar’s 3-wicket haul. India winning the match gave me pride I hadn’t felt before. One lesson I learnt that day, was Cricket united us like nothing else can. The same people who were fighting during the match were celebrating together once Irfan Pathan scored the winning runs.
By the time India had won its first test series in West Indies in 35 years, I had become a proud Indian supporter(and a Dravid fanboy). Not many expected India to win, after all it was only the second time we managed to pull it off. Ever since, I easily get nervous if India has a weak start to some game or I get filled with pride as India demolish the opposition. Indian cricket has given me reasons to celebrate over and over again.
Yes, there have been some low points like the 2007 World Cup. But, victories in England Test series ’07, Perth test ’08, CB ODI Series in Australia ’08, Chennai test ’08, Napier ’09, Mohali test ’10 and of course, Durban test ’10, has given us all the reasons to believe in this Indian line-up.

Reaching the Promised Land
Then came the World Cup of 2011, co-hosted by India. After the sour memories of the ’07, Indians badly wanted to win this and the team did not disappoint us. They may not have had a brilliant start to the campaign but players put their hand up at the right time and peaked to take a big step towards being #1 in the world.
I followed the team in Delhi, Ahmedabad and Mohali and it gave me immense pride to see the men in blue lift the coveted prize. I was hooked to the game since a kid, but it has never been this easy to stay up till 3 AM to watch India’s matches. People easily forget their tensions and problems as their own team, the Indian team keeps on doing well. My transformation into an absolute Indian supporter was complete about 5 years ago, but this has easily been the sweetest phase of supporting team. Here’s hoping that this is just the start to a long phase of being the best in the sport.


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