Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar - the name was enough to bring millions of memories and zillions of records to the mind for a cricket fan and his retirement was itself an occasion of enormous significance. The way Mumbai rose up to it, with India being in sync, it contoured to be a celebration.
And just like many things with the man himself, this moment slipped into the golden chapters of the sport’s history as the most iconic farewell ever bestowed on a player. And rightfully so, it was done for a cricketer who was adored, respected and loved in a whole new spiritual level for the cricket fans in India and abroad, with his cult crossing the teeth of eras and generations.
Due credit must be given to the BCCI for pulling off “sach” a spectacle, from the eastern peripheries of sleepy Kolkata, where even the state government was in action to make things happen for Sachin, to his hometown of Mumbai, where dream happens. His incredible 20-odd minute speech, thanking everyone from the bottom of his heart, ended up being a masterpiece in detailing as Sachin walked away into the sunset, leaving behind a legacy that would be standing the test of time.
What will be forever forgotten though was the fact that Windies were not the first preferred opponents and India had to cancel the series against South Africa - partly due to their personal wrigglings with Haroon Lorgat and partly because they wanted to give a send-off to Tendulkar at his home ground in Mumbai. Darren Sammy’s men were a great sport but would the story of Indian cricket have been the same if it was actually South Africa and not Windies? Let’s turn the table and find out.
India travel South Africa in 2013 with the intention of giving Tendulkar a memorable farewell. The team has the likes of Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara - slowly turning out to be the current Indian team’s answer to the throwbacks, but long away from being a settled side. This tour is important for MS Dhoni, who is having a torrid time in Test cricket himself while enduring some gut-wrenching losses in the away tours. Something needs to change and Dhoni is feeling the pressure. However, as things stand, India, after a close draw in Cape Town, go on to lose the subsequent two matches in Durban and Port Elizabeth and concede the series 2-1.
A dream was crushed and Tendulkar’s farewell Test ends up being a gloomy affair even though Graeme Smith’s men give a rousing guard of honour to the Master Blaster While all the focus is on the event and the man himself, with tributes flowing from nook and cranny of the world, Dhoni drops the ultimate bombshell through a quoted press release - call time in his Test career, a totally unexpected decision, especially because it was only eight-year-long. Not being left with any option, BCCI bestows the captaincy responsibility on Virat Kohli for the longest format of the game ahead of the New Zealand series.
Kohli, excited by the opportunity, showcases his masterful self with Ravindra Jadeja and Mohammed Shami helping India in Auckland followed by Kohli’s twin centuries and attacking brand of captaincy leading them to a 2-0 series victory - India’s third-ever series win in the Kiwi nation. Kohli, as a matter of fact, scores 538 runs in the series, making the team a competent side in the SENA year.
Meanwhile, Dhoni continues to lead the white-ball side with moderate success and India loses the final of the 2014 T20 World Cup. That, however, doesn’t deter Kohli in white-ball clothing, with the team travelling to England where they had been thrashed 4-0 last time. The story becomes different this time though, with Kohli once again leading from the front at Lord’s and Old Trafford, with Rahane and Ishant Sharma becoming India’s force in action. Fearing Ishant and Bhuvneshwar, England dish out batting-friendly tracks, and that plays to their hands. Sam Robson and Alastair Cook play some of the very best innings to solve England’s opening woes but India deliver pound by pound reply to ensure that the series ends being a 2-2 draw.
The parallel universe is having its own sweet time but the success in NZ and England make Indian fans believe ahead of the Australia tour that it is eventually going to be their year and pretty much in the expected line, Virat Kohli land India their first victory in Adelaide to help India to a 1-0 lead. Australia pull two back in Brisbane and Melbourne before Rahane inspires the team to a close two-wicket victory at the SCG, with India drawing the series. Kohli’s reign is legendary now and the pressure once again came on Dhoni’s head.
It is now or never for the Indian limited-overs side and nothing other than a World Cup win can save Dhoni from leaving the captaincy. India select a rather different side, with players like Umesh Yadav, Axar Patel and Mohit Sharma filling the spots, something that proved to be counter-intuitive on big occasions against big teams. Australia crack India’s holes as India crash out of the World Cup. Dejected by the loss and what was happening with the Test side under Kohli, Dhoni announces to hang up his boots from all formats of the game, leaving Karthik to fill up his spot.
It is the start of a new era in Indian cricket, with Kohli drafting in leg-spinners like Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal, with the pace unit donning an attacking role. Manish Pandey and Shreyas Iyer fill in for Suresh Raina and Axar Patel and Kohli leaves no stone unturned. With no Dhoni to guide from behind the stumps, Kohli forms his own style and goes all out in making things happen.
India continue to do well throughout the year and India’s spin to win formula renders way to succeed. No Dhoni in the side meant Kohli plays to his own way and focuses on building the top-order rather than being reliant on masterstrokes. The tactics backfire in ODIs to an extent when he fails to take the game deep, but he is on the right track as far as T20Is are concerned and managed to pull off the ultimate coup by forming a strong middle-order powered by Karthik and Iyer.
By the time 2016 T20 World Cup arrives, India are ready to roll and secure comfortable victories over New Zealand, Pakistan, Bangladesh before playing out a thriller against Australia. The semi-final this time was against West Indies, when Kuldeep Yadav strikes in the first over, with Yuzvendra Chahal ripping apart the middle-over almost single-handedly. There is no Russell power, no Simmons drama as India scamper to the World Cup showdown to be played against England at the iconic Eden Gardens.
India had already played against the same opponents in the 2013 edition of the Champions Trophy and the familiarity beckons this time too. England bat first, with Jason Roy and Alex Hales teeing off to 103 in 10 overs when Chahal comes into the attack. English players’ inability to understand spin bowling prove too costly as Chahal sends both the openers back to the hut before Kuldeep manages to get rid of Joe Root and Eoin Morgan. Jos Buttler pushed the innings to 165 as India have a target of 166 in 20 overs.
It seems easy especially for the kind of form Kohli is in and Rohit Sharma’s record at the venue but David Willey has other plans. He sends both of them back to the hut in quick succession in the second over itself before Chris Jordan ensures a total blackout, reducing India to 76/5 in 11 overs. It is a dire situation for the Indian side and anything can happen when Hardik Pandya joins Dinesh Karthik. The duo add runs by a tickle to take the side over the 100-run mark in the 15th over.
The run-rate is above 13 now and now Karthik ticks off. None is spared, not even Adil Rashid, not Joe Root, not the death specialist Chris Jordan. India are at the top of their game and fans dare to believe. Ben Stokes is about to bowl the last over, with India needing 19 runs, and Karthik on strike. Three balls and five runs later, the equation is 13 needed off 3 and then Hardik Pandya happened to Ben Stokes. He hits three sixes in a row to guide India to their second World T20 victory.