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75 years of Rich Indian Cricket

Cricket is a bat-and-ball team sport that originated in England, possibly as early as 1300, and is now played in more than 100 countries. Cricket is a renowned game that was introduced to Indians by Europeans in the 18th century. Many historians attempted to trace the origin of cricket; we can at least say it was played 250 years ago very similar to today’s game. The British brought cricket like Hockey to India. The game of cricket was introduced in India in the middle of the 18th century. By the beginning of the 19th century, the game was being played in the cities of Bombay, Calcutta and Madras (presently called Chennai). Cricket being the unofficial national game of India is also called as the gentleman game.

The popularity of the game started building up among the Indian people when some of the Indians such as Sir Ranjitisinh, Sir Duleepsinh and Pataudi Senior started playing cricket for English cricket team in 1900s. Their cricket score helped to raise the interest and prestige of the game among Indians. India played its first official Test against England in 1932. The advent of One-Day International cricket in 1971 created a new dimension in the cricket world. The Indian team became the sixth team to be granted Test cricket status. As of October 2008, Indian team played 423 Test matches. As of October 21, 2008, the Indian team has played 423 Test matches, winning 22.69%, losing 32.15% and drawing 44.91% of its games, with one tied match (0.24%). The team is currently ranked by the ICC third in Test cricket and third in One Day Internationals.

There are several variations as to how long a game of cricket can last. In professional cricket, this can be anything from a match limited to 20 overs per side to a game played over 5 days. Depending on the length of the game being played, there are different rules that govern how a game is won, lost, drawn or tied. Cricket is essentially an outdoor sport, certainly at major level, and some games are played under floodlights. It cannot be played in poor weather due to the risk of accidents and so it is a seasonal sport. For example, it is played during the summer in Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, while in the West Indies, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh it is played mostly during the winter to escape the hurricane and monsoon seasons. Governance rests primarily with the International Cricket Council (ICC), based in Dubai, which organizes the sport worldwide via the domestic controlling bodies of the member countries. The ICC administers both men's and women's cricket, both versions being played at international level. Although men cannot play women's cricket, the rules do not disqualify women from playing in a men's team. From humble beginnings when cricket was still considered a game of the elite, cricket is today perhaps the only sport that can bring the country nearly to a halt - more so if India is winning.

Today, Indian cricketers jostle with iconic film stars for advertising and TV space and on their shoulders ride billions of rupees in marketing a slew of products ranging from motor vehicles to hair care formulas. It is a game played by 10 nations, in which the Indian board is the richest. TV rights alone have been sold for billions of rupees and associated marketing of the game has ensured that cricket is firmly entrenched in the minds of the millions that passionately follow the game in India.

Cricket is primarily played in white clothing and a red ball, often referred to as the 'cherry', over several days quite often without a definite result being achieved. Obviously, this was just not good enough to capture the imagination of the masses. The advent of the shorter limited overs game, usually completed in a single day, also brought with it colored uniforms for players and white balls. One-day internationals (ODIs) soon began to be played well into the night under arc lights. The credit for this innovation must go to the Australian media mogul, late Kerry Packer, whose rebel series did not make money but cricket was never the same after his entry.

Young captain Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi marshaled his resources well on the tour of New Zealand, also heralding the arrival of India's spin wizards E.A.S. Prasanna and Bedi. India went on to beat New Zealand 3-1 in a four-Test series. The key to India's bowling in the 1970s were the Indian spin quartet - Bishen Bedi, E.A.S. Prasanna, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar and Srinivas Venkataraghavan. This period also saw the emergence of two of India's best ever batsmen, Sunil Gavaskar and Gundappa Viswanath. These players were responsible for the back-to-back series wins in 1971 in the West Indies and in England, under the captaincy of Ajit Wadekar.

It was not until February 1968 that India won its first Test match and series away from home shores. The advent of One-Day International cricket in 1971 created a new dimension in the cricket world. In contrast, India fielded a strong team in Test matches and were particularly strong at home where their combination of stylish batsman and beguiling spinners where seen at their best. During the 1980s, India developed a more attack minded batting line-up with stroke makers such as the wrist-player Mohammed Azharuddin, Dilip Vengsarkar and all-rounder Ravi Shastri prominent during this time.

In 1984, India won the Asia Cup and in 1985, won the World Championship of Cricket in Australia. Apart from this, India remained a very weak team outside the Indian subcontinent. India's Test series victory in 1986 against England remained the last Test series win by India outside the subcontinent for the next 19 years. The 1987 Cricket World Cup was held in India. The 1980s saw Gavaskar and Kapil Dev (India's best all rounder to this date) at the pinnacle of their careers. Gavaskar made a Test record 34 centuries as he became the first man to reach the 10,000-run mark. Kapil Dev later became the highest wicket taker in Test cricket with 434 wickets. The period was also marked by an unstable leadership, with Gavaskar and Kapil exchanging the captaincy several times.

The addition of Sachin Tendulkar and Anil Kumble to the national side in 1989 and 1990 further improved the team. The following year, Javagal Srinath, India's fastest bowler since Amar Singh made his debut. Since 2000, the Indian team underwent major improvements with the appointment of John Wright as India's first foreign coach. At the end of the 2004 season, India suffered from lack of form and fitness from its older players. The beginning of 2007 had seen a revival in the Indian team's ODI fortunes before the 2007 Cricket World Cup.

Some Legendries:

C. K Nayudu: (1895- 1967) Born and brought up in Nagpur, Nayudu was a tremendously gifted schoolboy cricketer. Nayudu played first-class cricket across six decades. CK Nayudu became the first cricket captain India in their first Test match, at Lords.

Lala Amarnath: (1911- 2000) Lala Amarnath scored India's first Test century and went on to become Indian cricket's patriarchal figure: as selector, manager, coach and broadcaster, as well as in a literal sense - his three sons became first-class cricketers and two played in Tests. Amarnath, a Punjabi, was also the first to kick against the stifling domination of Indian cricket by the local princes and their imperial backers. It severely damaged his career. Amarnath's figures in his 24 Tests are nothing special, but they do no justice to either his spasmodic brilliance or his enduring influence.

Bishan Singh Bedi: Born in 1946, Indian former cricketer was specialized in slow left-arm orthodox bowling. He also captained the national side in 22 Test matches. Bedi is known for being outspoken and forthright in his views on cricketing matters. Bishan Singh Bedi made his international Test debut for India against West Indies at Kolkata in December 1967. Since then he has played in 67 Tests, scoring 656 runs and taking 266 wickets, with his best being 7/98. Bishan Singh Bedi had an unsuccessful stint as an Indian national Test cricket captain.

EAS Prasanna: Born in 1940 in Bangalore, Karnataka. Pras was like a chess player in the guise of an off spinner: his victims had often been out-thought before the ball had been delivered. After playing a few Tests in 1961-62, Pras decided to finish his undergraduate studies, and was absent from the Test scene for five years. Returning in 1967, he promptly became Pataudi's favorite weapon.

Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi: Born in 1941. The Nawab of Pataudi is unarguably, India's greatest captain ever. Taking over the reins of the Indian team at the age of 21, barely months after being involved in a car accident that would impair the sight in his right eye forever, he led India in 40 of 46 Tests he played in, and won 12 of them. Under him, India achieved their first overseas Test victory against New Zealand in 1967. As a batsman he was boldly adventurous and unorthodox for his times, and unafraid to loft the ball over the infield.

Aunshuman Gaekwad: Born in1952, Bombay Anshuman Gaekwad played in 40 test matches and scored 1985 runs at an average of 30.07. Anshuman Gaekwad retired in 1985. He later became a national selector and then a coach. Gaekwad was known for his defensive mindset against pace bowlers, which became a high priority when the West Indian pace bowlers dominated world cricket. He was nicknamed The Great Wall.

Sunil Gavaskar: Born in 1949, Bombay Sunil Gavaskar was one of the greatest opening batsmen of all time, and certainly the most successful. His game was built around a near perfect technique and enormous powers of concentration. The self-actualization of Indian cricket began under him. Since retiring, Gavaskar has served as a television commentator, analyst and columnist, as well as various responsibilities with the BCCI and chairman of the ICC cricket committee. He recently stepped down - after some controversial comments - from the latter in order to continue as a media columnist and commentator. Gavaskar set world records during his career for the most runs and most centuries scored by any batsman. He held the record of 34 Test centuries for almost two decades before it was broken by Sachin Tendulkar in December 2005.

Kapildev Ramlal Nikhanj: Born in 1959. Kapil Dev was the greatest pace bowler India has produced, and their greatest fast-bowling all-rounder. If he had played at any other time - not when Imran Khan, Ian Botham and Richard Hadley were contemporaries - he would surely have been recognized as the best all-rounder in the world. In any case he did enough to be voted India's Cricketer of the Century during 2002, ahead of Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar. His greatest feats were to lead India almost jauntily, and by his all-round example, to the 1983 World Cup, and to take the world-record aggregate of Test wickets from Hadley. He took 431 wickets.

Ravi Shastri: Born in 1962, Bombay. For over a decade, Ravi Shastri rendered yeoman service to Indian cricket in many ways. As an obdurate opening or middle-order batsman; as a left-arm spinner who was an integral part of the attack; and as long-time deputy to a couple of captains. In his time he was very much the glamour boy of Indian cricket, tall and good-looking and with an image to match. Amiable and distinguished, Shastri - who played his last Test aged just 30 - is now a popular and erudite TV commentator.

Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar: Born in 1973 in Bombay. Sachin Tendulkar has been the most complete batsman of his time, and arguably the biggest cricket icon as well. His batting is based on the purest principles: perfect balance, economy of movement, precision in stroke making, and that intangible quality given only to geniuses, anticipation. Some of his finest performances have come against Australia, the overwhelmingly dominant team of his era. His century as a 19-year old on a lightning fast pitch at the WACA is considered one of the best innings ever to have been played in Australia. A few years later he received the ultimate compliment from the ultimate batsman when Don Bradman confided to his wife that Tendulkar reminded him of himself.

What they say about Indian cricket

"It is quite a big moment for Indian cricket," says former Indian skipper Bishen Singh Bedi of the anniversary. "I wish I could be on the field even this time. In all these 75 years, there have been two outstanding players, Col. Nayudu and Tiger Pataudi. I never saw Nayudu play but heard a lot about him as he is a legend in Indian cricket," Bedi recalled with a touch of nostalgia.

"It is a great achievement on part of the BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) that once didn't have any money at all and now is the richest cricket board in the world," former India opener Chetan Chauhan said.

However, there has been an other side to commercialization. Test cricket, though it retains its charm for purists, has been relegated to a secondary status behind the limited overs version of the game. Now, the introduction of the Twenty20 format at the international level could further erode the popularity of Test matches.

"One-dayers may bring in the moolah but it's Test cricket that remains the real thing," said the legendary Sunil Gavaskar, who scored only one ODI hundred compared to 34 Test centuries, apart from becoming the world's first batsman to score more than 10,000 Test runs. "It's time to reflect on the past and learn the lessons.

"Young players should strive to perform at the Test level before looking for success in the shorter version of the game. It's not a good thing that the reality is the opposite," Gavaskar, a member of the 1983 World Cup winning squad told.

As more and more youngsters make it to the national side from hitherto obscure parts of the nation, India's cricketing saga continues even as the game's popularity continues to soar.

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