The vast majority of India, and millions overseas, have not known a world without Sachin Tendulkar batting for India. What would have happened if the master had not played at all? How would Indian cricket have progressed along the years? How would the batting records of the world have fared? And finally, whom would the press and public have targeted for allegations of selfishness? Arunabha Sengupta and Abhishek Mukherjee go down an imaginary lane.
Here’s a look at the headlines of the last 24 years in an alternative universe where Sachin Tendulkar never played cricket for India.
December, 1989: Pakistan wins series as Indians collapse on penultimate day
After a hard-fought three and a half Test matches, India finally collapsed spectacularly at Sialkot and surrendered the series to Pakistan. A burst of hostile fast bowling by Imran Khan and Wasim Akram led to an unexpected flurry of wickets and India folded to 90 all out in their second innings. It was a disappointing turn of events for the visitors after Vivek Razdan had restricted Pakistan to 250 all out, ensuring a 74-run first innings lead. Setting out for the target of 165, Pakistan got there halfway through the first session on the final morning.
August 1990: England takes an invincible 2-0 lead
After Mohammad Azharuddin’s heroics in the first innings, India underwent another infamous second innings collapse as they lost the second Test in Manchester. Having already lost the memorable first Test at Lord’s, India did well to stretch the game into the final day yet again, but could not sustain the performance on the fifth morning.
November 1991: South Africa back in international cricket with a bang
South Africa returned to international cricket with a bang as they demolished India in the first One-Day International (ODI) of the historic series in front of a packed house in Calcutta. After India had restricted the visitors to 177 for eight in 47 overs, Allan Donald ran through the hosts to skittle them out for 102. Except for debutant Praveen Amre, no Indian batsman looked equipped to handle some of the quickest bowling ever seen in the country.
October 1991: Will India ever chase one against West Indies?
India’s inability to chase in ODIs continued, especially against the big guns. An outrageous blast from Clayton Lambert at the top of the order followed by a solid partnership between Richie Richardson and Gus Logie took West Indies to 280 for five. After a second-wicket stand of 108, India crashed to 222.
February 1992: Australian series end in ultimate humiliation
India managed to plumb new depths of humiliation in the final Test against Australia at Perth as they somehow succeeded in following on and suffering innings-defeat even when faced with a none-too-intimidating first innings score of 346. On a fiery pitch and against some accurate fast bowling, the batting fell away like a pack of cards.
November 1992: Big loss at Johannesburg
Even though 292 hardly seems an imposing total, India managed to add dimensions to the number as batsman after batsman perished to Allan Donald and Brian McMillan. In the end, the first innings lead of 172 proved decisive as South Africa triumphed by 226 runs.
December 1993: Hero Cup dreams end for India in a barrage of bottle shower
India crashed out of the Hero Cup with Brian McMillan taking South Africa to a thrilling last over win in the semi-final under the lights at Eden Gardens. With the game almost in India’s grasp by the 45th over, the Kolkata crowd fully expected the hosts to pull it through. The spectators demonstrated their disappointment by pelting the outfield with plastic bottles and other readily available projectiles.
November 1994: India lose to West Indies in the opening Test
In spite of taking a slim 29-run lead in the first innings, India fell away in the second, thus failing to hold on to the initiative in the first Test at Mumbai. Against some excellent fast bowling by captain Courtney Walsh and Kenny Benjamin, the top order collapsed to 24 for five, and the desperate fight by the tail could only take the total to 123. After some initial hiccups against Manoj Prabhakar and Javagal Srinath, West Indies romped home aided by some excellent rallying from Jimmy Adams and Junior Murray.
July 1996: India lose series to England 0-2
After losing to England by an innings at Edgbaston in the first Test, India lost the third at Trent Bridge as well. Despite defiant performances from the youngsters Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid in the first innings India came down crashing in their second outing. Vikram Rathour’s dislocated shoulder did not help.
February 1997: Indians fail to reach yet another overseas final
After Zimbabwe piled up 240 for eight at Benoni in the must-win tie, a few early jolts reduced India to 54 for four. A late-order attempt at resurgence by Ajay Jadeja and Robin Singh went in vain as the Indians finished at 219.
March 1998: Australia goes one up in series
After conceding a 71-run first innings lead at Madras, India commenced the second innings with a fierce counterattack on Shane Warne. However, the tactics turned out to be sketchy and the onslaught fizzled out after Navjot Sidhu’s departure. India folded to 186 in front of Warne’s wiles. The visitors knocked off the runs with nine wickets and a day to spare.
March 1998: Australia clinches series
Australia ended their 29-year wait by clinching the Test series after scripting a 10-wicket win in Bangalore. A quick-fire fifty by Mark Taylor guided the visitors to an easy victory after India folded for 169 after trailing by 94 in the first innings.
April 1998: Bevan powers Australia to overhaul India’s 309 at Kochi
India managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory —yet again. Michael Bevan hit a glorious unbeaten hundred to guide Australia to a five wicket win at Kochi in the first match of the Pepsi triangular series. Faced with an imposing 309, Steve Waugh and Bevan came together at 143 for three and added 146 runs in quick time in a thoroughly clinical chase.
April 1998: Sponsors wary as India crashes out again amidst Sharjah Sandstorm
Yet another tournament passed by without India reaching the final. The defeat against New Zealand two days earlier had meant that India would require 254 to qualify after Australia had amassed 284. The subsequent sandstorm reduced the target to 237 in 46 overs. However, a thoroughly abject performance saw the Indian team bowled out for 125. With the Indians failing to reach the finals in any tournament for the last several years, television viewership in the subcontinent has increased only marginally since 1988. The sponsors continue to have sleepless nights.
October 1998: Indian journey ends in the quarter final as they lose to Australia yet again
Batting first in the quarterfinal at Dhaka India could only manage 186, and Australia won easily thanks to a 94-run second-wicket stand between Mark Waugh and Ricky Ponting. It marked a sorry exit for the Indians from the Wills International Cup.
December 1999: India surrenders meekly
Anil Kumble could only watch with a grim expression as his batsmen put up a spineless show to lose by an innings at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). Having already lost at Adelaide, India have not only surrendered the series, but the abject manner of innings defeat has disappointed even the most diehard fan. After the hosts piled up 405 India could manage just 130 and 150 in response. The pace of Brett Lee augmented an already formidable attack and the Indian batsmen had no answer to the questions posed by the high quality quicks.
March 2001: Exciting Eden Test ends in a draw
After being forced to follow-on, India staged an astonishing comeback at Kolkata through the magic of VVS Laxman and the determined resistance of Rahul Dravid. However, even though for a few minutes after tea a miraculous victory seemed to be in the offing, Harbhajan Singh’s best efforts could not get rid of the left handed duo of Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist. Australia thus hold on to their 1-0 advantage in the series.
March 2001: Australia clinches series 2-0
After conceding a slender first innings lead, India did well to restrict the Australians in their second essay. However the final target of 280 proved way too much. Despite a brave 65 by the fluent VVS Laxman, India could manage just 179 in their chase. This is the second home series India has lost to Australia in succession.
December 2001: India touches all-time low at Ahmedabad as England wins by an innings
The young England side forced the humiliation of follow-on on the hosts in spite of a fighting 75 by VVS Laxman. After Andrew Flintoff had induced captain Sourav Ganguly to fend a catch to gully, Ashley Giles’ persistence paid off as batsman after batsman perished to his left-arm spin in the second innings. The innings win registered England’s first victory in India since David Gower’s men had won at Madras in 1984-85.
April 2002: West Indies take series 3-0
It seems it will take a while for India to break the Caribbean jinx. It has been 25 years since they have won a Test here. After losing a closely fought first Test at Queen’s Park Oval, the Kensington Oval and Sabina Park encounters witnessed the oft repeated tale of surrender. In spite of the brave pronouncements of captain Sourav Ganguly before embarking on the tour, the ‘poor tourists’ tag has been underlined rather than removed.
August 2002: England takes unbeatable lead
England went 2-0 up in the series as India capitulated at Nottingham despite fighting nineties by Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid. Having lost the first Test at Lord’s, India can only hope for an unlikely resurgence in the second half of the tour to try and square the four-Test series.
August 2002: England wins series 2-0 after tall scoring draw
India’s litany of series losses abroad continued as the fourth Test match at The Oval petered into a tall scoring draw. Rahul Dravid finished with scores of 115, 148 and 217, standing almost alone among the ruins — the bright spot in a dismal tour.
However, some do hesitate before joining the chorus of voices clamouring for his place alongside Ricky Ponting, Jacques Kallis and Brian Lara as one of the best batsmen of the world. For all his mountains of runs, India has kept on losing series after series. Correlations are aplenty which proclaim that Dravid performing well invariably ends in a series loss. While these conclusions may not be scientifically valid it begs the question of how much value Indians should attach to individual records over team performances.
October 2002: West Indies pull one back at The Eden
Indian captain Sourav Ganguly had predicted a whitewash after taking a rare 2-0 lead in the series. However, some accurate fast bowling by Mervyn Dillon, especially the tactic of targeting the body of Virender Sehwag with a man at leg slip, ensured a reversal in the final Test at Kolkata. Trailing by 139 in the first innings, India never recovered from the early blows on the fourth evening and succumbed to 157 all out. Chris Gayle concluded matters with two consecutive sixes off Ashish Nehra.
March 2003: India crashes out of World Cup
India’s World Cup campaign came to a premature end after the crushing defeat against Pakistan. They had earlier lost to Australia and England in the tournament. Pressure is mounting on captain Sourav Ganguly as his only runs of note in the competition have come against Kenya and Namibia.
July 2004: Ganguly goes past Azharuddin
When he reached eight against Bangladesh during his innings of 60 Sourav Ganguly went past Mohammad Azharuddin’s aggregate of 9,378 runs to become the highest run-getter for India in ODIs. The state government of West Bengal has permanently registered July 21 as an official public holiday.
April 2007: Brian Lara retires
With Brian Lara’s career coming to an end, the world of cricket has lost the greatest batsman of recent times. One waits to see who will break Lara’s record. Will it be Ricky Ponting, Rahul Dravid, or Jacques Kallis?
March 2008: Australia wins the CB Series finals
Australia sauntered to an easy win against India in the second CB Series Final at Brisbane after Nathan Bracken and Michael Clarke had restricted India to 170. India did strike back with three early wickets, but Matthew Hayden and Andrew Symonds sealed the issue with a brutal fourth wicket partnership. The hosts thus lifted the trophy having won the first final at Sydney by 32 runs.
July 2008: Dravid goes past Gavaskar
Rahul Dravid, who had started this Test match at par with Sunil Gavaskar’s, has gone past the Indian record of 10,122 runs. He got there in 124 Tests which is one less than the one and only Little Master.
However, his last 20 Tests since December 2006 have produced just 1086 runs at 33.83, bringing his average down from 58 to 54. He has definitely been below par and given that the milestone of Gavaskar’s record is finally off his back, it has led to conjectures that his retirement is in the offing. However, Dravid denied that he is contemplating hanging his boots.
Before the Test match, there were some rather scathing articles in the media which hinted at Dravid being given a nudge by the selectors. Pointed questions about his performance have been asked by several. With the recent 0-3 series loss in Australia, questions are being raised whether prolonging Dravid’s career is helping the greater cause of the Indian team.
December 2008: Heroic applause for Pietersen’s men as England wins at Chennai
They dared to come back to a country targeted by terrorist attacks. And as Kevin Pietersen’s Englishmen defeated India in the first Test at Chennai, the sporting crowd rose to their feet and applauded the victors off the ground. There had been a spirited start to the Indian chase provided by Virender Sehwag, but Rahul Dravid’s poor form continued and the inexperience of the middle order was in full view as Graeme Swann ran through the line-up.
October 2010: Australia clinches Test series 2-0
With a big win in Bangalore, Australia made a clean sweep of the two-Test series. Facing 478 in the first innings, it was always going to be an uphill task for India to come back into the game and they eventually surrendered to a 130 run defeat. India desperately missed VVS Laxman, who had come in at No 7 at Mohali and waged a single handed battle before running out of partners. Both the Tests have been effectively decided by the first innings scores.
January 2011: South Africa takes series 2-1
After the bold comeback at Durban, Indians failed to maintain the spirited performance and surrendered to the Protean pace attack in the third and final Test match. The 150-run first innings lead proved crucial as Dale Steyn ran through the Indian second innings on the final day.
March 2011: Indians crash out of the World Cup
With none of the batsmen able to go beyond 38, India limped to 201 in their allotted quota of 50 overs. After some anxious moments during the middle phase which saw the Pakistanis collapse to 150 for six, Misbah-ul-Haq’s serene presence carried them home with two wickets to spare. Captain MS Dhoni’s residence in Ranchi was pelted with stones by an angry mob.
July 2011: Rahul Dravid goes past Ricky Ponting
Twenty-five years after Sunil Gavaskar, India has yet another man at the top of the batting world. Rahul Dravid went past Ricky Ponting’s record aggregate of 12,363 to become the leading run-scorer in the history of Test cricket. However, several questions asked during press conference after the match dwelled on how long BCCI would retain the ageing star to pursue these records when the likes of Rohit Sharma waiting in the wings?
August 2011: Dravid goes past Gavaskar
With his third century of the tour at The Oval, Rahul Dravid went past Sunil Gavaskar’s record of 34 Test centuries. As he carried his bat in the first innings, Dravid notched up his 35th Test hundred. However, even as the Indian fans celebrate this new episode of personal landmark, team India is heading towards a 4-0 whitewash. According to a section of the media, this is symbolic of what ails Indian cricket.
December 2011: Virender Sehwag becomes the first-ever cricketer to score a ODI 200
It was perhaps destined to be Sehwag. At Gwalior he became the first man to go past 200 in an ODI. It has taken 14 years to go past Saeed Anwar’s 194 scored in the blistering May heat of 1997, but it was worth the wait. Will Sehwag’s 219 ever be bettered?
January 2012: Dravid announces availability for Australian tour
Sunil Gavaskar retired on his own terms, after scoring that famous 96 at Bangalore on a minefield of a wicket against Iqbal Qasim and Tausif Ahmed. He followed the staunch principle first voiced by Vijay Merchant, “It is always better to retire when people ask ‘why’, rather than ‘why not’.” Rahul Dravid’s decision to tour Australia may gladden many a heart among his fans, but the fact remains that it may be one tour — or several — too many.
One can argue that after three long years of poor form, he has been vindicated by the three centuries he scored in England? In this context one can provide a very revealing statistic underlines the outlook that we have seen in recent times from someone known as the Great Wall of India.
Till 2010, only one of the Tests (Nottingham in 2002) in which Dravid scored a century had resulted in a defeat for India. However, this time in England it happened on three different occasions. Strangely Dravid was applauded off the ground every time. This tendency of the Indian fan to glorify individual records over team performance was in full view.
March 2012: Dravid announces retirement
It would perhaps have been better if he had called it a day after the England tour, with our abiding memories entrenched as that of the wonderful soldier standing alone and waging a single-handed battle against the English vagaries of swing and seam. That would perhaps have taken the focus off the 2006-2009 period of poor showing. It might have been worthier if he had retired at the end of 2006, his batting average hovering around 58, his sedate willow still regarded with respect around the world.
It has come late in the day, the last two series in England and Australia have perhaps tarnished the halo of the Dravid of old. But, as he goes away we need to salute him. After all, the last days should not rise above his sterling career as his playing days are viewed in retrospect. He was one of nature’s gentleman cricketers who proved that nice guys can finish at the top.
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twiter.com/senantix)
(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)