Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Best of the Decade – Cricket Series

This is going to be one long post. The year end brings lots of memories – the decade even more. Tried to pick the best of what lies in my memory.

1. India Vs Australia - 2001

This has to be undoubtedly the series of the decade and the best in the history of Cricket! Aussies riding high on a world record, looking to conquer the “Final Frontier” landed on the shores of Mumbai in Mar 2001. They annihilated the Indian Team in Mumbai barring a sparkling batting display by God who produced not one but two gems – 76 and 62. Anyone present at the stadium on that day will never be able to forget the straight drives belted out by the little master. The innings remain stuck in the head more vividly than Gilchrist’s fire-power 100 off 84 balls.

The only time I cursed the curator of the Wankhede pitch for preparing an almost perfect wicket for test match cricket – only to have the Indian batsmen play spoilsport.

Verbal duels between Tugga and Dada followed leading to an interesting “mental disintegration” by both teams. Come Kolkatta Mar 13 and India looked all set to lose the series staring at a 274 run deficit from the first innings and ending the third day at 254/4. Miracles happen – did not believe in it until this day 14Mar,2001 - carved in gold in the history of Indian Cricket! Laxman and Dravid lasted the entire day – India did not lose a single wicket; wiped out the deficit and led the Aussies by 315 at the end of it. It was not defence but an awesome counter attack launched by the two men on everything that the Aussies happened to throw at them. The partnership was good enough to inspire the remaining 9 who bundled out the Aussies in the final session on Day 5. Kolkatta created a history that might never be repeated.

Aussies earned the dubious distinction of being the only team to have lost thrice in the history of cricket after enforcing a follow-on. The match left a permanent scar on the Aussie aggression; the Aussies since then have hesitated to impose a follow-on despite being in the most solid position.

Chennai was another enthralling test and the series saw the rise of Bhajji termed as Turbanator. The series laid the foundation for India to aim for the No.1 status (achieved a month back as the decade drew to an end) and the fascinating Aussie-India rivalry that followed in the decade. If you ask me where did India’s journey to No1 begin – I’d take you back in time to revisit 14Mar,2001 Kolkatta when two men put their hands up and proved the old adage that ‘Cricket is a game of glorious uncertainties’. Well, if we get to see such uncertainties we will devour them with great relish and joy!

2. The Ashes 2005

This series paralleled the 2001 series in terms of intensity and tense contests but what puts 2001 on the top of the list is the Laxman-Dravid batting miracle.

Aussies bullied the Poms in the opening test at Lords and it seemed like the old Ashes story would repeat. I don’t remember following any other series not involving India, as closely as I followed this one, ball-by-ball, not missing a single test match!

This was pretty much termed as Flintoff’s Ashes just ad the 1981 series was termed as Botham’s Ashes. 400 runs and 24 wickets pretty much ensured a victory for the Poms. What a pity the guy chose ODI and T20 over tests! I miss him on the field. With no great histrionics on field he played the silent assassin to perfection.

Pietersen couldn’t have asked for a better debut. His SA roots combined with the Aus-Brit rivalry made him a force to reckon with against the Aussies. When these two batted you wondered if the Aussies were batting seeing the aggression being oozed out.

This was the Wizard of Oz’s last Ashes in England and how well he said goodbye. He revived the memories of the “ball of the century” when he had Strauss out in a similar fashion in the second test. He took 40 wickets in this series and crossed the coveted 600 figure mark! I miss him too. Don’t you wish that some players remain immortal? Warne was one such player. There will be none as good as him ever again! For a lovely write up when he called it quits – read this piece from another cricket fan I respect, who also happens to be one of my best friends and cricket buddy.

The series went right down to the wire after the first test match. Second one was won by England by a mere 2 runs – Brett Lee and Kasparowicz’s heartbroken faces are still etched in memory. Ponting’s brilliant match-saving hundred at Edbagston along with Warne and Lee for company; and Lee and McGrath’s rejoicing at the end of the tense 4 overs was worth savouring. The Trent bridge match was Flintoff’s match all the way – a few hiccups getting to 129. Finally Pietersen ended the series with a stunning 158 at the Oval.

To both the teams we take a bow!

3. T20 WC India Victory - 2007

This was my dream come true – in the form of the game I detest, but hell we beat Pakistan in a World Cup Final. It made up for everything I hate about T20.

Every damn Indian cricket fan I know has cherished this dream and Dhoni’s young brigade made it a reality for us. I can never forget the screams and the shrieking that followed as Shreesanth waited for the miscued hit of Misbah-Ul-Haq, with Pakistan needing 6 runs of 4 balls to win the cup! We almost died of a collective heart failure.

Yuvraj’s sixes of Broad and the hammering lent to Australia, the tied league match with Pak. The first T20 cup in SA had some memorable moments and every time India won we gaped in awe. Who would have expected this kind of performance after the dreadful debacle at the ODI WC in WI just a few months back. The celebrations that followed in the country were humungous and as the Boys in Blue passed my Worli house I was stuck in Dubai following it live on TV with mom on the phone commenting live! Cruel fate wasn’t it?

4. ODI World Cup SA – India’s Dream Run 2003

WTF was my exact expression when Sehwag and Sachin belted sixes off third-man and square against the Pakistani pacers. Chasing 270 odd they had raced to 50+ in a mere 5 overs. The match’s fate was sealed in those 5 overs. Though we lost 2 wickets to consecutive deliveries, Sachin, Dravid and Yuvraj wiped out any hopes the Paki bowlers might have had. Sachin’s 98 of 75 will always be among his best knocks - listed in the hall-of-fame. Pakistan dropped him thrice in the match – so even though it was not a chanceless knock, it was still a priceless gem among the many he has gifted us.

The entire brigade did well barring the league match against Aus which was India’s second match at the Cup. They turned the tide around after that match – not losing a single one on their way to the WC final in 20 years. Sure I was crushed when they failed to win or put up a great fight but the matches against Eng, Pak, SL, and NZ were fantastic. The key to India’s success was its pace attack – Srinath and the 2 left armers – Zaheer, Nehra. They bowled exceedingly well in the conditions – remember Nehra’s fantastic 6/23 against England at Kingsmead. The top 5 batsmen were in the best form and fired when needed ably supported by young guns Yuvraj And Kaif

As much as we rue India’s lost chance, the campaign remains special for the way the team fought and looked the next best team to the dominating Aussies in the tournament.

5. India Vs Pakistan 2004

The bliss of a much awaited first ever test series win in Pakistan soil. Remember 1989 – Manjrekar’s solidity and Sachin’s fearlessness against the terrifying Pakistani bowlers. Drawing that series was a victory in itself. The scene set-up again 15 years later was different – the Indian team was more aggressive and assertive having scuffed up some victories abroad by then. Sehwag’s first triple hundred at Multan is unforgettable – only he can think of going for a six and getting to his maiden triple hundred when batting on 295! The series was marred a little by Dravid’s controversial declaration when Sachin was on 194* but the victories at Multan and Rawalpindi pretty much put that in the backburner.

Dravid’s masterful 270 in the third test ensured that we would not lose. Balaji and Pathan did a fantastic job and were ably supported by old war-horse Kumble. The last wicket was that of Kaneria c Ganguly bTendulkar. There could not have been a better ending to this fairy tale.

6. South Africa Vs Australia 2008

This one makes my list only for the awesome run-chase of 414 by the young South Africans. It will not make it to the top spot among the best run-chases of the decade. WI chasing 418 against Australia and winning by 3 wickets is No.1 in my opinion cause Australia was on the top of its game during those years and no one had expected such a comeback after a 3-0 rubbing in the previous 3 test matches. The second best is 387/6 by India against England purely for the sentiments attached to it. The England side was valiant enough to comeback to a terror-stricken country to complete the test series. Kudos to them for their attitude! 11 days following the Mumbai terror attack (one of the worst the country had seen), the run-chase was set up by the Mad-Man who blasted 83 of 68 deliveries and later led by India and Mumbai’s favourite son. The victory brought some much needed smiles to this terror-stricken nation.

Going back to the 3rd best run-chase of the decade - Duminy was on his debut and supported AB DeVilliers ably to pull the final plug on the Aussies. Watching the South Africans beat the lights out of the Aussies in broad daylight on their home ground was a delight!

SA won the next test easily and lost the third – setting up an exciting revenge series at home but sadly they lost it without much fight! This is an interesting rivalry building up as SA gains strength with its youngsters and Aus looks to rebuild the void left by Langer, Gilchrist, Warne, McGrath, Hayden.

7. T20 World Cup – Pakistan Victorious 2009

When was the last time before this event that I was happy to see Pak win; let me recollect – Never. I like their players – I am a huge fan of Wasim Akram but the fandom ends at that. I do not cheer their wins but this time I did. They have not had any international cricket thanks to the terrorism in their country and the World Cup too has been taken away post that dreadful attack on the SL players. I’m not sympathetic to the country but to the players yes. No athlete deserves to lose out on the opportunities cause of the political mess his country is in. They are a bunch of talented blokes – sheer raw talent and the world needs to see it. We need the Pakistani team – heck how will we enjoy India-Pak rivalry?

I was glad they won the cup, they needed it and their country needed it much more. The players to re-assure themselves that they are competitive enough for the world cricket and the country cause in the numerous terrorist attacks only this good news could help bring a smile and forget the woes for a little time.

8. VB Series – Aus/SA/NZ - 2002

This series was one of the most interesting ones wherein the pendulum kept swinging in favour of SA and NZ and Australians were never in contention for the final race. I don’t recollect that happening in a tournament that involved Australia at their home ground.

The series most memorable for Shane Bond’s outstanding bowling. Why he was never able to sustain himself is such a mystery, he is a delight to watch! Sad we get to see so less of him! NZ were led splendidly by Stephen Fleming. My favourite though were the two knocks which I caught live on television. Cairns’ century against SA and Bevan’s century against NZ; the two innings and the two matches had the same script written all over again in a span of 10 days.

Cairns walked in at 73/4 in the 19th over chasing 244 and hit a marvellous 102* enabling NZ to win by 4 wickets. We witnessed a re-run of the match with a different cast later. Chasing 246, Aus was reeling at 82/6 against the Black Caps when Bevan produced the magical innings of 102* to glide them through. However Aus failed to make it to the finals and the two better teams in the tournament were through. SA finally won the series

9. Commonwealth Bank Series India/Australia/Sri Lanka

This was India’s moment of glory and a fine revenge after the much maligned Sydney Test. Gambhir was the pivot in the league matches and scored 440 runs at the end of the series. Dhoni played the perfect finisher but the finals belonged to Sachin Tendulkar. His innings in both matches helped set up wins for India. The young bowling brigade of India – Sreesanth, Bhajji, Pathan, Praveen Kumar and Ishaant bowled extremely well to guide India to its win in Australia after 23 years!

10. India Vs Australia - 2004

This features in my list purely for my love for Tugga’s side not Ponting’s blokes. This was the side whose foundation was laid in Taylor’s reign and ruled supreme under Tugga’s leadership. Steve Waugh was a heartbroken man after the 2001 series loss; the one land which he so badly wanted to conquer remained unconquered during his reign.

I’m extremely clear about my feelings for Ponting. He is a great batsman but a miserable example for his team-mates in terms of attitude off and on the field. His brashness has rubbed on to his teammates leading to fiascos such as the Sydney test which had his own country men turn against the team. Therefore, if Ponting had captained in the winning test match it would’ve been painful – but he was out due to injury and one of my favourite Aussie players Adam Gilchrist, led his team to a fine victory.

The final score read 2-1 but it was never a close series. Australia had the upper hand from the first test. India put up a spineless defence marred by injuries to Sachin and Ganguly’s last moment back out from Nagpur match after seeing the green top. The series saw the birth of another fine player – Michael Clarke whose century debut reminded me of Steve Waugh of the earlier days. McGrath and Warne could not have asked for a better last series in India! The Aussie team had finally won their “Final Frontier”, a dream long cherished by Waugh!

Those are my favourite series of the decade – and you were saying yours were?


Prashant Kondi said...

hey minal.. good post this.. i wil think up some more moments and send u.. one tht comes to my mind is the 434 ODI betn Aus n SA.. what a match!!

wil send u more later..

- PK

Prashant Kondi said...

oops.. just realized the title of your thread .. "best series of the decade" not moments.. but i guess that ODI series was as good .. coz it was a 5 match ODI series decided in the 5th match by that amazing match..

Prashant Kondi said...

hey.. u hv mentioned the ind-aus 2004 series in india.. but where is the 2003-04 series down under!!
that was obviously better than one in India.. did u miss it or deliberately left it (i doubt the latter).. cmon.. tht was the crowning glory in our beloved AB's career.. (2 actually.. he also scored his 1st run against Aus after 7 ducks..:-p)

Minal said...

@PK: The prob was keeping it down to ten else the post will run into pages:-) I did contemplate the 03-04 one - my next post will be up tom on the best test innings and have included 2 of that series there so I thought I could be partial to Aus once and give importance to their moment of Glory. Btwn 2001 and 2003-04 I picked the former for obvious reasons - plus I was trying to include all teams and did not want to be to India centric. But that series will definitely feature if I put in best of india series!
I tried to think hard and could not think of any series that involved the WI - how sad is that! Still managed to mention them for that awesome run chase. I hope they come back and give us more to write about in the next decade!

Send me your list and I'll put it up as post from you on my blog- guest blogger! Go ahead - you write mighty well too!
Write on the moments - absolutely anything is ok!

Mary said...

Great list - I had fun reading through your comments. :) I started watching cricket in 2000, so I'm liking the decade recaps as I remember all these matches and players!

I have to agree with you on Ponting.. a fantastic batsman, but a miserable captain.. and for some reason the media here in Australia adore his captaincy!!

Minal said...

@Mary: you need to write your list soon - would love it from an Aussie point of view!

Guess every media is biased but sadly Ganguly despite being one of the best captain the country ever had never got media support - Indian Media can be really sickening I tell you!