In India, cricket is very much the national sport. Stadiums regularly pack out to their capacity for national test matches. The history of cricket in India dates back to the 1700s when the British exported the game to all reaches of their empire. The first official match was played in 1721, by a group of sailors stationed in Western India. However, it was not until 1932 that India’s national cricket team played their first test match.
For the first fifty years of their history as a national team, they were very much dominated by stronger opponents, Australia and England at Test match level.
In fact, they only won 35 of the 196 matches they played in their first fifty years as a team. Since then, the team has grown in strength and India has developed a reputation for producing great spin bowlers, and great batsman. In 1983 India won the Cricket World Cup and in 2007 claimed the World Twenty20 championship.
The Beginnings of Indian Cricket
The British exported the game of cricket to India in the 1700s, but the first recorded official all Indian team was put together by the Parsi community in Mumbai in 1848. The first match between the British and Indian teams did not take place until 1877. However, from this point onward, the Hindus, Parsis, Muslim and European teams played in a four team tournament.
From the early 1900s onwards, two Indian players were incorporated into the England cricket team, and were held in affectionate regard by players and fans: namely, Ranjitsinhji (or Ranji), who was an Indian prince and an exceptional batsman and KS Duleepsinhji, a pioneer batsman in the game. The public appreciation for these two characters was such that their names were later used for two of the major domestic tournaments in India: the Ranji Trophy and Duleep Trophy.
Another landmark in the development of Indian cricket came in 1911 when the first Indian team to go on tour played the English county teams, but not the national side. India had to wait until 1932 to make its debut as a test playing side. England triumphed this time, winning by 158 runs. India enjoyed little success throughout the 1940s and 50s. As an independent nation, it played its first series against Australia (then referred to as “The Invincibles”) in 1948, but they lost the series 4-0.
Although India did not win a test during the 1940s, by the 1950s they had improved considerably as a team. In 1952, in Madras, India beat England in a test match, this victory against their rivals being the first of many memorable tests in their history. That same year in fact, they went on to win the entire series against their arch-rivals Pakistan. Their winning success continued when, in 1956, they won the series against New Zealand, but they were unable to win another test that decade, falling at the feet of powerful opposition from England and Australia.
In the 1960s India won few tests, but built their team and began to gain a reputation for being particularly strong on home turf, largely attributable to the fact that India’s preference for spin-bowlers was better supported by their pitches. In this era, they managed very respectable draws against England, Pakistan and Australia that decade. It was not until the 1970s and with the arrival of devastating spin-bowlers Bishen Bedi, E.A.S. Prasanna, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar and Srinivas Venkataraghavan and great batsman Sunil Gavaskar and Gundappa Viswanath that India truly began to flourish as serious test side. One of the most memorable test years for India was 1971 when they won test series against West Indies and England. Gavaskar racked up a stunning 774 runs over the course of the West Indian series.
Earning a secure place among India’s greatest test performance is their third test against the West Indies in Port-of-Spain in 1976, in which they fought back from a 403 run deficit to win, which was a record at the time. The victory was, in large part, thanks to legend Vishwanath who scored 112 runs in this game. In November of the same year, they broke another record by scoring 524 for 9 declared against New Zealand, without one single individual scoring a century. Instead, all 11 players reached double figures, 6 of which surpassed the half century mark.
Breaking from their traditionally defensive batting approach, from the beginning of the 1980s the Indian team adopted a much more positive attacking batting posture and their lineup became populated with big stroke makers such as Mohammed Azharuddin, Dilip Vengsarkar and all-rounder Ravi Shastri. The overall performance of the team on the test arena declined considerably, however, and in the early 1980s they played 28 consecutive tests without winning a single one. Curious to this period in Indian test cricket was the emergence of two Indian cricketing greats: Gavaskar and Kapil Dev, whose jostle for captaincy and supremacy in the team caused instability and turmoil and it could be argued, negatively affected perfomances.
At the end of the decade, three more extremely strong players (Sachin Tendulkar, fast bowler Javagal Srinath and Anil Kumble) were added to the side, which appeared to stabilise, somewhat, the rocking boat and further strengthen the team. The decade of the 1990s, however, did not bring a great deal more test success. Away from home, India did not win any of the 33 tests during the decade, but on home soil won 17 out of the 30. Towards the end of the 90s, things began to pick up once again for the Indians. Saurav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid were added to the side and, in 1998, with Tendulkar really in form, India recorded a great home win against Australia over the Test series.
The good times really began to roll after 2001. Saurav Ganguly was named captain and India enjoyed a record run of test series wins against Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, West Indies and England. Team form since this memorable run has been up and down. In 2005 they defeated Sri Lanka in a thumping win and then achieved a draw in South Africa.
One day tournaments
ODI’s and the World Cup
India did not begin as a strong team in One Day Internationals. The team they had built in the 1970s was much better suited to the test series style of game, especially owing to the defensive style of many of their batsman. With the arrival of ODI’s in 1971, India did not experience much success with the new style of game. They in fact failed to qualify for the second round of the first two World Cup tournaments, in 1975 and 1979. By the 1983 World Cup, the world stood back and witnessed a complete turn around in this form, India beating favourites West Indies in the final of the tournament, to lift their first ODI silverware.
In the 1987 tournament, held in India, they reached the semi-final stage, only to be knocked out by England. India have not repeated their 1983 success in the World Cup. They reached the semi-final stage once again in 1996, this time eliminated by Sri Lanka, and came even closer in 2003, reaching the final, but being beaten by Australia.
With the arrival of the new cricket concept, Twenty20, India have proved an instant hit. In December 2006 India played and won their first Twenty20 match, against South Africa. They then went on to repeat the performance by beating Pakistan in 2007, giving them status as being the best Twenty20 team in the world at present.
Ranji was an Indian prince who played for England. After appearing for Cambridge University and Sussex County he was inducted into the national team. He is described as one of the greatest batsman of all time and was a pioneer in the sport, adopting an unorthodox technique, combining strong attacking shots on the back foot and a very late cutting technique.
Sunil Gavaskar played for Bombay and India during the 1970s and 80s and was an international batting legend. He set the world record in the number of centuries scored by any batsman (34), until it was broken by Sachin Tendulkar in 2005. Gavaskar was particularly effective against the West Indian fast bowlers and possessed a stunning 65.45 average against the bowlers who were widely considered the most devastating in the history of the game.
Sachin Tendulkar, or “The Little Master” was voted by Wisden in 2002 as the second greatest cricketer of all time, after Sir Don Bradman, and recently superceded Viv Richards as the greatest ODI cricketer of all time. His career statistics certainly back this up: holding important batting records such as the leading Test century scorer, leading ODI century and half-century scorer, one of only three batsmen to surpass 11,000 runs in test cricket, (being the first Indian to do so) and scoring the most career ODI runs and highest overall career run tally. Watch footage of the great man here.
Kapil Dev is widely regarded as the greatest all-rounder the game has ever seen and was also named by Wisden as the greatest Indian Cricketer of the Century in 2002. He captained India to their only World Cup victory in 1983 and was a right-arm fast bowler with a distinct outswing technique. He in fact holds the record for taking the most test match wickets between 1994-99.
Anil Kumble still plays for India at Test cricket level and is currently the highest wicket taker for them at Test and ODI matches. He is a “fast” leg spin bowler and has taken 561 wickets in test cricket and 330 ODI wickets. He is also one of the only bowlers in the history of the game to have taken all 10 wickets in a test match.
Another great all-rounder in the history of the game is Sourav (or Saurav) Ganguly, who is a left-handed batsman and right-handed medium paced bowler. He holds the record for the Indian captaincy with most Test victories and in 2003 led India to the World Cup Final. Affectionately known as the “Bengal Tiger”, “Prince of Calcutta” or “Dada” by his team mates, he is a true legend and Indian favourite.