Team India on a high in the year of IPL

After the conquest of Perth and the unveiling of the Indian Premier League (IPL), cricket also endured the painful aftermath of the Mumbai terror attacks in an eventful 2008.

It was a year when Sachin Tendulkar added yet another feather to his cap, surpassing Brian Lara’s 11,953 Test runs to become the highest scorer in world cricket.

A change of guard in the Indian team came as a breath of fresh air. Mahendra Singh Dhoni with his street smart leadership motivated his young band of players to go a step ahead of the fearless brand of cricket introduced by former captain Sourav Ganguly, who ended his illustrious career after questions were raised on his utility to the side.

India also saw the last of another samurai, Anil Kumble, who tweaked his fingers for 15 years unmindful of scathing criticism. But his commitment was never questioned and even in his last Test, jumbo left the way he has played his cricket all these years as he turned out with a heavily bandaged hand against Australia at Ferozshah Kotla.

The biggest change the game saw this year was when cricketers were valued by business tycoons and sold like hot cakes in the Indian Premier League. The Twenty20 games attracted packed houses across the country and prime time television viewership got choked.

It brought new audiences to the game, and threatened the more established Test and one-day cricket. Twenty20 after IPL was the flavour in every cricketing nation which scampered to prepare blueprints of their own version of IPL.

By the year-end, the gloss on the IPL has somewhat dimmed with the corporates having a rethink on the highly expensive players they have hired with so much fanfare.

The IPL honchos are now thinking of taking the games overseas, to start with to England which is finding it difficult to release its players to play matches in India as their domestic season is clashing with the highly popular event.

Maybe, this is one way of preventing England cricketers from deserting the traditional cricket for the razzmataz of Twenty20. Also, the Indian franchisees would not mind it, considering the global financial meltdown. Some corporates are willing to put up their teams for sale, but there are few takers.

But for a purist, India pulling the rug from world champion Australia’s feet in their unconquered bastion Perth was one of the high points of the year. It was as sweet, if not more, as the 1983 World cup triumph and the Eden Gardens victory against Australia.

India lost the four-match series Down Under 2-1, but returned with their heads held high, and then crushed Australia 2-0 at home to prove that Ricky Ponting’s side had indeed lost its invincibility.

India’s tour to Australia snowballed into a big controversy in the Sydney Test as the World Champions were labelled arrogant because of their unsporting behaviour. Skipper Anil Kumble proclaimed after the Sydney Test that “only one team was playing in the spirit of the game.”

To make matter worse Andrew Symonds accused Harbhajan Singh of racial vilification and that was enough for both proud cricketing nations to come to war. The tour itself was in danger as India demanded dropping of charges against Harbhajan and change of umpire Steve Bucknor, whose incorrect decision cost India the Test.

It was in this backdrop that India entered Perth. With their pride and ego hurt, India produced one of their best performances and beat Australia by 72 runs, It also ended Australia’s run of 16 straight wins, a record India broke in that famous Eden Gardens match. India were also elevated to second spot in Test ranking.

The Commonwealth Bank one-day series against Australia started with another controversy with new skipper Dhoni reportedly showing his preference for the younger lot. Ganguly, who had made a charismatic comeback, and out-of-form Rahul Dravid were dropped.

Back home, India were brought down to earth as South Africa inflicted a humiliating innings and 90 runs defeat, wrapping up the Ahmedabad Test in three days after packing off the hosts for a mere 76 in the first innings.

A turner in Kanpur saved India the blushes as they squared the series 1-1.

India lost the away-series in Sri Lanka where new spin sensation Ajantha Mendis combined with wily old Mutthiah Muralitharan to skittle the famed Indian batting. The series posed questions about place of the seniors in the side.

Ganguly was under pressure to retire and he was dropped from the Irani Trophy squad, fuelling another round of speculation that his international career was over. He was included in the series against Australia.

The Bengal southpaw then decided to bow out on his own terms by announcing his retirement after the series. He scored a century in Mohali and fell 15 runs short of registering another in his last Test in Nagpur.

Skipper Kumble took an abrupt retirement in the third Test in Delhi and Dhoni led the team to victory in Nagpur to win the series 2-0.

In the one-day series against England, the visitors were on their way to be whipped 7-0 as India led 5-nil before the visitors took the flight back home after the Mumbai attacks. But England showed courage and character to return and play the Test series under heavy security cover after the venues were changed.

India showed its new-found resilience to chase down 387 in Chennai to win the first Test, and win the last series of the year with a 1-0 margin.

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