If you watch India's national cricket team play today, you'll be confronted by one big tamasha, or commotion. On the field, the richest cricketers in the world play an exciting, all-action brand of cricket; meanwhile, off the field, India's fans celebrate every boundary their heroes score with unmatched fervour. It's a high-pressure, high-intensity, big-money environment.
Although the Indian national character has long been attracted to tamasha, Indian cricket wasn't always like this. The game was brought to India by the colonising British, who dominated India until after it achieved independence in 1947. Over time, India learned to play to its strengths: its dry, dusty and cracked pitches led to a greater focus on spin bowling than on fast bowling, and 'Tiger' Pataudi, the team's captain in the 1960s and 70s, installed fight and self-belief in the Indian team.
Other important captains in India's cricket history include Kapil Dev, who led the team to ICC Cricket World Cup glory in 1983; Sourav Ganguly, who was a key factor in India becoming competitive away from the familiarity of home conditions; and MS Dhoni, the ice-cool current captain who lifted the World Cup trophy in 2011.
The biggest influence on Indian cricket, however, and the most powerful regional cricket body in the game, is the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). As the BCCI has harnessed the commercial power of a billion cricket fans, its bank balance - and consequently its global clout - have grown astronomically over the past twenty years. With the advent of the Indian Premier League (IPL), cricket's BCCI-administered answer to top soccer leagues and the biggest tamasha of all, the BCCI has strengthened its grip on the financial side of the cricket world.
Put simply, India is the world cricket's biggest power, and it's likely to remain so - at least until China decides to pick up the leather and willow.
On the field, India has a long tradition of world-class batsmen and excellent, often innovative spin bowling. Its fielding has also improved greatly in recent years, with young players like Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina developing into some of the world's best. The only area where India has traditionally struggled is in fast bowling, with young firebrands tending to sacrifice pace and incisiveness for accuracy relatively early in their career.
World Cup Record:
India's national cricket team has won the ICC Cricket World Cup twice, in 1983 and 2011. The first time around, in England, their victory came as a shock as they defeated the West Indies in their pomp. Before the tournament, India had been 66-1 outsiders, but their charismatic captain Kapil Dev led them to an unexpected triumph.
The second time was quite different. India were World Cup hosts in 2011 and after failing as hosts in 1996, the Indian nation expected nothing less than glory from their cricketing heroes. After something of a fairytale march to the final, marred only by a shattering loss to South Africa, the perfect finish was provided when captain MS Dhoni smashed the winning six and sent the nation into pandemonium.
India has taken part in every World Cup since 1975 - 10 in all - and, in addition to those two wins, has been beaten in the final in 2003. It has hosted the tournament in 1987, 1996 and 2011, the latter two as co-hosts. Their 1996 effort was memorable for its controversy: India lost its semi-final against Sri Lanka by default due to crowd disturbances at the stadium in Kolkata.
- Sachin Tendulkar: The 'Little Master' may still be playing for India but he is, without a shadow of a doubt, its greatest cricketing icon. Nobody has scored more Test or ODI runs than Tendulkar, nor has anybody scored as many international centuries (his 100th came against Bangladesh in early 2012). Sir Donald Bradman, generally considered to be the finest ever cricket player, said Tendulkar was the modern batsman who most reminded him of himself. As high as this praise is, it's nothing compared to the adoration of India's billion inhabitants, which has become increasingly fervent over Tendulkar's almost-25-year career at the top level. In cricketing terms, Sachin is nothing less than a God.
- Anil Kumble: Over a Test career of almost two decades, Kumble took 619 wickets: an Indian record and currently the third-most of all time. A tall, rangy leg-spinner, Kumble bowled at an above-average and offered a unique threat in international cricket with his combination of pace, turn and bounce. Talking about his time as Indian captain, Tendulkar said Kumble was his go-to bowler in any situation. Kumble's finest hour came when he took all ten wickets in an innings against Pakistan in 1999 - only the second time this had happened in international cricket.
- Mahendra Singh Dhoni: The coolest captain on the international circuit right now is MS Dhoni, and he's also the highest-paid athlete the sport has ever seen. When India loses, his calm is often taken for aloofness, but when India wins - such as it did in the 2011 World Cup - he is the steady, reassuring hand of the entire Indian nation. A wicketkeeper, Dhoni is capable behind the stumps and can be devastating with a bat in his hand.
- Virat Kohli: In a few short years, Kohli has gone from talented young firebrand to something like the complete modern batsman. He plays with unparalleled balance and timing at the crease, and he bats and fields energetically and aggressively in all forms of the game. That aggression, which used to get him into trouble on and off the pitch, is now supported by unflinching focus and a team-first mentality. In the process, Kohli has become the most reliable run-scorer in the Indian top order.
- Ravichandran Ashwin: Unusually for an Indian player, Ashwin made his name in the Indian Premier League (IPL) and has gone on to become successful at Test and ODI level for India. A tall off-spinner with several subtle variations, Ashwin keeps the batsman guessing. He has yet to prove himself outside of India but if he works as hard at overseas success as he has on his carrom ball, it can't be far away.
India Cricket Timeline:
- 1932: First Test match against England.
- 1952: First Test win, against England.
- 1974: First one day international, against England.
- 1975: First Cricket World Cup appearance in England. Eliminated in group stage.
- 1983: Wins Cricket World Cup in England, beating favourites the West Indies in the final.
- 1987: Co-hosts Cricket World Cup with Pakistan, losing in the semi-finals to England.
- 1989: Sachin Tendulkar debuts against Pakistan.
- 1990: Anil Kumble debuts against Sri Lanka.
- 1996: Co-hosts Cricket World Cup with Pakistan and Sri Lanka, losing to Sri Lanka in the semi-finals due to a crowd revolt by fans at the Eden Gardens stadium in Kolkata.
- 2000: A number of players, including Sachin Tendulkar, are implicated in accusations of match fixing. Former players Mohammad Azharuddin and Ajay Jadeja are banned from cricket, although these bans were later overturned.
- 2003: Finishes runner-up in Cricket World Cup, losing the final to Australia.
- 2004: MS Dhoni debuts against Bangladesh.
- 2007: Wins first Twenty20 World Cup in South Africa, beating Pakistan in the final.
- 2008: Virat Kohli debuts against Sri Lanka.
- 2010: Ravichandran Ashwin debuts against Sri Lanka.
- 2011: Co-hosts 2011 Cricket World Cup with Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, winning the tournament by beating Sri Lanka in the final.
- 2012: Sachin Tendulkar scores his 100th international century (100 runs) in a one-day match against Bangladesh.