This one was due 10 days back! Reasons for delay not being reported here cause I don’t want to spoil the mood as we go down the memory lane again.
Even though it is the batsmen who rule the roost, I’ve firmly believed that to win a test match you need to take 20 wickets. That’s the basic rule of test cricket, bowling is often a thankless job but it is by far the most important one.
So here are my picks of the decade:
1. Anil Kumble: 14-5-29-1 Vs WI, Antigua 2002
If you do not understand why this figures on the top of my list, you have just insulted India’s most affable cricketer. A lion at heart,a true fighter, the man who can replace the word “Gentleman” in dictionary.
I’ve seen people run away from the field with the slightest of injuries, this man bowled with a broken jaw. Takes guts, takes great courage and takes a truck load of patriotism. His 619 wickets and awesome hundred at Lord’s can be kept aside. This one act of his, puts him in World Cricket’s Hall of Fame.
Hit by Merv Dillon in the first innings it looked unlikely he would bowl. Despite no result in sight, he did not shy away. Stepped out with a bandaged jaw, bowled consecutive 14 overs and scalped Lara – and Jumbo won a million hearts all over again.
2. Ajit Agarkar: 16.2-2-41-6 Vs Aus, Adelaide 2003
No cricketer has disappointed me as much as he as. We had too many hopes pinned on him. But this one bowling performance of his will always find a place when the best bowling performances are listed.
Aus batted for 2 days and hit 550+. Dravid-Laxman came together, put up a fantastic effort, and India batted till morning of day 4 falling short by 30 odd runs. The match looked all set for a draw until Agarkar came onto bowl and turned the tide. Used the short ball to perfection and swing to his fancy, never giving the Aussies any reprieve, bagging 6 wickets in the process with the key wickets of Langer, Ponting and Katich.
Aus was bowled out for 196 and India went to record its first win in Aus since MCG 1981
Adelaide 2003 remains a jewel in the many victories that this Indian team brought us. Along with Dravid and Laxman, Agarkar deserves the credit for it.
3. Harbhajan Singh: 37.5-7-123-7 & 30.3-8-73-6 Vs Aus, Kolkata 2001
The series could not have begun on a more sorry note. Bad loss in Mumbai and no Kumble/Srinath for the series. India practically had no bowling attack – Zaheer was no where close to the bowling he does today and Prasad was not the most helpful bowler on Indian wickets.
In Mumbai, Harbhajan Singh had showed glimpses of what he could offer, but Kolkata was his platform to let go. The first hat-trick in test cricket for an Indian bowler and he had the Aussies reeling at 291/8 at close of the first day’s play. What transpired over the next 4 days is well-known.
Kolkata 2001 will always be Laxman’s test, but let’s not forget that if the young bloke, all of 20, had not spun his magic – the match could have well been drawn. Until tea on the final day Aus looked good to save the match; but Bhajji with little help from Tendulkar triggered the Aus collapse to give India a memorable victory. If not for Laxman, Bhajji could well have been the man of the match.
4. Anil Kumble 30-10-72-6 Vs Pak, Multan 2004
He is responsible for majority of the Indian team’s victories. There have been very few times when he has been called upon and not delivered. It was only fitting that he deliver, in what would be one of the finest moments in Indian Cricket. Just as he had the Pakistani batsmen in a trance in that match in Kotla in 1999, he proved to be their nemesis yet again.
On their own home ground, the batsmen found it difficult to read Kumble’s deliveries and kept getting beaten by the flight. It was only appropriate that India’s war horse guide them to their first ever win in Pakistan.
5. Anil Kumble: 22.4-3-78-6 Vs WI, Sabina Park 2006
After sparking an unlikely revival, ably supporting his captain and long-time friend on Day 1; it was only appropriate that he would script the victory for India in 35 years on the Windies soil.
In one of the most low-scoring matches, the pitch seemed to offer more assistance to India’s spinners than WI pacers. Bhajji bowled the WI out for 103 in the first innings with a 5-wicket haul enabling a comfortable 77 run lead for India. Any score above 250+ in the final innings would be tough to get and India managed to make the target 269.
Kumble came onto bowl and despite resistance from the young Ramdin and Bravo, Kumble ran through the WI line to gift India a much deserving series win in WI.
6. Harbhajan Singh: 28-2-63-6 Vs NZ, Hamilton 2009
If the pacers showed the way in the first innings followed by a brilliant knock by the maestro, it was only fitting that the this young sardar bowled us to victory.
Many of us have been critical of the lad – for not being consistent enough but he has bowled when it mattered and how. Post Kumble, Harbhajjan has shouldered the responsibility fairly well and yes, occasionally he does drift but it does not take long for him to come back! And as my cricket expert friends (with whom I rarely debate) say – ‘If Bhajji gets to flight the ball and vary his pace he can be a tough nut to crack.’ This match proved the theory yet again!
A little bit of assistance from the pitch and Bhajji can work wonders just as he did in 2001.
His 6 wickets ensured India ended another drought and now that leaves only the shores of Aus and SA to be conquered in the coming decade.
7. Zaheer Khan: 21-5-59-4 & 27-10-75-5 Vs Eng, Trent Bridge 2007
After not so great previous seasons and having been kept out of reckoning, Zaheer Khan redefined himself on this tour. After an uninspiring show in the first test, he came out firing from all cylinders against the Poms.
A 4 wicket haul and classic display of swing and seam in the best conditions, Zaheer gave India a great start where England was found reeling at 169/7 and eventually getting bowled for 198. India lead the charge with 481 runs.
The jelly bean prank backfired, since an agitated Zaheer came back in the 2nd innings spitting more venom at the England batsman. His spell with the second new ball wrecked havoc; swinging the ball both ways and giving a torrid time to the batsmen. Sadly we do not have statistics that reflect the number of times the bowler beat the bat , if we did Zaheer would be topping those statistics.
He was the key architect of the Indian series victory packing a neat 18 wickets off the series.
8. Amit Mishra : 26.4-8-71-5 Vs Aus, Mohali 2008
In the absence of Anil Kumble due to injury, one wondered who would assist Bhajji in the spin department. The young Mishra was called and how he delivered, making us forget that he was making his debut.
If persisted with, he and Pragyan Ojha will make good support for Bhajji. Hopefully the selectors persist and the bowlers continue to deliver.
Mishra did not get much turn but he was not afraid to challenge the batsmen by tossing the ball and that spoke much of his attitude in his first test.
To ensure we did not miss Kumble, was a master achievement and for this effort he makes it to my favourite list.
India eventually amassed a huge lead and landed Aus its biggest defeat in a long time.
9. Laxmipati Balaji 19-4-63-4 Vs Pak, Rawalpindi 2004
Wonder why one time wonders are on this list? Well am not comparing the best bowlers – I’m just listing the match/innings based performance, so today L.Balaji may be in obscurity but recall the famous Pak win in 2004 and you will never dissociate his name from it.
His contribution made a difference to that win and so he earns a mention in the decade best list. Selected ahead of Ajit Agarkar, the inexperienced Balaji justified his selection by lending a great support to Pathan and Nehra in the series. The trio ensured that India would not miss Zaheer and Bhajji.
Balaji had his limitations as a bowler and he bowled well within those; to the extent that he did a swell job swinging the ball. He did lose his way in between but came back well when he stuck to his line and length and made the batsmen play his deliveries.
The result – 7 wickets in the final test sealing a fantastic series victory for India – her first in Pakistan. He undoubtedly was the find of this tour but sadly disappeared soon due to injury.
But his contribution cannot be forgotten and is engraved in the history books forever.
10. Irfan Pathan: 26-3-80-2 Vs Aus, Sydney 2003
Not a match-winning performance, not a one that ripped through a batting line-up. In fact Pathan started miserably with the new ball in the Aus innings. So what is it doing here superseding Ishaant’s and Zaheer’s efforts in NZ.
The reason is the Gilchrist dismissal in the last over of the day. A perfect yorker. Remove Irfan from the frame and just watch that delivery – you will tell me it is Wasim Akram bowling. The young lad, all of 19 then, on his debut series, made everyone sit up and take notice of him with that one delivery.
Gilchrist left the field a shocked man. The ball had rattled his stumps and he must’ve looked up to convince himself that it was not Wasim he was facing.
Oh yeah and Irfan had also bagged Steve Waugh’s prized wicket – this was Tugga’s farewell test.
Sometimes results don’t matter – moments do; and Irfan has given one such moment to treasure that will last a lifetime.