There is a reason why the term "Legend" is used to describe a player. The beautiful game of cricket has been graced by many a talent through the years. However, only a handful of them are referred to as legends. In essence, a legend is a good player who puts together great performances consistently over a sustainable period.
For any player, it usually takes a moment, a match or a series to establish themselves on the world stage.
In this piece, we try to single out that one series that served as a launching pad for five legends of Indian cricket. In these series, the five legends came into the limelight,thereby cementing their legacies in the annals of the nation's rich cricketing history. Without further ado, let us have a look at the 5 series that launched 5 Indian cricketing legends.
1. Rahul Dravid: India Vs England 2002 Test series
It is slightly unfair to single out this particular series for Rahul Dravid. The Karnataka player had already established himself as one of the best in the game. His exploits in the 1999 World Cup had made him a permanent fixture in the ODI team as well.
The Indian team was coming off an emphatic win in the ODI series against England, and the onus was on Saurav Ganguly's team to take the next step. Beating England in an away Test series was always going to be a challenge. A challenge that looked even more improbable after India lost the first test, and had to bat for almost two days to save the second Test.
It was precisely in this particular game that Rahul Dravid took over. First, he rescued India from the trenches in the Second Test in Nottingham. Then he laid the foundation for a mammoth total by batting out an overcast first day in the third Test in Headingley for a memorable win. Finally, Dravid scored a memorable double hundred in the fourth Test at the Oval as India drew the Test Series 1-1 to mark the beginning of a new era in Indian cricket.
What it also did was cement Rahul Dravid as one of the best Test batsmen in the world, and the player the Indian team would always look up to whenever they were in a spot of bother. His technically astute play was now there for everyone to see and appreciate.
2. VVS Laxman: India Vs Australia 2001 Test series
"Very Very Special" Laxman had a stop-start career until 2001. He'd played a few Tests here and there, but not consistently. Except a hundred against Australia in Sydney, he hadn't done much of notice in his Test career. It all changed when Steve Waugh's men visited India in 2001. It was an Australian team that had beaten anything and everything in sight until then.
This is a story that has been written and told many a time in cricketing folklore. India were staring down the barrel after losing the first Test match. It looked all downhill for India after being asked to follow-on in the Second Test in Kolkata. Laxman brought India back from the brink to pull off one of the most spectacular wins in Test history.
At the fall of the fourth wicket (Ganguly) at the score of 232, Dravid walked out to the middle, with India still 42 runs adrift of avoiding an innings defeat. What followed next was history though. Laxman (281), in the company of Dravid (180), batted out the entire fourth day as India led by 315 runs.
The stylish Hyderabadi, who had scored a half century in the first innings to save India's blushes, helped the hosts turn the momentum of the series on its head, propelling India to a stunning win. It marked only the third, and remains the latest, instance in Test history of a team winning a Test after being asked to follow-on. A rejuvenated India would go on to win the third Test to take the series 2-1.
Laxman was finally recognised as a force to reckon with. His 281 in the 2001 Kolkata Test against one of the greatest teams of all time made everyone stand up and take notice. After this series, Laxman never looked back, and became a permanent fixture in the Indian Test team.
3. Sourav Ganguly: 1999 ICC Cricket World Cup
It's not easy to get yourself noticed when you're batting with one of the greatest batsman of all time. That was the challenge Sourav Ganguly faced every time he opened with Sachin Tendulkar in ODIs. Ganguly had established himself as a reliable ODI opener by the year 1999. But the perception that "India needed a huge score from Tendulkar to win a game" was still strong.
Ganguly changed all that at the 1999 World Cup, scoring a towering 183 against Sri Lanka that brought the world to his feet. In an innings where he smashed 17 fours and 7 sixes to all parts of the ground, caught everyone by surprise. It was an innings that showed that the Bengal player could be as destructive as any batsman in the world. It also showed that in Ganguly, Tendulkar had an opening partner who could take the game away from the opposition at any time.
Playing in his very first World Cup, and ending third in the run-scorers list, Ganguly was finally seen as one of the best openers in world cricket at that time.
4. Sachin Tendulkar: 1996 ICC Cricket World Cup
1996 was a happening year for World Cricket. A lot of new talent was popping up around the world, but no one knew who was going to be the next breakaway star. There was Brian Lara, Mark Waugh, Saeed Anwar, and then there was this player from India called Sachin Tendulkar. All of them had made a mark on World Cricket, but none had been able to break away from the pack just yet.
At the 1996 World Cup, Tendulkar played like a dream. It was in this tournament that the myth of the "Little Master" was born, as he single-handedly propelled the team to the semifinals against Sri Lanka in Kolkata. If it was not the loss of his wicket in the last four clash with Sri Lanka, India might have been able to pull off an unlikely win.
In that World Cup for India, it was Tendulkar and then everybody else. More often than not. it was quite apparent that if India had to win a game, the 'Little Man' would need to do most of the heavy lifting. Ending up as the top scorer in that tournament was just the beginning of a period when Tendulkar stamped his authority as the best batsman in the world. It was a notion that stuck for more than a decade.
5. MS Dhoni: India vs Sri Lanka 2005 ODI Series
MS Dhoni's transition from domestic cricket wasn't a smooth one. There were a string of low scores as the Jharkhand man struggled to make an impression in international cricket. A promotion to No.3, and a swashbuckling century against Pakistan brought Dhoni into the limelight. But yet again, another run of low scores brought Dhoni's position into contention. India were on the lookout for a reliable wicket-keeper batsman for a while, and no one had fit the bill just yet.
It was during this time that Sri Lanka visited India, and.Dhoni came into his own. The Jharkhand man announced himself on the world stage, with a swashbuckling knock of 183 in the third ODI in Jaipur, a knock that was studded with 10 huge sixes. Scoring a bucketful of runs in that series, Dhoni outscored legends like Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid, Kumar Sangakkara, and Mahela Jayawardene, doing so at a strike rate of more than a hundred.
And Dhoni would not look back from there, going on to become the only Indian captain to lift two World Cups - the 2007 T20 and the 2011 50-over World Cup. The only wicket-keeper to effect over 100 stumpings in ODIs, Dhoni etched his name into Indian cricketing folklore by hitting Nuwan Kulasekara for the winning six in Mumbai that sealed India's win at the 2011 World Cup.