The recent tour to England, albeit hectic and tiring, was one that the Indian cricketers will look back at with fond memories. The tourists kicked off the 90-day tour with an amazing win in the NatWest series. Sri Lanka was first brushed aside and then England defeated in a dramatic final.
But that was not all. After going down in the first Test at Lord's, the Indians came back with a bang, winning at Headingley and drawing the other two Tests to level the series. They returned with heads held high, but few heads would have been held higher than Rahul Dravid's.
The Karnataka middle-order batsman chalked up 602 runs from four Tests at a better-than-Bradman average of 100.33. Naturally, then, he appeared relaxed, and smiled ear-to-ear as he said, "There is a case for me to carry those wickets wherever I go. I enjoy touring there; it is a great place to tour and play cricket. This just shows in my performance." It certainly does. In Tests in England, Dravid has scored 789 runs at an average of almost 88.
For the other run-machine in the Indian team, Sachin Tendulkar, the tour was important too. It was there that he crossed Sir Don Bradman's tally of 30 Test centuries. "We won the NatWest Series and after being 1-0 down we fought back well later on. The way Dravid batted in the last Test was so good. I think it was one of the most memorable tours of my career," said Tendulkar, a statement that looked back on almost 13 years on the job.
However, in typical Tendulkar fashion, the batting maestro played down his achievements. "From the time I started playing cricket till now, I've just wanted to go out and enjoy the game and make runs. I never had my eyes set on records of any kind. I know records will be broken, but that is not my goal. If I do break records in the course of playing, I'm very happy about it," said Tendulkar.
In the recent past, India have found several people to strengthen the batting order and bat around Tendulkar. In one-dayers, Yuvraj Singh, Virender Sehwag and Mohammed Kaif have stepped up and performed when it mattered the most. While some would suggest that this relieves the pressure on Tendulkar, the man himself does not think along similar lines.
"I look at these things a bit differently," said Tendulkar. "We play as a team at all times. Sometimes the individuals perform so well that they come to the limelight for a while. It's a part of the game, but in the end all 11 players are fighting for victory. If we play seven batsmen, all are capable of scoring runs. That's why they have been picked. I'm not at all surprised when someone does well. There's no extra pressure on me because of this. Even if I fail, there are six other guys to make the runs."
Like Sourav Ganguly before him, Tendulkar too took a moment to point out how well India had done in the shorter version of the game in recent times. In fact he went a step further, hoping that the current side would stay together till the forthcoming World Cup in South Africa. "We have hit the right combination now. Having said that, we must remember the World Cup is five months away. It's hard to predict what will happen five months down the line. Hopefully this lot will stay together. We've performed well and delivered the goods," said Tendulkar.
The Indian team seems a confident outfit now, especially after resolving the controversy over contracts that has dogged them for the last few weeks. A key player during the negotiations, Anil Kumble, was happy to make a well-thought-out statement when questioned about cash versus country. Although some sections of the media tried to portray the dilemma as one where the players had to choose between personal financial gain and the honour of playing for the country, Kumble explains that nothing could be further from the truth.
"All those issues have been sorted out, and we're here to play cricket," said Kumble. "We're happy that we are in Sri Lanka to play the ICC Champions Trophy. I think there was a misconception that we were looking at personal gains. It was not a question of money. We had already entered into contracts which were long-term and had been in place for a while. If we had signed the original ICC contracts, it would have been a breach of our existing contracts, and that became an issue of integrity, a matter of principles. It was never a question of money."