India started improving in tests abroad and from losing against the West Indies despite going 1-0 up and levelling the series against England after trailing 0-1 showed the Indians were turning competitive abroad.
India's best moments in these years came in 2002 when they defeated England in a thrilling chase in London to win a trophy, in 2003 when they came close to defeating Australia and returned without losing the series and in 2004, when they defeated Pakistan 2-1 in their own den. In between, India also made the finals of the World Cup where they lost to reigning champions Australia. And who can forget that historic series win over Australia on home soil in 2001 where India fought back into the series after following-on!
The performance that India had shown in the early 2000s was something not witnessed for a long, long time. And what had made it possible was a series of brilliant display by these fantastic fives plus Sehwag, a few years junior to the others.
Some of the best Test knocks played by Indian batsmen in the post-Gavaskar era were registered during this time.
1. Laxman's 167 against Australia at Sydney in the dead series in 2000.
2. Laxman's 281 and Dravid's 180 together in the historic test against Australia in 2001.
3. Sehwag's 105 against South Africa on his debut test at Bloemfontain in 2001.
4. Dravid, Tendulkar and Ganguly scoring centuries in the same innings against England in 2002.
5. Tendulkar's 193 against England in 2002, 241 not out against Australia in 2003 and 194 not out against Pakistan in 2004.
6. Sehwag's 309 against Pakistan at Multan in 2004, 319 against South Africa at Chennai in 2008 and 293 against Sri Lanka at Mumbai in 2009.
7. Ganguly's 144 against Australia at Brisbane in 2003 had set up the tone for an absorbing series
8. Dravid's 232 against Australia at Adelaide in 2003 and 270 against Pakistan at Rawalpindi in 2004.
There were many more memorable knocks played out by these players and with a young brigade of bowlers in Zaheer Khan, Irfan Pathan, Harbhajan Singh and Ashish Nehra backing senior pros like Srinath and Kumble, India ensured many a time that those big knocks went on to win them matches instead of just managing draws. The presence of Sehwag and his brisk scoring also saw India overcoming its eternal problem with opening since gavaskar's departure. The likes of Yuvraj Singhs raised the fielding standards as well.
Tradition continued after Ganguly's fall from top
Ganguly's losing prominence in the 2005-06 and his differences with Greg Chappell stalled the glorious run and India once again began to slide. This, however, never meant that the great players failed to perform. Even in the post-Ganguly period, the Tendulkars, Dravids, Laxmans and Sehwags continued with their brilliant knock and helped the new captain in Mahendra Singh Dhoni reap the dividends by guiding the team to the top rank.
We should not forget about Anil Kumble either, who despite his unorthodox spin bowling, never gave up an inch in the field. He led his team to win all accolades despite the team losing the series against Australia 1-2 down under in 2008. India had pulled off a great victory at Perth that year, something which was unthinkable even in the recent past. His 10-wicket-haul in a single innings will be another eternal record.
Tendulkar left alone again
Tendulkar, today, might find him back to the days when he was the 'only hope' in Indian batting. The Little Master, nearly 40, is not the only hope today, however, for there is a pool of talent for the selectors to choose from. Also, in this era of IPL and corporate cricket, the perception of test cricket as a rigorous battle for national pride has changed a lot.
We will remember the Fantastic Five plus One for yaking India's cricketing stature to new highs. The victory that Dhoni and his boys had relished on the night of August 2, last year, was the culmination of a process that was started by those greats though none of them were present on the field on the day except Tendulkar and Sehwag. But the era ended tragically when we started blaming the ageing gang (except Ganguly and Kumble who were retired) for Indian's drubbing in eight consecutive test matches abroad since that WC victory. The bigger question is: Can India again rise from the ashes without the greats at the helm?