With VVS Laxman's departure from international cricket, an era has come to a close in the rich history of the game in India. Laxman was the fourth of the 'Fantastic Five' of the Indian team, which had played at its peak between the mid-1990s and late-2000s, to hang up his boots last week. Laxman's exit meant only Sachin Tendulkar remained as the sole member of the famous gang of five in the team.
The 'Fantastic Five' were important on many counts and made a great contribution in reshaping the course of journey of Indian cricket in a memorable way. If we take up each of these players, Sourav Ganguly, Anil Kumble, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Tendulkar, we can see that each of these players had magnificent contributions in building a team that inched forward and finally went on to win the World Cup for the second time in history in 2011. And of course, we must not forget the thunder called Virender Sehwag, who also made the task of a heavyweight batting order much easier by rattling the occasion in the very beginning.
These five players were special, mainly because they had effected a reneissance in Indian cricket. Till the arrival of the Gangulys, Dravids and Laxmans (all made their presence felt in international cricket in 1996 although Ganguly made his debut in 1992), Sachin Tendulkar was the only challenge in the Indian batting line-up who really worried the opponents.
When Tendulkar made his debut in 1989, the Indian cricket team was an ageing one. The Kapil Devs, Krish Srikkanths, Dilip Vengsarkars and Manoj Prabhakars were old horses in the team and never looked formidable enough to regain India's glory of the mid-1980s. The giant called Sunil Gavaskar had also left the arena by then. International cricket, with the growing popularity of the one-day cricket, was becoming more of a youngsters' game and that made it all the more necessary for the team to find young blood.
The team had found a young captain in Mohammed Azharuddin but he never succeeded in building a team during his decade-long tenure. Apart from individual brilliance mainly from Tendulkar and bits-and-pieces flash from some other players, Azhar's India never looked a force, particularly overseas.
When Ganguly took over after a brief musical chair was played out between Azhar, Tendulkar and Ajay Jadeja (one-dayers), cricket was undergoing one of its worst phases ever. The fixing scandal during the India-South Africa series in 2000 was a big blow for cricket, both in India and abroad, and the onus lied on the players of the team, which till then had seen just one test match victory since 1986, to ensure that the game did not fizzle out. This was when the Ganguly brigade rose to the occasion.
Under a suitable coach in John Wright, the Indian team under Sourav Ganguly began to show a remarkable progress. Ganguly's positive captaincy undoubtedly played a major role in improving the team's performance overseas, but what was equally important was that the team found its senior players touching their peak in unison.