Public memory is short and cricket followers in this country are generally creatures of emotion and not of logic. There is nothing wrong in showing emotion per se. But then these displays should be controlled and should not go over the top. Under the circumstances it is no surprise that in the wake of India's triumph in the World Cup the questions in polls follow along the expected lines. Is this the best Indian ODI team ever? Is MS Dhoni the best-ever Indian captain? Is this the greatest triumph in Indian cricket history? And not unexpectedly the majority answers in the affirmative.
In a way this kind of reaction is not surprising given the monumental achievement of winning back the World Cup after 28 years. The point to note however is that these questions are asked every time there is a memorable Indian triumph. And over the years there have been quite a few.
Old timers still talk about the celebrations that followed India's first-ever Test victory in February 1952 at Madras. This came about nearly 20 years after India played her first Test so it had been a long wait. Over the next few years came a number of eventful victories - the maiden victory over Australia in December 1959 that was hailed as the 'Miracle at Kanpur' achieved as it was against the best side in the world, the victories over Australia at Bombay in 1964 and New Delhi in 1969, the maiden series triumph over England in 1961-62. The point to note is that these wins were registered in the formative years of Indian cricket when the team was very close to the bottom of the table, had frequently to endure embarrassing defeats and when a draw was considered a moral victory.
Celebrations followed every win but these were muted by today's euphoric standards as there was no media hype and cricket fans were more controlled in displaying their emotions. And the players behind those victories like Vijay Hazare, Vinoo Mankad, Polly Umrigar, Vijay Manjrekar, Salim Durani, Chandu Borde and the Nawab of Pataudi were all hailed as great cricketers even if the monetary rewards were next to nothing.
The scenario changed considerably after the India Rubber Year of 1971 when the Indian team had twin historic triumphs in the West Indies and England and Sunil Gavaskar made his dramatic entry into international cricket. From then on cricket fans expected victories and frequently got them, the monetary rewards were much better and the following thanks to the emergence of television became that much more vociferous. And every time an Indian team notched up a famous victory, the questions now began to be asked - Is Gavaskar the greatest Indian cricketer, is the victory at Port of Spain in 1976 the greatest triumph in Indian cricket, is the current Indian team the best-ever and so on.
But interest in this period still hinged around Test cricket with limited overs cricket yet to catch the fancy of the fans and in any case the Indian team was performing much better in the traditional format. The World Cup triumph in England in 1983 hastened a change in the trend, ODI's became the new cricketing mantra, players' fees multiplied, they started appearing in ads and endorsements in a big way and with television no longer in its infancy the media hype became almost frenzied in its approach. And again it was time for the usual questions which were of course largely answered in the affirmative.
Over the last couple of decades fuelled by a media frenzy that has gone over the top the following for cricket in the country is at an all time high. But that is not the only major change from the early days. The Indian team is now world beaters in every format of the game. The stars are easily recognizable all over the cricketing world, the monetary benefits have gone sky high and beyond, they play the game round the year and are immensely popular not only for their cricketing ability but also for their appearances in ads and endorsements. Of course it is time to ask the usual questions now that the triumphs are being registered at more frequent intervals. But should the former heroes, the victories notched up over the last 60 years and the great teams of the past be forgotten or simply brushed aside?
It's easy for the followers of the game today -particularly the young and the uninitiated - to point out that the figures of past cricketers cannot compare with those of the present lot. Actually it is never easy to represent a country in its formative years. The dice is frequently loaded against these cricketers and both the batsmen and bowlers are fighting a losing battle against far more experienced sides who also have better players. I have always had a high regard for the older cricketers who had to swim upstream and symbolize courage in adversity while retaining my admiration for the players of today. In the formative years when Indian teams suffered one setback after another, went from one defeat to another with very few victories to show for all their efforts, the country was fortunate to have many courageous players who defied the odds and came up with performances that attracted attention all over the cricketing world.
As I said I have unstinting admiration for today's cricketers. I am only advocating that some of the past cricketers were also great and considering the circumstances I have mentioned they should be given their due and not be judged by figures alone. The notable triumphs fuelled by the great cricketers of today should not in any way dim the lustre over the players of the past or the achievements they helped shape.