Meet the modern legends who rule one of the world's favorite sports

·8-min read

Cricket is by far the most popular sport in the world after football (the non-American version, of course) and is the national sport of India in all but official name. There have even been posters in the country that tout India having two religions: "Cricket & Film." 

The sport, which resembles baseball skills but on a vastly different field, has three international tournaments hosted by its governing body, the ICC, and India has won them all at various points. The game became so popular that it prompted an Indian Premier League worth millions and allowing star cricketers to play more often than only international competitions. 

The three major tournaments are for three different types of play. Test cricket is viewed as the highest standard and can take five days for one match in the modern version. This longform version stems from the British colonizing areas, including India, and playing the gentleman's game. One-Day Internationals (ODI) are shorter with 50 "overs" (six consecutive legal bowls to a batter) per inning. It was a necessity to play a World Cup. And the shortest version came about in 2003 with "Twenty20" or "T20," a game of 20 overs and done in three hours. 

These "Titans of Cricket" won in most if not all of the three international competitions for India and helped lead the country to continued success. Though the sport is wildly popular elsewhere, it hasn't caught on in the United States. In celebration of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month this May, and with Team USA men's and women's cricket teams gearing up for competition, here's who to know in Indian cricket. 

MS Dhoni

Mahendra Singh Dhoni, known better as MS Dhoni, is a LeBron James-like figure for his success on the pitch and his pursuits off of it that include co-ownerships and a media company. He is the only captain in the world to win all three ICC trophies and is regarded as one of the men’s game’s greatest wicket-keeper batsmen and captains. Time Magazine included the star in its 2011 list of the 100 “Most Influential People in the World.”

Dhoni, 39, led India to the inaugural World Twenty 20 title (commonly abbreviated to T20) in 2007. That victory over Pakistan is viewed as a new beginning in Indian cricket, and led to the launch of the Indian Premier League — a franchise-based T20 version of cricket.

Dhoni has served as captain of the Chennai Super Kings in IPL since its first season (he did play for one other team during the franchise’s two-year suspension) and led the squads to titles in 2010, ’11 and ’18. They also won the 2010 and 2014 Champions League Twenty20.

In test cricket, the longest version of the game that can take five days, India topped the rankings for the first time in 2009 under Dhoni’s leadership. He’s the most successful Indian captain in test with 27 victories.

In ODI (One Day Internationals) he led India to the 2011 World Cup, snapping a 28-year losing skid by the nation. He is one of the highest run scorers in the ODI version of cricket. Two years later he led India to the 2013 Champions Trophy.

Dhoni retired from international play last year on Aug. 15, India’s Independence Day. He did it with an Instagram video shortly after joining teammates and despite being an anticipated member of the 2020 T20 World Cup team competing in Australia. The tournament was rescheduled for 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dhoni holds numerous records in all three versions of the game and is so far the most successful captain in Indian national team history. He is also a co-owner of teams in men’s hockey, men’s soccer and founded a racing team. Dhoni Entertainment launched with a documentary web series on the Super Kings comeback.

Sachin Tendulkar

Sachin Tendulkar is the first face that appears on a Google search for “Greatest cricket player” and his name is commonly No. 1 in fan votes and GOAT headlines. Tendulkar, a “modern legend of the game” and India’s “very own God of Cricket,” per BBC, played men’s cricket from 1988 to 2013 and still holds the record for most career runs in ODI cricket history. His 18,426 total runs are 2,000 more than Kumar Sangakkara of Sri Lanka.

Tendulkar, known by many as “Little Master” or “Master Blaster,” is a legend of the game and helped grow passion for cricket in India. He began on the national team in 1989 at the age of 16 and in his first game was hit on the mouth. Tendulkar continued to bat in his blood-soaked shirt.

He later won the 2011 World Cup, his first win in six appearances for the country. He was the leading run scorer in the 1996 World Cup and named the player of the tournament in 2003, though India finished as runner-up. That 2011 victory alongside MS Dhoni and a young Virat Kohli was a pivotal moment in Indian cricket.

Tendulkar, 48, is the first athlete to be awarded the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian award given by the Prime Minister’s Office. He’s also the youngest. Tendulkar was also a 2010 entrant in Time Magazine’s list of the 100 Most Influential People in the World. He retired from all forms of cricket in 2013 and was inducted into the ICC Cricket Hall of Fame in 2019.

Mithali Raj

Mithali Raj is the most experienced player in ODI cricket at 214 matches, becoming the first woman to play for two decades in 2019, and captained the women’s side to their only ODI World Cup finals (2005, 2017). She is commonly compared to Sanchin Tendulkar for her impact and success in the women’s game. The women’s world cup began two years before the men’s, but faced funding issues that forced teams to decline invites and the tournament to be held at varying intervals.

Raj, 38, is the record-holder for international runs at 7,098 — 1,000 more than second-place Charlotte Edwards of England — and most 50-plus scores. She ranks fourth in catches. At 16 years, 205 days she became the youngest player to score her first ODI century.

She retired from T20Is cricket to focus on ODI and bringing India its first World Cup when the tournament is played in March 2022 in New Zealand. An international championship is the one thing eluding the great’s resume.

"It's been 21 years of international cricket and I know 2022 is my swansong, the World Cup," Raj said last month, via Press Trust of India. "The last year was equal to the 20 years of my international cricket.

"I know we are in difficult times but it takes a lot out of me to keep working on my fitness. I am not getting any younger and I know the importance of fitness. It is important to be in a good emotional and mental set-up, knowing that there will be very few tours before the World Cup."

Raj is also a multi-award winner highlighted by the Padma Shri honor, the country’s fourth-highest civilian award, in 2015. Vogue India named her Sportswoman of the Year during its inaugural “Vogue Women of the Year Awards” in 2017. A biopic on her life is in the works after Viacom18 Studios COO Ajit Andhare was struck by the idea from the movie “Hidden Figures.”

Virat Kohli

Kohli is the current Indian men’s national team captain, a household name and widely considered the best contemporary batsman in the world. He debuted on the national cricket team at the age of 19 after leading the World Cup winning U19 team in 2008.

Upon taking over as test captain in 2014, upon MS Dhoni’s retirement, he led India to the No. 1 ranking. The country stayed there from October 2016 until May 2020. They’ve since regained the position. He took over as limited-overs captain for Dhoni in 2017. He ascended to No. 1 ODI batsman in the ICC rankings for the first time in 2013 and has the best ever rating in test, ODI and T20.

Kohli holds the world record for the fastest to reach various major run thresholds in ODI cricket and currently has 12,169 (as of April 27). He ranks sixth overall in career international runs despite playing 245 innings, 120 fewer than the anyone above him. He’s one of only two active players in the top 20, via ESPN Cricket Info.

It was just last month he became the first player to reach 6,000 runs in the Indian Premier League where he’s played for Royal Challengers Bangalore since its inaugural season. Kohli did it in 196 matches played since his league debut in 2008. The closest to him is Suresh Raina (5,448 runs).

Kohli, 32, was part of the 2011 World Cup team and earned Man of the Tournament honors at the ICC 2014 and 2016 Twenty20 events.

On top of nine different player of the year honors, Kohli was honored with the 2018 Khel Ratna Award, the highest sporting honor in Indian for making India proud at the international level. He is the only cricket player on Forbes’ top 100 highest paid athletes list, coming in at No. 66 in 2020 behind $24 million in endorsement deals. Time Magazine named him one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2018.

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