From WG Grace to Daniel Vettori, via Denis Lillee, Sir Viv Richards and Merv Hughes, tales of iconic facial hair in cricket have seldom featured Indian cricketers, up until the 2010s. At the moment, 10 players out of India’s playing XI, by design or by accident, at the World Test championship sport facial hair.

“You would have never seen the likes of Md Azharuddin, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid or even MS Dhoni walk on to the filed with beards in England,” points out an industry senior, who has been following cricket since the 70s. In fact, Dravid, the personification of grit and steel, has even endorsed shaving through his associations with Gillette, since early on in his career.

Beard in the Gentleman’s Game

Despite its long history of beards, a Westernised India came to associate beards with being messy and unkempt. Unless for religious reasons, not many white collar job-holding boomers like to have facial hair. When they became parents, they ensured their children were indoctrinated into this school of thought, too.

Being founders of the ‘gentleman’s game’, English cricketers were the OGs of this corporate culture. WG Grace though had different ideas, and eventually inspired a generation of expressive moustaches and beards among Australian cricketers. After the Englishman Graham Gooch in the 70s, all-rounder Ian Botham famously broke the code in the 1981 Ashes, which became a part of his glamorous persona.

Moustaches and Indian Captains

The maximum amount of facial hair among Indian captains of the bygone eras was the humble moustache. Ajit Wadekar, in his triumphant leadership of India’s first-ever series win in England, sported one; so did Kapil Dev while lifting the 1983 World Cup trophy at the Lord’s balcony.

The trend continued among successors like Ravi Shastri, Dilip Vengsarkar, Kris Srikkanth, and Azhar. Sourav Ganguly had hair on his upper lip; Tendulkar sported the occasional goatee; Dhoni barely stepped on to the filed with a stubbled face. Scrolling down this illustrious list, it is obvious that Virat Kohli finally became the face of the semi-hipster beard in Indian cricket.

From Hairdos to Beards

Although a lot of credit for making facial hair cool again should also go to southpaw Shikhar Dhawan. His curled up handlebars became synonymous with triumph and celebration. This shifting focus from quirky locks to facial hair in Indian cricket coincided with greater acceptance of beards in the public sphere. Corporates have also started seeing facial hair as an area to care for in individual hygiene and not a sign of poor grooming.

The beard and men’s grooming market also experienced a huge growth in the 2010s, with companies like Beardo and Ustraa becoming popular names among 20-somethings. The global beard care products market size was estimated at USD 2.38 billion in 2018, and is anticipated to grow at a rate of 7.7% till 2025.

Peak pop culture

Beards have been a tool of self-expression in an age where the idea of masculinity is being redefined. Public figures like cricketers and actors have inspired a generation of young men to embrace the beard as a fashion statement or even a part of their identity. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has continued to flaunt his Rabindranath Tagore-esque beard in the recent past, fanning this beard fire further.

With the continuous growth of the beardcare market, combined with personalities like Indian cricketers jumping on to the bandwagon, it looks like the beard is here to stay. Indian cricket fans currently though would be slightly more concerned with their team’s on-field performance. At stumps on Day 3 of the World Test Championship final, New Zealand look set to force a first innings lead on India, with eight wickets in hand.

Will the power of the beard gods help the bearded Indian bowling lineup? Let’s wait and watch.

Image: Instagram/indiancricketteam