As a kid who grew up and just came to understanding things around him in the mid 80’s in India could not have been more influenced by anything as much as the the cricket explosion in the country. I was no different.
The ’83 world cup, the World Series in 85/86, the 2-0 test series victory in England in 1986 and the so near yet so far Reliance World Cup in 1987 were enough to want me to do nothing but be out there on the field and keep aspiring to become a cricketer. I have lived my life along these cricketers, in my head they were always there, we had conversations. I Read all sports section in the Gujarati and English newspapers, subscribed to the Sportstar occasionally even read the hindi magazine Cricket Samrat. From collecting crowns of Thums Up for getting flip books of a Sunil Gavaskar straight drive or a Vivian Richards pull shot or collecting wrappers of Big Fun the 25 paise chewing gum for Shrikant’s posters for me while growing up the staple diet was cricket and nothing else.
A first love as I always like to call it, I don’t claim to be a historian or a statistician or an expert but I claim to be a lover of the sport. Its a never ending love affair, with the Indian team’s performance becoming my mood driver.
In my boards in 10th India were touring New Zealand and my Mom was surprised when on the first day she heard me putting an alarm for 3.30, she couldn’t believe I was gonna study, but well I did study during the ad. breaks of that tour, only reason I got first class in 10th.
If the mid 80’s were inspiring for an Indian cricket fan, the 90’s were damning, the team that was set to take on the the cricketing world slackened, became tigers at home, lambs abroad, slowly a lot of people in this country started depending on just one guy to lift the mood of the country. The reason why Sachin became what he was is somewhere in this I would like to believe. India looked like they would become now a pretty combative a team in world cricket during the mid 80’s but like the nation itself its cricketers perhaps did not believe in it and so when kids like us were growing with high aspirations, loving only cricket and nothing else during the 90’s there was only one refuge the Sachin batting display among a lot of losses abroad, we would lose a test horribly and yet we would seek our happiness in that back foot punch off a 7 feet tall fast bowler through cover that our short master blaster would deliver time and again. Whilst some other batters and our spinners would put their hand up when we played in our own country abroad it was a decade of some pretty ordinary results.
It was here that the obsession in my head started to take shape more, increasingly I started to judge our batsmen on how they performed in countries like Australia, England, South Africa and New Zealand at one point even performances in Zimbabwe mattered more than in India.
I can for one never get over the loss in Bridgetown in 1997 when India needed 120 to win in the 4th innings and fell short by 38, Sachin was skipper then and it seemed like it broke him by the year 2000 we lost at home to SA and Sachin resigned and it looked like it was all over, there was a point in life when you thought this love and mad obsession about the sport was all misplaced and you would better get on with life and the many other facets to it, cricket after all was just another stupid game and I should be doing more with my life than let the mood be influenced by what was happening on a field of play. In some ways my life reflected the state of Indian cricket in 1999 I passed out of college in third class, I could not pursue an MBA as I did not have any good grades to make me eligible for an entrance and my parents couldn’t afford a payment seat. I was to take up a job of a marketing executive selling computer courses with a salary that was lesser than the office boy who served tea to us and most of the income depended on how I performed abroad, I mean outside office and how many enrollments I brought in.
Things were bleak, college over, time to stand on your feet, you are in love, her dad discovers, you earn really less, India lose in India to SA and then even more painfully in Chennai to your arch rival Pakistan, your God had cried in the dressing room after that match, your idol was involved in match fixing and there was never a sadder moment in life as then. A dark abyss it seemed awaited.
But not for nothing I guess they have this old adage of it being darkest before dawn eh?
The new millennium brought new hope, a feisty Bengali came to lead the Indian team, a core group of some excellent batsmen gathered, Sachin discovered he was not alone, a wall from Bangalore was there to shield him, an artist from Hyderabad joined it, a dasher from Delhi reinforced that the Bengali had vision, hopes soared, a legendary spinner to back the batsmen, always one good quick around to keep us in the game and even without enough bowling things started to happen. A miracle was performed in Eden Gardens in 2001 when one of the greatest team ever to play test cricket was on a rampage and their fast steamrolling bulldozer was brought to a grinding halt by two men possessed, batting like a dream, a Sardar spinning the ball viciously earning himself the name of the “Turbanator”!
A landmark victory that brought new hope, belief and inspired you to dream again! It was followed by Headingley in 2002, Adelaide in 2003, Wanderers in 2006, Trent Bridge in 2007 and the heady feeling of revenge and righteousness after the 2008 Perth Test win, surely it was a memorable decade. Life at personal front also started to slowly improve, good breaks, good jobs, marriage, kid and eventually a business that started to find its feet. Somehow series victories in South Africa and Australia still eluded us but then you cannot have everything in life in just one decade can you?
When a railway employee donned the skippers hat, it was like now the time for world domination has come. It looked like he had all the resources and that a golden era was to begin, whilst we won a lot in limited overs cricket under him. Test success abroad eluded him, I for one cannot fathom how he managed to earn such a horrible record in Tests abroad, we surely were not that bad or were we? He eventually threw in the towel on another frustrating trip down under and that is when this Feistier than anyone in life I have ever seen Delhi boy came up to take up the reins of Indian cricket.
Since last year I had been waiting for this year, tours of SA, Eng and Aus beckoned, hope was in the air, perhaps a chance to settle matters once and for all, it was during this whole year I was slowly wondering in my head if I could feel like the West Indian fans felt during their two decade domination or like the Australian fans who didn’t know what it was to lose from the mid 90’s to a few years ago.
I am a hopeless optimist, I never quit hoping as far as the Indian cricket teams chances are concerned. SA happened, we played not too badly, but we somehow managed to mess up things and lost the series owing more to our own inability or inexperience in winning in alien conditions, we managed to screw something or the other, a strategy here a selection there. Come England and it looks like there never was an opportunity better than this to beat them in their own conditions and suddenly in a blink of an eye England lead the series 2-0. Like I said, hopeless optimist, when India turned the tables at 2-1 I was getting this silly feeling that we could come back. We couldn’t, it was not as bad as the 4-1 scoreline suggest but it was a loss.
In my hopeless optimist manners even before the England tour I had thought in my head that we will beat England in England and our crowning of the undisputed best team in the world home and abroad would happen in Australia and so I booked my tickets to Australia smartly planning to fly off the day after I hear the winning speech of Kohli at Sydney. This was a long leap of faith, forget travelling to Australia but India beating them there and me being there to see it. Life had changed from earning less than our office boy to dreaming of an Indian win in Australia. By the time England beat us 3-1 it started feeling like a bad idea, whilst the experience of watching matches and travelling around Australia would be fun, I feared I would be all grumpy if India lost the series.
I was praying India would not blow the series in the first two matches as I was to reach for the last two test matches.
As luck would have it, it read 1-1 when I reached there, Boxing day test match was not the exciting, racy, thrill a moment cricket match, but a match where I felt like the team was determined to not let itself down. Not trying to make a statement any more, they just seemed like they didn’t care about anything other than winning and were ready to get dirty in the mud if the need be. They grinded to a painful 200 odd runs on the first day, they tired out the bowlers, it was searingly hot, it took its toll, India won the Test, I was there.
In many ways this victory was poetic, after years and years of attempts at winning down under, some magnificent Test battles were won with magical performances at times, the only time we won the War here it was down to sheer determination and grit.
I don’t know if this will mark the era of dominance for our team from here on, but this little piece of history I witnessed will always stay with me. I will always brag and boast and say, when India beat Australia in Australia in a Test series for the first time, I was there to witness history.
Yes dreams do come true, they take their time but don’t stop dreaming for when they do come true, the happiness you will feel will be unlike anything else you can ever feel.