I have learnt a lot about life by following cricket for over 22 years. Oh, the first thing you would have learnt after reading the first line is that I am more than 22 years old. Good going. You are learning as well.
This game keeps giving you lessons. When India collapsed after Sachin slipped in 1996, I dreamt of becoming India’s next Sachin and played cricket from 5:00am to 7:30PM, during the month of April, in UP where temperature hardly fell below 40 degree centigrade. I learnt a big lesson – to dream and dream big in life. It’s another matter that I ignored my exams to be held in first week of May and paid a heavy price for it. I learnt another lesson – dream but don’t day dream.
Adversity and prosperity are two extremes but they should never be looked upon in isolation. In adverse situation, one should think about the times of prosperity. When someone is prospering, do not forget the times of adversity. Former gives hope - the biggest driver to succeed. Later keeps the feet grounded which is important for sustaining success.
At this point of time, I cannot recall when the last time I felt was so sad, so hopeless, and so given-up. Well, there have been a few but I am not sure they could match this one. Here are a few of them which I can recall.
10. India – Australia 1991-92 – the never ending torture – India toured Australia for 5 test matches, one long triangular series, and a world cup. The tour lasted so long that even Australians looked like asking Indians – do you have any intentions to go back. We lost in Brisbane, we lost in Melbourne. Thinking Australia is a heaven for pacers; we dropped our spinner and played four pacers in Sidney. Yes. Sidney. We lost in Adelaide where we weren’t so far from winning it – margin of loss 38 runs while chasing 330 odd. Perth was a mere formality - 4-0 loss in test series. Barely reaching the finals and losing it all there in the triangular series. World cup is not worth talking about. Heads got rolled. Vengsarkar retired. Srikanth never played for India again. I am not sure if people remember Subroto Banerjee. Sourav Ganguly was dumped for 4 years.
9. India – South Africa 1996-97 – rape in Durban – 100 in first innings, 66 in second innings, Alan Donald literally running through our batting line up. They said pitch was like a minefield but Donald didn’t even need pitching to take some wickets – fast, very fast Yorkers did it for him. Sachin kept holding his bat like a pendulum and Donald kept sneaking through. We did come back in Johannesburg but so did our bad luck. Bad light, Klusner and Cullinan saved South Africa on the last day. I was still happy. At least we made a comeback. ODI series, even though we lost, was much better than the first two tests. We did put up a fight in the final.
8. India – Pakistan 1998-99 – Sach-an-Indian team – Pakistan came to India – lot of goodwill gestures and all that during that series. We played them in Chennai. We let Afridi, score a test hundred. Yes Shahid Afridi who didn’t seem to know anything other than a cross batted heave. Just when Pakistan was running away with the match, Venketesh Prasad woke up – last 6 wickets fell for 13. We needed 271 to win, on a lively pitch, against a formidable attack, and most importantly against Pakistan. May be we weren’t expecting to bat so soon – we lost half our side before crossing 100. Ganguly was given out Steve Dunn when the ball bounced almost a twice before being caught. Sachin played like he normally does – like God. Mongia gave him company. Mongia got out. Joshi gave him company. Sachin got out. Rest of the batsmen decided to give him company – in the dressing room. When Sachin got out, we needed 17 to win. We lost by 12.
7. India Pakistan 1998-99 – those Yorkers – It was time for Asian test championship. It looked like Eden was bathing in fog. Maybe that was the reason Pakistan’s batsmen couldn’t see the ball – they were 26/6. We acted like a good host and allowed them a way-out. Chasing their 185, we were cruising at 147/1. Shoaib Akhtar produced awesome magic. We were 147/2. Sachin came to bat. Akhtar repeated his magic. We were 147/3. We got a miniscule lead in the first innings. Suddenly it became a repeat of Chennai. Anwar was running away with the match when Srinath woke up – Pakistan’s last 7 wickets fell for 54. We needed 279 to win. Our openers gave us an excellent start. Sachin came to bat and he was batting like, well, God. But what was that? He got run out in one of the strangest ways. It was that man again which caused his downfall – Shoaib Akhtar. In the series of goodwill gestures and all that, Pakistan didn’t even think about it. They were, are, and will always be Pakistan. We needed 90 odd runs with 6 wickets in hand. We lost by almost 50.
5. India – Australia 1999-2000 – when Australia slapped us thrice and all we could return was love – Three-Love. A 3-0 defeat. I had seen India winning against England and Sri Lanka by a margin of 3-0 but it was the first time I came to know how it feels to be on the other side. It looked as if India left everything to Sachin – Oh you are our captain, you do it then. All that we won on this tour was an ODI against Pakistan. Yet I took solace in Laxman’s 167 in the final test. It did turn out to be a turning point for him and India in future years. At least some positive we could take out from the royal rape.
4. India – South Africa 2000 – no longer the kings at home – When South Africa came to play us at home, I was happy – we are going to win again. I was wrong. We started in Mumbai. Sachin got a nick when he was at 75. He used to walk during those days. He didn’t. He nicked at 97, down the leg side, faint edge and he walked. So did the rest. It was 1-0. In a 2 match series. I expected a comeback in Bangalore. What I got in return was a meek surrender. In the second innings Azhar got hit on the wrists. He went back - retired hurt. He came back and scored a century in a typical Azhar fashion – classy, attacking, awe inspiring. That was the last time he batted for India in whites. He was a great batsman. Period. We lost it 2-0. Our period at home was over.
3. India – Australia 2004 – revenge of 2001 – We had made Australians eat their own medicines in 2001. They came back in 2004 to their last frontier – the so called invincible Indian fort. Sachin was injured – didn’t play all the matches. Newcomers didn’t have the stomach to fight. We lost in Bangalore. Sehwag fired in Chennai - the way he was batting on the penultimate day in Chennai, I am sure we would have chased down 220 odd on the final day. Alas, last day was washed out. Ganguly opted out at Nagpur. Not that he could have saved us there from losing but it sent lot of negative vibes. We won the final test in Mumbai. Australians, as expected, cried foul about the pitch being a dustbowl but how could they not score 104 in the 4th innings. We lost a series at home – second time in 5 years. But it could have been 2-2 if rain had not prevented play on the final day in Chennai.
2. India – Sri Lanka – the Mendis mania – Dhoni, the man with the Midas touch, opted out of the series to take rest. Sri Lanka claimed to have unearthed a bowler in Ajantha Mendis who could bowl hand grenades. They weren’t joking – Mendis was coming from army. But I laughed at their claim thinking, we are the best when it comes to playing spin. Our batsmen proved me wrong. We lost the first test by huge margin. I was shattered. Sehwag understood my pain and won the second test – on his own. But by the time third test started, looked like our batsmen had taken an anti-Mendis stand – we don’t want him to play this game. If he bowls, we will protest and rush to the pavilion ASAP. We lost the series 2-1. Sri Lanka had beaten us in the area of our strength – playing spin.
1. Yes, you are right – It’s the current series which wins the race easily, very easily. Even after we were 2-0 down, I was confident of a comeback. After all we have made comebacks even during those horrendous 90s. But last night, after seeing their batsmen enjoying a bon-fire on a pitch we found difficult to stay alive, it was the worst I have seen. It’s not the loss but the surrender that is hurting.
Hope we have touched the bottom. In last 12 years, we have always been shocked once in 3-4 years. Be it by South Africa in 1999 or by Australia in 2004 or by Sri Lanka in 2008 – we have always come back and come back strong. Maybe we are following the trend in 2011.
In last 22 years, I always kept my hopes alive. Match after match, series after series, world cups after world cup, I hoped to win. We didn’t. I still followed the game with same interest, same devotion, and same enthusiasm, relentlessly. But things did start turning after 2000. We became a top team. We won the world cup.
I know it’s tempting to give up at this hour of darkness but I won’t. As Andy Dufresne writes to Red in Shawshank Redemption – “Hope is not a bad thing”