Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Australia!!!

Australia - the land of commodities i.e. the iron ores, the coals, and the BHP Billiton’s of the worlds. Australia - the land crowded with 2.25 billion people, an amount similar to what we add every year or an amount much lesser than what Mumbai holds. Australia – where 80% of the population resides on less than 20% of the land. Australia is perhaps only country in the world where different states are separate by straight lines.

Australia – where almost everything is grand in size be it size of the country itself, people or the grounds. Some of the Australian grounds are so big that sometimes fielders pray to god “Hope it crosses the boundary line else they will run five”. And cricket, cricket is hostile, competitive and a treat to watch – thanks to channel 9. Cricket means bowlers hurling hand grenades at our batsmen, batsmen pounding millions of runs against our bowlers and their fielders grabbing at everything which passes within 20 meters of their vicinity. If cricketing excellence isn’t enough, there is sufficient “having a go at each other which keeps the game away from being dull” sugarcoated in form of mental disintegration. Like the most permanent thing in life – change, some of them have changed over the year. Or maybe lots of them have changed during last three years.

However, come an Australian tour and mind goes back to the memories of getting up early in the morning as sun rises there few hours before it rises here, covering yourself in the blankets before switching on the TV as we normally play there in December-February period. Normally it’s fun unless your team isn’t badly mauled by Australians – watching the picturesque Australian grounds further beautified by channel 9 cameras while enjoying the winters. Here is how I remember our Australian tours –

1991-92, the half a decade long tour – We travel to Australia with probably the best batting line up in the world, on paper that is. In Tracer bullet and Cheeka, we have a perfect mix of defense and aggression. We have a future star in Sanjay Manjrekar, hero of Mecca Dilip Vengsarkar, magician of wrists Azhar and child prodigy Sachin. We bat deep. Our bowling is a worry though. We play 5 tests, possibly 10 ODIs in B&H cup and in the best case scenario, 11 ODIs in the WC92.

We lose in Brisbane. We lose in Melbourne. 2-0 down in a 5 match series isn’t the best of starts.

Come year 1992 and we decided to fight back in Sydney. Tracer Bullet scores a double hundred. Sachin scores an unbeaten 148. Australia is playing a blonde and round leggie who has come with a big reputation. He scores a 150 too albeit while bowling. Sydney is supposed to be spinner’s paradise in Australia. Australia has to bat out on day five pitch to save the match. Our spinners are going to bundle them out for nothing. But do we have spinners? Holy cow, we are playing 4 pacers, in Sydney, on a pitch full of cracks. Our only spinner is Tracer Bullet who takes 4 for 45. In desperate need to bowl spin from both ends, even Manoj Prabhakar bowls a few overs of spin. Border and McDermott save the test. We manage a moral victory. 

We move to Adelaide, the batsmen’s paradise in Australia. Australians are surprised when they are asked to bat on such a supposedly benign track. They are so surprised that they get bundled out for 145. We surprise them by getting bowled out for 225. Sanity prevails. Australians score big in their second innings. We need 338 to win in 4th innings and manage to lose by 38. Azhar, the man with magical wrists, scores a wonderful century. Series score line reads 3-0.

We move to Perth for final rituals and lose. Michael Whitney takes a career best 7/27. Sachin scores his one of the best centuries and shows he has it in him – the fire inside to fight the fury. By the way, we did play a specialist spinner in pacers paradise called Perth. Maybe we compensated for Sydney.

We somehow manage to reach the finals of B&H cup. Australia scores a tad over 200 in the first final. We are almost sure to win thanks to snail-paced innings by Tracer Bullet and scintillating half century by Sachin. We need 20 of 18. Sachin gets out and sets a trend for the rest of the decade – if he cannot win it for us, we cannot win it. At one point of time we need 14 of 10 with two recognized batsmen at the crease. We lose.
WC92 arrives. We win our world cup i.e. the match against Pakistan. Pakistan wins the real world cup. Thank god the tour is over.

1999-2000, the massacre – We travel to Australia with a completely new set of batsmen, barring Sachin. Problem begins there itself. Barring Sachin no one looks like competing.
Adelaide – Sachin scores a half century in the first innings and a shoulder-before-wicket dismissal in the second innings. Agarkar scores 19 in the first innings. That remains his only score in the test series. He scores a golden duck in the second innings. We lose.

Melbourne – Sachin scores a century in the first innings and a half century in the second innings. We lose. Agarkar collects a king pair.

Sydney – Sachin fails. We lose. Agarkar misses the king pair this time by surviving his first ball in the second innings he gets out in the second innings. He is named Bombay duck now. But just before we lose, we see a glimpse of our future. VVS Laxman leaves Australians gasping. He leaves all of us agape. He leaves Australians chasing the leather. He leaves all of us lauding his efforts. His 167 in Sydney is the best I’ve seen any Indian play in Australia – I didn’t see Sachin’s 114 in Perth-92. Series reads 3-0. Some say - winning doesn’t always matters, competing does. We do neither – win or compete.

We do ourselves a favor by not making it to the finals of B&H cup. What is the point in playing 2 extra matches in the finals and getting beaten in an insulting manner? We win a match against Pakistan and come back happily. That remains our only victory on the tour. We are actually happy to come back.

2003-2004, Adelaide – First time in my cricket viewing career, I can say with some confidence that we have a team which can compete. Australia is missing Warne, courtesy some banned drugs mistakenly given to him by his mom, and McGrath. Yet, Australians are Australians. Steve Waugh is determined to avenge the shattering of his dreams of winning the final frontier in 2001. He threatens of chin music. We all are worried for dada.

Brisbane – Chin music begins. But before that, Z roars. We come back to chin music. Bengal tiger roars. We avoid defeat. After ages, we will be going undefeated in the second test of a foreign tour. BTW, Bombay duck breaks the sequence of ducks – he scores a few.
Adelaide – Australia scores 558. India is reeling at 85 for 3. Someone reminds Dravid of Eden2001 – how he helped India winning from a position of complete discomfort. But there he had VVS for company. Here he is batting with Dada. “Get lost Dada, I want my favorite partner to bat with me” he says and runs out Dada. We are 85/4 now. VVS joins Dravid. They start the magic. They bat, bat and bat. VVS goes. Dravid continues. India fall short of 558 by 20 odd runs. Bombay duck wakes up. He takes his revenge. Australia collapses. We need 220 to win. Australia keeps making our life difficult. But they just cannot cross the Wall. I will never forget that cut shot, realization that it is going for four, that taking the cap out and lifting of those hands. Wall you beauty.

Melbourne – I get up late and run towards the TV room in my hostel. I am in for a shock – we have scored 120 odd without loss in the first session. “Footwork my foot” is the headlines in one of the newspapers after Sehwag scores a scintillating 195. Fresh from the victory in Adelaide and 249 for one on day one in Melbourne – it’s a recipe for a series win is what I think. I am outthought. We lose. 1-1 it stands before we move to Sydney.

Sydney – Sachin’s cover drives have been failing him till now. He decides to chuck them. Chuck them he does - 241 to Sachin, without cover drives, 704 to India. Australians are tottering in reply. It’s down to Katich and the tail-enders now to save Australia. We resort to our favorite strategy of “Let the better batsman breathe easy and target tail-enders”. As expected we fail. Australia avoids follow-on. They need to bat out the last day. Bowlers keep creating chances. Parthiv Patel keeps fluffing them. Steve Waugh shows what he has been all these years. He walks out of the ground and cricket but not before saving the match. 1-1 it is.

We compete better than our last two outings in the triangular ODI series. Yet we lose the finals. But overall, this has been the best tour so far. I will never forget that cut shot, realization that it is going for four, that taking the cap out and lifting of those hands. Wall you beauty.

2007-2008, controversies – We land in Australia and go straight to Melbourne to play our first test. Story resorts back to what happened in 90s. We lose. We lose badly.

We move to Sydney. Things change. Australia is tottering before Steve Bucknor fails to hear an edge which is heard in even West Indies. May be he should have been in West Indies. Symonds rocks. Australia scores a decent score. India begins its reply. Sachin scores a ton. Harbhajan and Symonds fight. Harbhajan scores a 50. India gets a slim lead. But we bat last. And our batting doesn’t last. We need to survive 12 balls with three wickets in hand. We lose them all to a part timer, the same part timer who turned the match on its head in Mumbai-2004. Hell breaks loose after this match. But that does not happen because of cricket.

Perth – Australia have won 16th tests in a row. Last time they tried winning 17th in a row, Eden 2001 happened. This time Australians are going to play in their own den, on their ground which has been an unassailable fort for ages. It’s Perth. Australians say they will beat us in 4 days. After all it’s supposed to be the fastest wicket on planet. Their new opener, Chris Rogers, suggests otherwise – he says we will be beaten in 3 days. Chin music begins. Yet we manage a decent lead in the first innings. Australia bat last. They need 414 to win. Pathan makes sure their openers remain a formality. In comes Ricky Ponting – the man at the peak of his powers. A rookie pacer is bowling to him. He bowls a sharp in-cutter. Ponting is beaten. The rookie does it again. Ponting is beaten again. It continues. At one point of time, Ponting looks ashamed to be at the crease. It’s like David dictating terms to goliath. This spell must be one of the best. Finally Ponting’s agony ends and he falls. So do Australians. 2-1 it is now.

Adelaide – We manage a draw. Sehwag makes a comeback. We lose the series by 2-1. It could easily have been 2-1 in our favor but Steve Bucknor and his colleagues had other ideas.

Finally we manage to win the triangular ODI series and salvage lot of pride.

I must admit, for the first time we look to have our chances better than Australians. But I thought so for the England tour as well. You all know what happened there. I don’t remember it. I hope this Australian tour does turn out to be a memorable one.