Friday, 14 March 2014

14th March 2001 : D-Day

It about 9 in the morning when I was almost ready to catch my school bus, waiting at the bus stop, winnowing in my head what to revise and what not to as I had my social science examination just about moments away. While I should have left everything and should have silently prayed a lot for myself, I actually prayed for my team, which was reeling at 254/4, teeming under the possibility of yet another massive defeat. You knew your team was in doldrums and a defeat was inevitable. You also knew Dravid and Laxman might just put off some show but you simply couldn't believe that the two men could fare well against McGrath, Gillespie, Warne and Kaspowicz together. You knew their team was indomitable after what they did in the first test and in the larger part of this one as well. You knew they can vanquish you at will, you knew they had defeated every other team in their arena and you were the only one left, already down by one in a series of 3, you just had murkiness all around the place. The same was applicable for my examination as well. I, for all that I was, got overwhelmed by the very fact that you need to study 3 books for one single subject at the meager age of 10. I knew I was a lost cause but somehow, this hope, this heretic aspirations, always seemed to get the better of Indians.

 We did that a hundred times for Tedulkar before, knowing he can't score hundreds in every match but we we still did that. Probably hope was all we had then and so did I. You simply knew in a corner of your mind that Aussies might as well wrap the match while your scuffle with the questions in the hall, but you still couldn't repudiate the possibility of a comeback. Laxman looked steady, Dravid came new. Laxman could score a 150 at max, and maybe Dravid could do the same. Mongia was obviously not someone to expect a lot from other than a score maybe. That made the possibility of escaping an innings defeat evince and maybe you could do well to draw the match. You, as a typical blinkered Indian, bungled with all the imaginary scenarios, knowing you were sure to fall. We were so crazy actually that you even expected someone like Prasad to pitch in and face some deadly blows while tarrying on. I still remember as I scoured for answers in my mind, I was more fascinated by the idea of imagining what would be happening. The paper nearly lasted for a session. In one instant, you thought of a presentation going on and on the other, what if Laxman and Dravid were still on crease. Na !! but it was too lucrative not to think of again. Somehow I barely managed to write enough to maybe pass the test, knowing that two men from my own nation might as well be writing the test of their lives. I knew very well how to wish for astoundingly chimerical things to happen but I also knew they're almost as fallible as they ever get. You knew by then, as a 10 year old, hope's good but only to the extent of it being real.

The moment I stepped out of the hall, there was an eerie sense about the school staff. People were desperate to get back at something, probably seeing the collection of papers and submitting in the office as a perfunctory thing. But, they actually wanted to do it as quickly as possible because they had something else on their minds. It was a little more than 12 and maybe the second session was about to start. I figured it out and ran towards the cabin of my school's guard, who housed a good old crown tv set in his cabin and with the match being broadcast on Doordarshan and with our school being a kitten's whisker away from the PitamPura TV tower, that's all you needed to see the match. I was perplexed to see Dravid and Laxman walking out, as if it was the beginning of the day. The score surely got up by around a hundred but for some reason, it was hard to believe we didn't lose a wicket in that session, in the first session, common, you gotta be kidding me. Well, it was just the beginning!

I rushed back to the school bus, waiting to leave for our homes, with the FM gold tuned in for all of us to relish the commentary. Nothing much happened for a few typical Laxman drives, which radio guys couldn't described all in the same manner and that too in archaic Hindi. I desperately craved to get back and see it on our TV. I knew I just had a one day break before the next paper, another horrendous one, and folks at the home weren't really going to allow me to watch the match for more than an hour maybe. But that hour was all I needed. I just wanted to see how you could bat against a scathing bowling attack, ball after ball, over after over and now even taking the attack on them. Maybe the inimical and inimitable Australian bowling attack could be sustained. It was hard to believe but maybe there was an answer. The bus left me at the stop, and I hurried my way across the shops that came in middle. The way people were ensnared by the glare of their TV sets or by the sounds emanating from the radios, it seemed as if we were having an ODI against Pakistan. But maybe the enigma of being back, something we seldom did, an that too against the mighty Aussies and that too when we had already lost Tendulkar. It was baffling. What's more baffling was to see all the folks at the home being glued at the screen, and allowing me to join them immediately. No one noticed I came back from an exam and hence no questions on how it went. My lucky day !

And then, over after over, the two men and their partnership, which was the only one I got to witness as a child after seeing those of Ganguly and Tendulkar, Jayasurya and Kaluwitarna and Gilchrist and Hayden in ODIs and Kirsten and Hurdson in tests, grew more formidable. With due fairness to the Australian attack, the men tried everything possible, but the Indian men, went building on. Cover drives, hook shots, classic defenses, straight drives, you witnessed all of them and finally, you got a moment to savor. Laxman made a double. Doubles weren't as commonplace as they are today, not for India by any margin. I remembered Siddhu scoring one in '97 but this one, right here against the Aussies, right in the middle of such a scorching situation. It was temerity to think it was real but it was. And Dravid too was as strong as he could get, slowly and slowly assuming the primordial role in the partnership as Laxman looked languished. You had to look at the Australians. They looked poignant. It was as hard to believe for them as it was for us. Commentators had already started talking of this becoming the best and the most historic partnership and Laxman's chances of getting past Gavaskar's sacrosanct 236. For a generation that rarely saw Indian's getting to 200, you prayed every ball to make sure the men don't make a baloney by hitting one wrong short. Our batsmen were a little too used to doing that. But these two, they looked different for a reason. 


It became a rule of the day. Bowlers switching among themselves and our two men literally bashing them on. Lassitude and fatigue seemed to be missing for the day, for the batsmen ad bowlers alike. Aussies bowled their heart out. Perhaps Dravid and Laxman were carrying a benison of sorts. Your apprehensions and negativity suddenly changed to a sanguine attitude. Instead of silently accepting the fact that one session is all Australia needed to wrap up, you know started to silently believe that the men will not get wasted till the end of the day. What was to ensue later on, was not even something worth considering. You didn't have enough mental capacity left to consider any more possibilities after all your estimates went awry and probably for the first time, hope got the better of you. Laxman did break Gavaskar's record, Dravid did go on and the men did end the day, spending one entire day, being down and out till then, and then literally changing the game from thereon.

We started at 254/4 and ended at 589/4. After having seen yourself jump in joy whenever India touched the occasional 400 in a test, this score ad that too with 6 wickets still in hand, was bemusing. This was blitzkrieg in every sense. Two men who not only sustained but added 300 odd runs in a day. All our hitherto innings defeats and 10 wicket defeats we suffered at the hands of the leading 2-3 teams, were now history. We were sure to get a draw but what happened on the day, inundated with an intriguing sense of hope. Bhajji was doing well till then, so suddenly you thought, what if we topple the Australian fortress. For the first time actually, you started viewing the possibility of Indian performing as a team. You were not buttressing individuals, you saw belief in a group of players doing it for the country. Probably for the first time, the rutted dictum of nothing is impossible actually struck me. Two men, a part of a team that had the inveterate desire of falling like a house of cards, changed not just the match but the entire game forever. Bhajji did strike as you thought and India did go on to win the match and surprisingly even the series. We became the bulwark that stopped the Aussie global domination tour on their face. Waugh's supremacy and claim as a captain who could defeat every nation in their own Colosseum, was extirpated. We now had stars in the form of Dravid, Laxman and Bhajji. You now had more heroes to look on to after the others. But more importantly, you now had a team to entrust with your hope. You actually started believing in the concept of a team, concept of resilience, of partnership. The ideals of staying on, fighting even when the odds are stacked against you, became deeply ingrained and imbibed. You now genuinely believed in hope and the miraculous powers it possesses. You were too small to know it was the men themselves and not your hopes that saw India steer to victory, but maybe crores of people hoping together might have worked in their favor. 

I saw the entire match thereby curtailing the amount of time I could study. However, the impact that the supposedly startling victory has had on me, was good enough to make my spirits fly. I was so happy and so elated that I literally nailed the examinations. For the first time, your blatantly skewed imagination was manifested in reality. You always craved to see an Indian reaching near 300 and the Indian team defeating the narcissist Australians. That one day, gave all that I needed to genuinely believe in believing. Believing is the key. That one day, 13 years back, I thanked god for making the game of cricket. India took over cricket since then and we had a similar day at the celebrated finals of the Natwest series in '02 but if there was one day that literally transformed the way I looked at cricket, and specially test cricket, it was 14th of March 2001. I so very wish I could live it again.