Someone give me a T-shirt which says ‘I survived the England and Australia tours’. I deserve it. And so do the countless souls who have braved the gut wrenching times that the past two tours have presented. When your team is team is performing like world champions, you can’t wait for the next match to happen. We’ll show you – yes, we will. We have the uncanny Zaheer Khan – he will make you dance to his tunes. We have the supporting cast of bowlers to die for. We have a captain who can do no wrong. We have batsmen who can butcher bowling attacks. Big Three, Big Five – heck we have the Big Eleven. Foreign shores – we are on our way. We have conquered everything in our past recently, we have proved we are good travelers outside. Win a match you ask? We will win the series – all past ills will be cured, Tendulkar’s name will go up at Lords. What can go wrong? Adrenaline clouds judgment and makes hindsight look obvious. What started off as a limp in Zaheer’s follow through after a few over and two wickets was metaphorically the hamstring injury that Indian cricket suffered with (and is still struggling with) for both the series. The chips fell apart spectacularly after that – a bowling attack without venom spent innings after innings giving away runs, and the batting attack could simply not deal with the swinging ball. Greats such as Tendulkar and Laxman were looking like schoolboys at times. Tendulkar’s 100th ton’s appearance as an albatross around his neck began in England and it threatens now to consume the twilight of his career. Dravid was to spark brilliantly in England; plowing his way at workmen centuries that weren’t enough to avert a whitewash. Yes, it was a series win after all – but not by the team that were the purported favorites. The team’s bizarre team selections were only beginning to show – taking a half fit Zaheer and a half fit Sehwag over someone will perhaps lesser talent but better physical state was a sign of times of come. The joker in the pack from the selection committee was bringing in a RP Singh to play a test match when he had just returned from consuming sufficient margaritas in Miami.
That was England, one thought. Australia would bring in different results. After all, our batsmen are lords there. Tendulkar, who was getting standing ovations in the last tour there was definite to score his ton of tons here. And in typical Tendulkar fashion, he started well in the first two matches, only to fall to his greatest nemesis – Sachin Tendulkar. That Sachin Tendulkar, who inexplicably shuts off shop mentally and treats each ball like a landmine. That Sachin Tendulkar, who allows bowlers and opposition captains to get his wicket when they are least expecting to get it. What happened to the rest, you ask? Sehwag flashed and got out, because that’s the only way we bats. Pity that all that flashing was not getting any runs. Gambhir gave good slip fielding practice. Laxman was half a second slow in his reflexes. Dravid, the great wall, gave a generation of his followers the intense heartbreaks by getting bowled again and again. The bowlers had little by way of impact and barring Kohli in the last two matches and Umesh Yadav in patches, the test series was a goner. Another whitewash. The ODIs were not much better, barring the last rather incredible chase by Kohli and India, but we would have to kid ourselves if we thought we deserved to be in the finals. A time down in the dumps, rife with internal fighting and with a captain who did not even know that India had any chance of qualification, before the Sri Lanka game was always headed home in a hurry.
Why, they ask me? My friends, colleagues, curious onlookers, once followers of cricket. Why do you still follow? I don’t have any cogent answers other than the fact that I must be a glutton for punishment. Cricket lovers – true cricket lovers, not the ones enamored by the IPL tamasha, are like that. When you have followed your team through thick and thin (mostly thin, when it came to the test arena) over two decades, you don’t abandon ship so soon. When you have followed your favorite cricketers when they turned in world-class performance year after year against great bowling attacks, and in fact have raised their level to take your team to the top of the test world, you don’t stop following them at the sign of the first leak in the boat. You sit through it – you learn that cricket, as in life, is about the ups and downs and while frustrating, it is a rite of passage to stick through it. True passion isn’t all joy, it is a sweet debilitating pain – like getting stuck on 99 centuries, lying in agonizing for that one final hurrah.