I have grown up watching India getting bundled for 100 and 66 against the South African pace battery. I have endured the heartbreak of watching India collapse for 81 while chasing only 120 runs at Barbados. I have lived the agony of watching the lone warrior — Tendulkar — getting out “shoulder before wicket” when India lost the test series 3–0 in Australia. I cried when India lost to Pakistan in Chennai after Tendulkar’s valiant 136 was followed by the loss of four wickets for four runs. All this before I barely reached my teens.
Yes, things changed after that. Kolkata 2001 happened. Headingley 2002 happened. So did Adelaide 2003. We won a series in Pakistan. Then in West Indies. Things started to change but these moments were few and far in between. And SENA disappointments continued to happen. A 4–0 loss in England was followed by a 4–0 loss in Australia in 2011–12.
Nothing forms as big an impression as the pains endured in childhood. As an Indian cricket fan, I have grown up being conservative, being cautiously optimistic but ensuring I don’t get my hopes too high. I have seen enough dreams come crashing down to ensure that all those hypothetical match situations that I created in my head rarely took place and I rarely attached too much meaning to it as well.
The same hypothetical match situation took place in my head as I went to bed yesterday night. After Melbourne and Sydney I started to believe again.
Here’s how the match was played in my head yesterday night: 100–1 at Lunch. One of Gill/Rohit still there at the crease. We score at four an over in the second session and lose one or two wickets, and then 120 odd runs in the last 20 overs with Pant and Pujara still there and we have a chance!
Our generation has seen the transition from a socialist India to the new, brave authoritative India. The same is with cricket. We have started to believe we can achieve miracles. We have achieved many miracles in the last 20 years, including a World Cup win and a test series victory in Australia. But old memories have continuously propped up to find chinks in miracles. After all we are not supposed to dominate cricket.
Oh, the World Cup win was on our home ground. Oh, that test series victory in West Indies was against a team on decline. And to top it off, the series win in Australia was without David Warner and Steve Smith.
We don’t often see other countries talk like that. Australia does not belittle their wins at home like we do. New Zealand does not complain that Kane Williamson scores a lot of his tonnes at home. We do. Aussies proudly call Gabba their fortress. But our flawless test record at home in the last few years is always countered with “but what about SENA?”
This time, the hypothetical match situation in my head did come to fruition. We did score 100 at Lunch. We did score at four an over in the second session without losing too many wickets. We did bat around our man of steel, Pujara, who took at least 10 body blows, batted for more than 200 balls on the final day yet again, did all the dirty work of avoiding a collapse and let his more charismatic stroke hitters take all the glory. We did end up needing 100 runs in the final 20 overs with six wickets in hands and Rishabh Pant at the crease.
In between, the conservative in me still lurked around hoping for rain even in the middle of the second session when everything was going our way. With an Indian team — who knows! A collapse is always around the corner. Despite watching us score 300+ runs in three out the last four completed innings, including one on a 5th day, those childhood scars have still let the conservative in me live on.
Yes, as Pant and Sundar were shredding apart the bowling while reducing the target to fifteen off five overs, I was still prepared to face the worst.
Ten runs to win in four overs. Oh Sundar, why that reverse sweep!
Six runs and three overs left. Oh Shardul, why couldn’t you just take singles!
Three runs and three wickets left. Oh Pant, why getting fancy now? You do know if you get out now, we only have Saini, Siraj and Natrajan to face 20 balls? Even Harsha Bhogle exclaimed, “Oh dear, Pant! You know there are parents and grandparents watching?”
In a way, this series is a payback of years of wishing for that ‘perfect’ win. In fact, it is more than perfect. We wanted to win against an Australia with Warner and Smith after 2018–19. But to win against a full strength Australian team, with the best bowling attack on the planet, on their home ground, with us getting bundled out for 36 runs in the first test, with us losing Ishant, then Shami, then Kohli, then Umesh, then Jadeja, then Ashwin and Vihari, then Bumrah... have I missed someone? And to win the series decider with a completely new and inexperienced bowling attack, on the final day on a deteriorating pitch at Australia’s fortress Gabba, a place where Aussies had not lost for 30+ years? In the final ten minutes of the final session with the threat of rain always lurking around?
We have seen ‘Chin Music’ throughout our lives on SWENA pitches. We saw it this time as well; perhaps a lot more than what we have seen in any foreign test series before. And that’s because we didn’t surrender meekly to it but we survived it when needed and attacked it when we could. We took numerous body blows, groaned in pain, got injured, but never surrendered.
No one would have complained if we ended up at 1–1 with another blockathon like Sydney. We would still have been heroes. But even if the grown up fans are conservative, the young Indian team is full of belief. Gill and Rahane gone? Surely its time to end the chase. Pujara gone with 20 overs still remaining against the second new ball with a required rate of 5 runs per over? Surely, now we’ll not attempt the win. But we constantly went for it. And achieved the impossible.
Today, I have achieved cricket-nirvana.
Thank you Team India.