30th December, 2009: “There is the man; the man who has led his men from the front. What a phenomenal year, he has had… ”
17th December, 2012: “There is the man; the man who has led from the front. What a phenomenal start to his year.”
In these three years, Sunil Gavaskar hasn’t changed much, but his subjects have, and also has Indian Cricket’s present. Indian Cricket is being incessantly beaten up by one and all, including teams they compete against, and beaten up is just an understatement. As India entered the fourth and final test in Nagpur, apart from facing a prospective home series defeat to England after 28 years, they were also staring at a certain degree of humiliation; humiliation that was last witnessed when the English won in Delhi, Kolkata and then Chennai, during the winter of 1976-77. And then, there they were, at the geographical centre of the country, in the land of oranges and the birthplace of the RSS, hosted by a stretch of 22 yards which couldn’t have cared any less about their impending fate. A pitch that occasionally murmured into the ears of the captain of the sinking ship, “I am dead. So are you.” And the captain would just look down with a sense of “Lay down your weapons and let it be…,” a sense that seems to have been the only companion of his men and boys in their journey from being defeated to being humiliated to being plain miserable.
But seriously, how smooth or rough can the transition from men to boys be? As they approached the Nagpur test, in a move that slightly resembled an axe, the pace spearhead (now blunt), the man who sells his successful fight against cancer, and the ‘once-upon-a-time-he-was-deadly’ spinner were shown the door. A justifiably real axe would have chopped of at least two more batsmen, a wicketkeeper may be, another bowler, and probably 8 fielders from the line-up which performed (if they really did) scruffily at the Eden Gardens. But such a surgery might just be too sweeping for the same (almost) Indian team which conquered the world in both tests and ODIs, and which still contains some of the greatest and most influential players in Indian cricket’s history. But as Shakespeare’s immortal words from Romeo & Juliet go, “Breaking up is never easy, I know, but I have to go.”
“Yeh T20 hai boss. Yeh kamzoro ka khel nahin. Test mein haar mili hai, par ab bajegi unki band,” screamed Navjot Singh Sidhu
We, Indians have always been apprehensive of bidding goodbyes. The first of the Fab Four and the last one remaining had seen it all, from the birth of dinosaurs to the fall of The Wall, from Caribbean fire-spitting dragons to being castled for the umpteenth time. Yet, he stood there, soaking it up, letting it all go through him, until one gloomy Sunday morning, when he decided to let go of the pain of being “undroppable”. The man who brought life to ODIs, the game changer quit the game. How would you know, Mr. Punter, the pain of being “undroppable”? So what if the Master has averaged below 20 in the last 12 months, he shall not chicken out of tests, like you, when the team needs him. His presence in the dressing room itself can still charge up our Men in Blue. So what if they have gone on to lose 10 of the last 12 tests? So what if your team was responsible for 4 of those? So what if you were directly responsible for one of them? The Master may be hurt, very hurt, but when your ex-colleagues come to pay us a visit, he shall roar again. He will. Yes, I am sure.
No matter who says what, amidst this perceived fall of Indian cricket, I can see it rising. “Yeh T20 hai boss. Yeh kamzoro ka khel nahin. Test mein haar mili hai, par ab bajegi unki band,” screamed Navjot Singh Sidhu as Yuvraj Singh mistimed and mishit a lollypop over the ropes. For those who do not watch Star Cricket, Sidhu meant to say, “This is T20 boss. It is not for the weak-hearted. So what if we lost the Test series, now we will show them who the real boss is.” And then there was this fine Mumbai batsman, Ajinkya Rahane reasserting Sidhu’s point as he told the cricket VJ in the dugout that it is T20 cricket that tests the true class of a batsman. As the colour of the ball and the jerseys were changed, lights switched on, and concentration durations slaughtered, the men in blue suddenly found the lost zeal and passion to win a cricket match, the desire which helped them win 7 of their last 12 T20 matches, the desire which is on your face during the IPL, the same desire which has gone missing while losing 10 of the last 12 tests.
As I write this article, the on-air pundits are lauding the heroics of Yuvraj Singh in the 1st T20 against England, while the on-paper pundits are still trying to latch on to the critic in them. And by the time you read this article, India’s predicted T20 success would have relieved you of the memories of loss, new Facebook fan pages would be created, few ad deals would have been signed, the Maestro would have attended a few Rajya Sabha sessions, and few training sessions too (I guess), the Tiwarys and Badris would have rung the skipper’s phone, only to be answered by the Jadejas and Chawlas, the proposals for A-tours would have found home in the recycle bin, and the joy ride of Indian cricket would be spreading ‘cricketainment’ among the blue billion, with film stars and industrialists on the back seat, driven by the pot-bellied Santa, who also sells cement during the day. And then when the Aussies come to us to get their rears whipped, your beloved ‘God of Cricket’ shall score another century of centuries. Yes, he will, believes this fan.
Till then, A Happy New Year and mourn the death of ODIs…