On a blue-ish Monday morning, when you reach office with sleepy eyes, last thing you expect is to hear India reeling on a dead pitch. But the case was very much the same this morning. Every time something like this happens, especially in India where losing was out of question when I was growing, two kinds of fans start fighting inside me.
Real fan who believes we can win from any position and even if we do not, he realizes we are not good enough side to be invincible. Second one is a pseudo fan who supports the team only when it’s winning else he takes a vow – no more cricket-following from today. But ever since that March 2001 in Eden Garden, real fan has always had an edge over the pseudo one. Not that we have always come back from a losing position, we have rarely done so, but there always has been a hope since that evening of March 2001. In some remote corner of my heart, I have always had a hope that some miracle, not always cloudy, is going to turn it around for us. Tonight is no different.
This is how I remember that match.
We had lost the first match in Mumbai when Australia was 99/5 chasing our 200-250 score in first innings. Hayden and Gilchrist murdered our bowling and we continued the tradition of 90s – only SRT scored and we took solace in his innings.
Australia won the toss in Kolkata and decided to bat. Going into the last session of the day, they were in very strong position with 3 wickets down for 230 odd runs whereas I was getting ready to go back to the hostel. My train was scheduled to depart at 6:00PM and I had to start from home before 4:30 PM.
Harbhajan Singh, who had been playing as a support bowler to Kumble till now, had become India’s main spinner in Kumble’s absence. My youngest uncle, who had come to see me off, made a comment –
“Sardar’s run up is strange. He jumps like a bird before bowling. He should rather concentrate on bowling“
Sardar jumped again and Australia hopped.
Many a times. Thrice in a succession too.
They were 8 down before I boarded my train and even score of 300 was looking difficult.
So when I heard a score of 445 next day, I thought India was 44 for 5. May be considering our batting form, it would have been more believable. But we played unbelievable cricket in that match.
Anyways, next phase was believable. India was 8 down on second day and match and didn’t look like crossing the day 3.
Dinner discussions were quite action packed. Studious ones were busy discussing the syllabus, course material and the exams. They asked the score, made faces and rushed back to their rooms. I could never talk to them. Rest were busy discussing how SRT never plays when needed or he is a no match to McGrath or how Ganguly should be dumped in Hubli river or why Sanjay Manjraker went though a plastic surgery and was playing under the mask of Rahul Dravid or why should we play cricket at all. If Indian team was there, I bet they would have jumped into Ganges after hearing the most creative expletives used for them.
Three of us, yours truly and two of my batch-mates, did take part in bashing of the team. And we were very active in it. Like others, we also felt that we had done our bit after bashing session of three hours. We decided never to follow the game again. After all we had all spoiled some exams because of cricket.
Around mid night we three happen to meet again.
“What time does the match start tomorrow?” I asked.
“To hell with it. You still want to watch it?” one of them replied.
“Yeah, who cares?”
“Remember we decided – no more cricket-following from today onwards. To hell with it” one of them said.
We nodded in unison and sat down. There was a silence for 5 minutes.
“Yaar, but is it possible somehow? I mean can it happen” some voice came.
“What? We draw the match.”
“And how are we going to do it?”
“Miracle. Well you never know in cricket” I said.
“Yes. Let’s watch the first session tomorrow. Let’s see if we can cross 150”
“See. We have anyhow lost the match. So if we cross 150 tomorrow, I will take it as a victory”
“Come-on. Ok. Let’s see if Laxman can hit 2 boundaries tomorrow or if Sachin can score a 50 in second innings. If he doesn’t, we will stick to our vows.”
All three of us looked at each other and laughed.
“We can’t give up in cricket” was the consensus.
Next morning, we were the first to reach the TV room.
India did cross 150. We were happy. We were winners. At least till now.
“Haha…They are still watching. Idiots like these have turned cricketers into super stars. Go attend classes. Cricket wont take you anywhere, classes might get you your graduation degree” were the comments we got when people started coming back from classes.
We followed on. Same story but with a tinge of rose. SS Das got out hit wicket. This is the best you can do while trying to save a test match. Sachin came and hit two boundaries. If reaching 150 was victory, this was our bonus point. He left soon.
In came Ganguly and out he went. Or did he? He did not. He scored 48 and by stumps we were 254/4 with only 20 behind.
We did not move. If lunch break in the match happened between 11:30 to 12:10, we fed ourselves with breakfast as our lunch time was between 1:00 to 2:00. We took our lunch during tea time. We just didn’t move from our positions.
“Finally we managed to reach Day 4. These idiots will fold up before lunch tomorrow” was the consensus during dinner discussion.
“Can we score 20 more runs and avoid our innings defeat? If we do, this will be the biggest ever victory for us” was what we three were thinking.
We did. Australia went wicket-less in the first session.
“Can we get a lead of 100 runs? If we do, this will be the biggest ever victory for us” was what we three were thinking.
And we kept thinking. Can we take a lead of 150? What about 200? Just 50 more please. 25 more. Please.
By the evening, TV room was full. Everyone who had vowed never to watch cricket again was jumping with every run. We three, who were lying down in the TV room till two hours back, were forced to sit on single butt because of space constraints. Laxman and Dravid had done the unimaginable.
Australia went wicket-less on fourth day.
TV room was full even before the play of 5th day started. Indians kept on batting. Very same voices, who complained Ganguly of being stupidly aggressive when he made some comments about Australian team before the series started, were complaining him of being too defensive because he wasn’t declaring. He did and set a target of 384.
Just before tea, Langer hit two huge sixes and people started complaining – “Ganguly is so stupidly aggressive. What if they score 250 odd runs in the last session? We should have just batted for draw”
Something happened in the last session to Australia. As if they were tired of winning and wanted to lose for a change, they folded up worse then Indians used to do in 90s. Legendry SK Bansal raised his finger every time there was an appeal even if the only guy who appealed was the gatekeeper in the stadium.
We won. Miracle had happened. TV room, after 200 guys jumped up and down for almost 10 minutes straight, was so full of dust that visibility there was worse than it would have ever been on any of the winter mornings in Delhi.
I still took a day to digest that win. But ever since that day, whenever I see an evening like this when next day, may be even next session, seems to be bringing certain defeat and I bump into pseudo fans – I tell them how I hoped for a miracle and got one.
But tomorrow we don’t have either of Laxman or Dravid. But don’t forget that in 2001, Laxman was nothing but an innings of 167 in a lost cause and Dravid was a painfully slow batsman who always surrendered to quality Australian bowling especially Shane Warne. Everything changed after that match.
For tomorrow we have SRT, few new comers and Dhoni. But who knows what will happen after tomorrow. After all “miracle” and “impossible” have different spellings. May be the result will still be what looks to be most probable. But I will still hope. What if there is another miracle in store.