How the Southern Hemisphere was Won
It’s the start of a new year. 2012. Despite a Boxing Day drubbing at the hands of Pattinson, Hilfenhaus and Siddle- a trio whose names don’t really strike fear into the hearts of anybody the same way Warner, McGrath and Lee or Holding, Garner & Marshall do, my hopes are up for an improbable comeback. It’s perhaps the folly of a youthful cricket fan, somebody who had not lived long enough to see the dark days of tuning into a CRT television to see one man carry the team or witness an army of trundlers get smashed all around the park. A young boy like me was born into a more prosperous decade, not without its heartbreaks but if you were to roll back the years, you’d get higher tallies of ‘Ah we had some class players back then’ rather than vexing queries of ‘How did Raman Lamba play four tests for India?’.
It’s the start of the second test. Gautam Gambhir edges one to Clarke in his third ball. A minor fightback by Tendulkar and Dhoni follows but 191 is quite meager. On the contrary, it’s the ball that does the bite. Zaheer rattles the top order, leaving them languishing at 37/3. The job is hardly done because this is Australia, a team whose golden era deserves plaudits, not because of their sheer dominating record but because of the psychological trauma they induced on opposition bowlers by launching Adam Gilchrist at number 7.
Ponting and Clarke bat out the day comfortably. The next day the runs don’t seem to stop. Clarke eventually piles on his first triple century ever, an innings that I would begrudgingly add to the finest knocks I have ever seen, had it not made my waking up at 5 AM a soul-crushing experience.
We eventually go on to lose the test and are whitewashed in the series, overpowered in every way possible. The 11/12 series, more than any other has given birth to a memory I still associate with the Down Under tours. Wake up early despite your body and mind urging you not to go through the humiliation again, muster the courage to watch their batsmen carve out personal milestones, witness Daddles the Duck rolled out for almost half our batting lineup and ponder about the fact that if our bowlers were 6'4', maybe they could have been more effective. Okay maybe it isn’t just a memory.
Most Indian fans would want to forget ’07, as it was a terrible cricketing year in general for the nation and Monkeygate coupled with dodgy catches did not help. A third test comeback spurred on by R. P. Singh and Irfan Pathan would go in vain as Adelaide turned out to be a battathon, with 500+ scores in the first two innings ensuring nothing but a mind-numbing draw. Still, it feels refreshing to occasionally go back and watch that spell by Ishant to Ponting at Perth, with the added knowledge that he isn’t a meme anymore but a mainstay of our test bowling attack. Okay, maybe he is both.
2014 was more heartbreaking. A 242/3 to 315/10 collapse while chasing 364 at Adelaide, despite heroic knocks from Vijay and Kohli, with the latter mustering a century in both innings and truly marking his arrival in the land of the Southern Cross. The only upside to the defeat was that it seemed like the Karn Sharma experiment would only be a short term one. The rest of that series, in my head remains a testament to Steve Smith’s ability to test my patience before I would finally curse at the TV screen in hushed tones. As somebody who was skittish at the budding career of a Jamshedpur boy who was bowling 145 km/ph regularly, the agony of regular centuries cut even deeper. But despite the demolitions, Smith certainly was an inspiration to my younger self, a kid whose batting technique, according to my coach bordered somewhere between ‘unconventional’ and ‘I think he should pick up pace bowling’.
Which brings us to the miracle of today, or rather the miracle that has been setting itself up for a month now.
Years from now, skeptics on both sides will surely call out this victory as something which came against a lesser Australian team. No doubt. Take away the two talismanic batsmen of a team, one being the best in the world — they are bound to struggle. Few would certainly point out Justin Langer’s bewildering team selections to be a decisive factor. But a victory as comprehensive as this has no place in being remembered as something that was gifted to us from the fallout that emerged courtesy of a wily cameraman’s telephoto lens at Cape Town, or Glenn Maxwell’s inability to be one of the boys.
Heartbreak in South Africa and England had probably prepared most fans for another one of Ravi Shastri’s inscrutable press conferences, where he would do everything but take responsibility. But it wasn’t so. A chase shepherded by the Aussie lower order was an invitation for Sam Curran and Adil Rashid to keep living in the heads of Indian fans, rent-free. But it wasn’t so. If a butt-clenching victory in the first test wasn’t something that the doctor ordered, the switch to original programming was soon made- a well-fashioned collapse in the second. A roller-coaster of a test to retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy soon followed. Pat Cummins, not content with a 6-fer to keep Australia in the game launched a futile assault of cover drives and s̶t̶r̶a̶i̶g̶h̶t̶ bisexual drives. Now as somebody who had more or less seen the meek highs and crippling lows of overseas tours, a series draw wasn’t a ludicrous suggestion. Little did I know that a sturdy rock from Rajkot had other plans. We were 2–1 up and had scored 600+ in a game that would now have little bearing on the result of the series. Two months ago I would have probably said that Chain Kulii Ki Main Kulii was more realistic.
Despite the doubtful suffixes that might follow a revisionist telling of this series, make no mistake — This never has and never will be an ordinary victory. It might not have come against that squad but its roots lies in a thirst that was born from competing against them. A thirst that exacerbated itself with every humiliation and every near-miss, until it fell into the hands of a madman called Virat Kohli and his tenacious army. An army who didn’t just bring hollow, good-natured ribbing but the tactical prowess to mystify their opponents as well. Now it won’t just be scattered instances of individual brilliance to provide some respite in the face of repeated maulings.
A 71 year old fortress has been breached. It’s now time for a chirpy babysitter to have his moment in the sun.
This means more.