The Border Gavaskar series between India and Australia are always marked by a series of verbal volleys, something the Aussies politely disguise as mental disintegration. Much of it has been quelled by Rahul Dravid’s Bradman oration.
Mental disintegration worked when Australia had a battery of immortals to back their talk. The Indian Summer of 2001 reversed the tide, when an unassuming VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid rewrote Indian cricket history. For many years, an Indian win in Australia was always regarded a bonus, not something even a true fan would have denied. The 2003-2004 series, though partly overshadowed by Steve Waugh’s swansong, was the first well fought series played on Australian soil. It gave us the enduring image of Rahul Dravid pumping his fists in the air after winning the Adelaide test.
After India conceded the trophy in 2005, the 2007-2008 series was labelled as a clash for the throne. Instead, what transpired went beyond the limits of the code of conduct. The Sydney test match saw the Aussies disintegrate and stoop to unseen levels to claim victory. Steve Bucknor’s prowess as an impartial umpire was put to the test (one which he thankfully didn’t pass). But the ultimate blot was the claims of racism that almost derailed the series. In my opinion, if a man of honour like Anil Kumble wasn’t around leading his wards with his own exemplary example, the test series may have very well been derailed.
Though the series saved itself, it couldn’t save the careers of two of monkey gate’s key perpetrators. 4 years later, Andrew Symonds finds himself in the deplorable world of reality television. Where he once shared the stage with legends and terrorised bowling attacks, his own fall from grace must be as incomprehensible to him as it is to us. Harbhajan Singh’s journey from whiz kid to discard has been a torturous one, something he has only himself to blame for. If India hadn’t won the Perth test, it would have no doubt been one of cricket’s most disgraceful series.
Any series is a legend waiting to be written. But more often than not, the legends that are written are not the ones we expect, or even anticipate. Sport should surprise you, shake you from the humdrum of existence and cause you to look in awe at what just transpired. No one in their wildest imagination would have predicted an Indian victory in Kolkata 2001 or even imagined that one of test cricket’s greatest innings would be played just as Steve Waugh had called for champagne, presumably in anticipation of victory. No one woke up on a cold November day 2 years back and thought it would be the last time Anil Kumble would don his well worn Indian cap. Even an Indian supporter would have wished for Steve Waugh to end his career with a 100, but he fell short of it by 20 runs in the last innings he ever played.
Victory at Perth was the domain of the Australians until the Indians channelled all of their anger and misgivings to rewrite this myth. The events that preceded the victory afforded the encounter the status of some sort of a justice match, if there ever was one.
And now, the world waits for Sachin Tendulkar to put all anxieties to rest by scoring his 100th 100. It was suppose to occur at England, but didn’t. What occurred was, in Rahul Dravid’s words, an aberration. It maybe a fallacy to presume that this maybe the last series that Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Sachin Tendulkar play in, but this time, the threat appears real. It was thought that their last tour to Australia in 2007-2008 would be their final stand, but not quite. Immortals aren’t meant to age. They always have fire for one last punch up, but even that fire will run out. It is a time when the mind must concede with the body.
Player’s like these are the true ambassadors of the game. It is their resolve, character and integrity that will stand the test of the ravages of time, sloth and greed. Their first mission will not just be to mesmerise, but erase the memories of 2008, where bad blood spilled over from the field to commentary studios and to the streets. It is these men that will help a youngster regain composure, whose words will strike a cord even amongst the most rebellious, and whose very presence will infuse a dressing room with hope, even when victory is nowhere in sight.
So let the series play out itself. Let Sachin's ton come at the opportune time, and preferably on an afternoon when we are curled up on the couch. And may it lend itself to a contest worth revisiting 50 years hence.
Without creating any ghosts for someone to slay the next time around.