Thursday, January 20, 2011

Ramblings of a Cricket Lover

June 25,1983- A day that will live in the history of Indian cricket forever. A day that will never be forgotten by any true cricket lover. The day when the underdogs India under Kapil Dev's captaincy, stunned the  mighty West Indians led by Clive Lloyd to  lift the World Cup at  cricket's most hallowed ground, Lords.

It  was also a date that  turned yours truly into a die hard cricket fan. I  was just a callow 14 yr old, on that epic night, but most importantly, it was the first time ever i heard every single delivery of that match on radio( we still did not have TV).  Quite often, i would see some of my friends listening intently to the cricket commentary, but could not really understand one word of it. When my friends would discuss the score with me, it was all Greek and latin, i could not make any sense of what 'b'  or 'c' meant, what was meant by 'st', and what did B-M-R-W exactly mean? Post the World Cup, i started my full fledged  journey as a cricket fan, listening to the entire India-Pakistan series and India-West Indies series on radio, and slowly making out what those little alphabets on the score sheet meant. That was the time, i also started to browse through Sportstar and loved the wonderful descriptions of the matches there. India got thrashed 3-0  in 1983 by the Windies,and the World cup euphoria was gone now.  It did not diminish my interest in cricket one bit though. For the first time we managed to get a TV in our home, and was watching the series of ODI matches between India-Australia. My friends, my uncle's friends, some of our family friends dropped in and soon our home became a mini stadium.

We began to follow the 1984-85 series between India and England even more closer. We cheered when India won comprehensively at Bombay, but  were downbeat when we lost the Test in Delhi, which seemed to be heading for a draw. We went into outrage, when Kapil Dev was dropped for the Kolkata Test, and for quite some time, Sunil  Gavaskar was public enemy No 1, among Indian fans. We watched helplessly on Pongal 1985, when Graeme Fowler and Mike Gatting ground the Indian bowling into dust at Chepauk,some one called Neil Foster, skittled out the Indian line up. But at the same time we cheered  the emergence of a new talent called Azharuddin, who with 3 consecutive 100's at Kolkata,Chennai and  Kanpur, captured every Indian cricket lover's heart with his  graceful strokeplay.  When  India won the World Championship of Cricket  in Melbourne in 85 under the captaincy of Sunil Gavaskar, in a sense it was a redemption for him, we cheered all over. When India  skittled out Pakistan for 87, who were chasing a meagre total of 125 at Sharjah, my joy knew no bounds. However that was the only time i guess I could watch India prevail over Pakistan at Sharjah.

The World Championship of Cricket  was also a revelation to me, as for the first time, i saw Channel Nine's telecast, the duck icon, the digital scoreboards, the colored clothing, the white ball, it  was a new experience, having been used to Doordarshan's  stodgy old telecast, with boring commentators, cameras that seemed to point everywhere but the action, manual scoreboards. It was a whole new world altogether. By now  i was a hard core cricket lover, I had an old copy of Wisden, which i read again and again umpteen times, and also older copies of Sportstar. I would discuss with friends about Richards, Botham, Roberts,Marshall, Lilee, Thomson, though never really got much of a chance to see the legends in action, barring Richards and Botham. The journey continued with its series of heartbreaks and joys.  I  was glued to the radio, along with my friends when Kapil hit the winning runs at Lords in 1986 against England, as we created history winning there for the first time,  most of us just teens of 16-18 years jumping around hugging each other. We had a double delight, when India won the series 2-0 in England,1986.  And yet tempered with it was that image of Javed Miandad hitting a last ball 6 against Chetan Sharma at Sharjah, for  quite some time, we could never seem to defeat Pakistan. They just seemed to win matches they were about to lose, Salim Malik, Manzoor Elahi, Wasim Akram  some one or other would come up with a blinder and steal the show. And of course watching the entire Tied test in Chennai,1986 live on TV, which had Dean Jones playing  a superhuman innings, Kapil Dev with a swashbuckler that averted the follow on, and then of course the Indian chase.

Cricket was my passion, and like any crazy fan, i went to any length to watch the action. Huddling with a crowd at the TV shops, watching the action, bunking classes to go to the public library that had a TV, dropping in at my friends home without any invite( not that they minded it though caught up as they were in the action). And yes when India won a match, would read every newspaper  available in the public library, just to relive that feeling again. The 1987  World Cup, first time it was being held jointly by India and Pakistan, and what memories.  India's last ball defeat to Australia at Chennai was heartbreaking, but we gave it back in Diwali just on Diwali eve.  Pakistan's  last over win against West Indies, Viv Richards look of disappointment, Steve Waugh's  brilliant final over vs New Zealand at Indore.  I whooped with joy when the Aussies shocked Pakistan at Lahore, but  it  was a joy short lived, when England dumped us out of the World Cup too. I still watched the final between England and Australia, with Oz winning the title, and which in a way sparked the resurgence of Australia.

The 90's and cable TV  bought a revolution in the way we watched cricket, off with DD's stuffy coverage and boring commentary. It  was the era of Star Sports,their brilliant coverage of the 92 World Cup. It was the decade when S.Africa came back into the international scene, and we got to see Donald, Kirsten,Hudson,Cronje, McMillan at their best. The 90's  was the time, when Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble, Saurav Ganguly began to emerge on the scene. It had one of the most unforgettable moments, when Prasad castled Aamir Sohail  at Bangalore in the 96 World Cup QF, and asked him to take a hike. That one single moment, wiped out all the humiliation I endured watching India losing to Pakistan regularly. I was in a hotel lobby, cheering when Rajesh Chauhan hit that six of Saqlain Mushtaq in the ODI at Karachi, making us whoop it out. It  was of course the time when we were the tigers at home, thanks to the dust bowl pitches, but pretty much lambs abroad. It was a depressing experience to watch  most of our batsmen, do the hop,step and jump when confronted with some quality fast bowling, except for Sachin Tendulkar and later on Rahul Dravid.  And yes speaking of 90's can never forget sitting up till late night, watching Sachin's Desert Storm vs Australia at Sharjah. And of course Anil Kumble's 10 out of 10 at Delhi in 1999.

But even the most ardent cricket lover, at some time faces a point, when he or she feels its worth it, to follow the game. The first such time it occurred for me was in 1999-2000, we were knocked out of the World Cup in 1999, and then the tour of Australia  was a disaster as we were thrashed horribly. Add to it,the match fixing scandal, made us lose our faith in the game itself. Was it worth it, I had wondered?  And then Eden 2001, happened, we were thrashed in the 1st Test in Mumbai by Australia, and in Kolkata i was anticipating another thrashing, and maybe another 3-0 rout by the Aussies. But then VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid together produced that magic partnership when India was asked to follow on, and then Harbhajan Singh, spins out the Aussies, and we come back from following on to win a Test, we were destined to lose. That to me was the turning point of  Indian cricket.

,  to me was the best ever decade for Indian cricket, ever since I started watching the game.  The  historic Test and ODI series victory over Pakistan in Pakistan in 2004, the way we held Steve Waugh's Aussies to a creditable 1-1 result in the Test series when all other teams travelling to Australia were regularly thrashed, our wins abroad at Headingley, Johannesburg, Perth,Kingston, Durban, Adelaide,Colombo,  the T20 World Cup win in 2007, the CB series final win in 2008, the Big 4 -Sachin, Rahul,Laxman and Ganguly's superb innings, emergence of Yuvraj, Zaheer,Dhoni, Harbhajan, it  surely  was one of the best decades for me. Of course with the highs there were the inevitable lows too, getting knocked out of the first round in 2007 World Cup, the 4-0 thrashing in S.Africa in 2006, the ugly Greg Chappel-Saurav Ganguly controversy, getting bowled out for just 100 to gift a Test to England in 2006. But then that is life, a series of ups and lows, heartbreak and joy, agony and ecstasy.