It could be considered a waste of nine days of letting my systems power down for about four hours a day. It could even be considered that it was a bad deal if I had to resort to injecting myself with copious amounts of caffeine to fight the temptation to catch some shuteye in meeting rooms and to up the volume on the car stereo to avoid testing a driverless car without the self-drive capabilities. To watch the inevitable unfold, just as it has so many times on overseas tours and to wonder if there is any point to it as a loud ad irritates your senses for the 140th time as you hear the sound of the newspaper landing at your door.
Who would enjoy watching the team they support being trampled over and at the same time invite the ire of family for looking like a zombie through that period? For over a decade I have had my reasons. None of them were to do with watching the Indian cricket team perform. What was it about then?
It was about watching cricket in its natural habitat. Technically, the home of the sport lies in a bunch of old, at times rickety stadiums built around tradition-steeped grounds in Western Europe where one finds geriatric ‘members’ drooling onto their ties as they sleep in the middle of enthralling sessions of cricket. But for me its soul resides in the set of grounds that have bred pitches that have always been decisive in their nature – hard and bouncy or crumbling and turning, rarely indifferent and slow. Surfaces that support batsmen with decisive footwork and bowlers who can bend their backs.
It was about sporting crowds. Capacity crowds for test matches. The facilities such that spectators come to relax and take in good cricket. Raucous support for the home team, but genuine appreciation for the opposition. Even some cheers when the visiting team shows some spirit to stage a comeback. Standing ovations for truly great performances, irrespective of team. These are the hallmarks of the crowds in a country where sports are very much a part of daily life and not just a means to a borrowed sense of achievement.
It was about the DNA of playing the sport. It is a human trait to withdraw into yourself at the appearance of a threat. While most line-ups ‘consolidated’ after the fall of quick wickets, these blokes attacked. While most fielding sides looked rudderless when faced with high-quality batsmen on song, they regrouped and set attacking fields.
And it was about the rare individual performance. The odd hour or even session maybe where the Indian team would match the Aussies, punch for punch. Be it a Tendulkar rearguard (of that there are many) or a fine spell of quick bowling from an Indian new ball bowler. The genuine applause reminding you that sport is as much about temperament as much about skill. The 03-04 series does not count as much because, and I’ve said this in a previous post, it was more an extended farewell party for Steve Waugh.
Not any more. In the last five days at the SCG, the Indians matched the Aussies in every way possible. Instead of frittering away advantages by playing circumspect and diffident cricket, they wrested initiatives and made things happen when none looked like happening. In spite of obvious shortcomings on bowling and fielding, they went toe to toe with Ponting’s team and scrapped. The men around the bat even when the batsmen were well past their fifties, the radical fields (all off-side for Hayden) that stifled the flow of runs for a significant period. India’s game-plans all but thwarted the Aussie plan to pile on the runs and declare with time to bowl India out. With some luck with umpiring, there would have been a much larger first innings lead and a much smaller 4th innings chase. Luck can not detract from a lion-hearted effort by the entire team. Now that’s a performance.
Now, it is also about watching the Indian team perform…