ByÂ Sunil Karthik:
An epic meets its end. Indians overpowered Aussies’ outfit to erase the name ‘Australia’ off the records in the Semis phase of the WC 2011. A well-executed Indian innings, with three half centuries and the concluding stand of Yuvraj-Raina withstanding the pressure, pulled the result in the favor of a cricket fanatic nation. We now stand at the verge of new frontiers for ourselves, a triumph which can place the cricketers just next to the Gods. But all this hope rises from the ashes that we burnt — ‘Australia’.
It had been 12 years since they won their first World cup of the Hat-trick. 12 years of dominance. 12 years of grandeur. 12 years of defining the style in which a Champion team plays. The era of invincibility which was marked by habit of terminating a test match just within 3 days to sign off with a win, numerous white washes, sending a chill through the spine of the opponents by their own style of taking charge of the play. Records like 16 successive wins in tests (Not once but twice!) and 21 for ODI’s, back-to-back Champions of the Champion’s trophy; numero uno at the rankings for a decade just add to the testimony of the era. The unmatched caliber and dedication of the team to the sport of cricket gave a new dimension to the word of ‘Dominate’ or ‘Attack’ in the cricketing circuits.
The last three World Cups showcased the ultimate supremacy you would ever come across by a team. Every final ended as mere one-sided match. I still remember when Gilchrist and McGrath sent out clear indications of whose hands are going to be on the Cup in their very first overs of the innings when I was glued to the TV for the first time ever with thousands of prayers in my heart. Gilchrist going on all cylinders, firing on the other occasion at the Caribbean isles is still in the nightmares for the Lankans. No country has ever matched the feat even in the FIFA World Cup. Since Steve Waugh’s men began the dynasty in 1999, the football title has changed hands four times: from France to Brazil, then Italy and now Spain. Winning one world tournament is exceedingly difficult, let alone three in successions.
There were few equally great failures as well, the loss of Border-Gavaskar trophy, the Ashes on home soil, the T20 finals against the English, only to make their return a bigger threat to the contesting teams. And I must agree, India and England played a dominant role in making them look vulnerable during the period.
The fairy tale was scripted by the likes of Adam Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden, McGrath, Shane Warne, Justin Langer, Jason Gillespie, Damien Martyn, Andrew Symonds and the man who stood for the team as the leader, taking the cue from Steve Waugh– Ricky Ponting — the only survivor from where it all started. The expertise of these men made the side a connoisseur of modern cricket. Batting, Bowling or Fielding — They were the indomitable genre. Only two options were left for the competitors — ‘Inspire or Envy’. In the course of time, they had fallen from the summit, only as if to complement the departure of these heroes.
Ricky Ponting, a captain who is not universally loved but that is what makes him a cricketer. Only motivation behind his cricket was a logical one — Win. From the context of Quarter finals, he is a tragic hero. Lost much of his form since last 18 months, but delivered when it really mattered for his team, not with commanding stroke play like the one in WC2003 finals, but masterful nonetheless. Played late, watched the ball to come over and worked it into the gaps. The man who was at the heart of their World Cup dominance made the strongest fight. But at the end it was futile attempt in his last World Cup innings. Apart from his personal imbalanced image, the game he played was an inspiring tribute for his team; standing just next to Sachin in many records of the game and the greatest Australian batsmen since Bradman. Even the way he fields at the covers at this age of 36 is highly remarkable. When asked if he was a tragic hero at the post match press conference, he replied “I honestly don’t know how to answer that, I’m a tragic hero? I don’t feel much of a hero at the moment, I must admit.” He is now free from the shackles. Free from expectations of winning the next Ashes or fourth consecutive World Cup. And the time arrived where he must step down to make way for the next-gen in order to retain dignity without inhaling the drug of leadership.
A line goes to say — ‘The image of bleeding Brett Lee — He dived in vain on the ropes to prevent a Yuvraj boundary — convey the sort of night it was for the Aussies’. Yeah, that was how they love the game and accomplished the greatness. (When the match reached the climax, there was a background score for this team running through my head for few moments, the same as the one that comes when the NÃ¡vi tribe is attacked by humans in the film Avatar, making me forget which team I am exactly rooting for!) Despite the result of the match, Ricky and Lee emerged to be the heroes.
Why am I so much in praise of this yellow outfit? When I look back, my interest in following the game was accompanied by their uprising, growing up along with their magnificence at the ground. Witnessed their spectacular legacy in every rise and fall. I surely had not seen the golden ages of the Windies in the early 70â€²s and 80â€²s as they describe so, but I had given a thought maybe it was just like this. Sledging was part of their game, only to enrich the quality of victory of the opponents when they had the final laugh in a match. May be it had spanned just a little more than a decade but they defined to me what is the style to play it to be acclaimed as a ‘Champion’. When you come across such dictatorship at the field, you definitely lose interest to follow their matches at some point of time because they are not our home side to cheer for. Same happened with me, and now when they make an early exit from where they stood invincible, It sounded a bit harsh to evoke an empathy towards them. While I’m no one in the picture and had got this feeling, I can understand the emotions behind Ponting’s devastation, emotions of every other cricketer who made the era possible and thousands of back home who witnessed the days of glory. But I can say one thing for sure, the Aussies were not overtaken in the race, they just applied their brakes inevitably when their heroes left. And this tempted the opponents to accelerate. All I can now do is wait and see as who reaches the benchmarks set by these legends. Of course, I’d love to see my own country achieve that.
The sun shone bright but it has to set. The mighty Aussies, too, relinquish their hold on World Cricket. It all started with a World Cup and ends with a World Cup. Perhaps, it was a poetic representation of time that things come in a full circle. Take a Bow, Mates!
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