We were in our teens. We were having the best cricketing discussions of our lives. We found coolness in sky-high sixes, and conspiracies in spring-laced bats. Our idea of patriotism was to aspire gladiator wins on the toughest pitches against the toughest teams on the toughest of days. We fought on facts and statistics like seasoned fanatics. We were alive.
Time goes by and the green leaves turn yellow. As if one awakes from a long slumber – the opposite rather. There is silence now. We revel in painful and obsequious nostalgia when we ponder that none of the players who played during those days, are in the national team now. It does not even seem a day past that Yuvraj, Kaif and Sehwag were introduced as debutants in the team. So much has changed and so much has swayed past that era.
We weren’t the most dominating of sides then. Australia was a giant uncrushable wall. We were a side aspiring to keep a foothold on the big boys’ pedestal – sometimes successful and sometimes frantically collapsing to even keep two fingers on. Despite that, there was a profound connection with the people – the people who were much like the team – there was struggle, there was valour, there was respect, and there was joy in every little advantage one created, in life or on the pitch.
Whether it be that 72 run triumph which broke Australia’s 16 continuous test win spree. Or, the Natwest series finale in 2002 when Yuvraj and Kaif snatched victory from the host’s jaws and that ecstatic shirt-swinging act by Dada became a historic retaliation gesture against an arrogant English side. Or, that test match against Pakistan in which Kumble took all 10 wickets in a test inning whilst conceding only 74 runs. Who will forget the day we cried our eyes out when India lost to Australia in the World Cup of 2003 ?!
There were no IPLs then. No T20s, no spy-cams and no DRS for clinical precision of on-field decisions. Even the number of tournaments were less. But, there was this madness – to see our team perform, to see our players perform, to mirror and aspire and inspire, to see our country rise as our team rose on the field.
We are a winning team now. We have been the world’s top ODI team; we have dominated the T20 format; we have risen to the number one position in Tests. We have won and won decisively. We have thrashed the mighty Australians, the English and the South-Africans. We have won cups and trophies and leagues. We have commercialized the game. We have owned the game.
But somehow, for good or for bad, that World Cup defeat of 2003 is more embedded in my soul than these mighty series victories. A connection so strong that shattered us into bits and pieces when our team got shattered the same. I could not forget that painful night I shoved my eyes into a pillow, and cried my heart out. For hours, my face was stuck in that pillow, wet in my tears and complicit in my sobs. I still go back in time and try to imagine what it could have been?! What would have happened if we would have won that? What if this? What if that? What if? The alternate ending which plays in my mind amuses me as a child gets amused to a new unopened gift.
There is numbness now. All that remains is a shadow of our former cricket crazy selves. But legends are not made in a day. And I am still hopeful. I am hopeful for another era of Cricket – a connection so strong that we find ourselves living our past lives all over again. The way we could count the number of players and their contribution on fingers in the team of Dravid, Sachin, Dada, Kumble, Lakshman, Srinath and youngsters like Yuvraj, Kaif, Sehwag, Zaheer and Harbhajan. The way nothing was above Cricket.
But I suppose, change is inevitable.