Sunday, January 11, 2004


It was a series that was marked by battles of epic proportions. Defying all odds, Sourav Gangulyís team performed like never before. Its grit, tenacity and the ability to stay focused won accolades from all over the world. Team India, it seems, has arrived , and how! Ashwini Bhatnagar dwells on the pride of this arrival

THERE is no better sight in the world than seeing Virendra Sehwag cutting loose from the word go. There is nothing more delectable in the world than watching VVS Laxmanís wristy stroke play. There is nothing in this world to match the Great Wall that Rahul Dravid is. There is no compare to the Little Master, Sachin Tendulkar, in this world. Sourav Ganguly is the most delightfully elegant stroker of the leather in the world. And of course, there is none to hold a candle to the genius of Anil Kumble and the bravado of Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Irfan Pathan, Akash Chopra, the Diminutive Man with a Huge Heart ó Parthiv Patel. In other words, there is no better sight in the world than Team India in full flow. It is as classic as it can get.

Statistics never tell the full story, nor can they convey the warmth that performances create in the heart of a game lover. They also cannot articulate the depth of emotion that surfaced when the Indians beat the mighty Australians on their soil after a gap of 22 years. To say that it was an Ďhistoricí occasion would be saying it blandly, for each wicket and each run produced its magic that will remain etched in the memory of those who were fortunate enough to see the match as it was being played out.

As in every game, so in cricket. You win some matches and you lose some. Though this four-Test series in Down Under saw its wins and losses, it would stand out for many years to come as the toughest ever played by any side, specially the Australians. And the image that will stay forever in the minds of Indian cricket lovers is the sustained aggression shown by our boys even in the hardest of hours and cruelest of moments. This, to many a mind, is the biggest success that India has won for itself ó the teamís aspiration could not be thwarted; its spirit could not be cowed down. It demolished Australia mentally.

The farewell series for legendary Steve Waugh was initially billed to be a sweet walkover for the Australians. They had expected soft opposition from a side that they had badly mauled during the World Cup finals in March last year. Brett Lee, it was believed, would continue to terrorise young Indian hearts with his awesome pace while the batsmen of the likes of Hayden, Gilchrist, Waugh, Ponting et al would demolish the fare being offered by the bowlers on Australiaís own turf. After all, Australia has been known to finish Test matches in three days flat!

But ĎGodí Dravid willed otherwise. Except for the first innings of the first Test in which he made just one run, he piled up scores that will go down the annals of cricket history as awesome display of technique and grit. In Adelaide, he hit 300-plus runs and would have carried on had India not achieved the victory target. VVS Laxman tormented the Australians like no other batsman had done in the recent past. Two of his 300-plus partnerships have been on Australian soil while the third has been against them in India. If anybody could take on Australia almost single-handedly, it was the pair known by the names of Dravid and Laxman. Twice they have pulled India out of the jaws of defeat and made Australia lose a Test after it had piled up a match-winning total. Once, it may be a coincidence but twice or thrice, it is brilliance of talent.

In fact, most of the batsmen displayed the aggression that has always been on the Indian teamís wish list. In the very first over that Laxman faced in the last Test, he hit Brett Lee for five boundaries. Sehwag, in his own amazing way, lifted him over point for a four ó a sight that would haunt Lee for long. And, if this was not enough, Patel went on to score 62 in the first innings of the last Test, hitting the pacers all over the ground at will. Earlier, Laxman sheltered Sachin Tendulkar for the early part of the day as the Master struggled to find his rhythm. Stepping out, Laxman drove and cut whenever he was not tapping the ball around to find the fence again and again. Tendulkar played second fiddle to his junior teammate till he came into his own and scored the double hundred.

But it was not about the wins only or scoring those ferocious centuries. Rather, it was about taking on the acknowledged best in their own backyard and coming out better than the best. Ganguly aimed at it and took the risks. Over the years, the Australians have managed to browbeat every team that has landed on their shore without an over being bowled. The panic has been such that over half a dozen captains have lost their jobs because they could not survive the pressure. Azharuddin, Indiaís most successful captain, couldnít handle an Australian summer nor could Sachin Tendulkar. Englandís Nasser Hussain became a bundle of nerves as did Jeff Crowe of New Zealand, Shaun Pollock, South Africa, Wasim Akram, Pakistan, Courtney Walsh and Jimmy Adams, West Indies, etc. To get the touring Indians down, the Australians kept up the chant of the Chin Music they would serve to them. There was also aggressive posturing in the media to burst the morale of the team before it could get into action.

That Sourav Ganguly and his band of committed men could do their own number without a thought to the opposition highlights the mental tenacity that the team has come to acquire. Ganguly was ridiculed by the Australian media when he said that India would be the best team the world. Nobody also believed him when he stated his intention of winning on Australian soil. But the sights had been set and there was nothing that could be done to distract him or his team from giving it their best. On each and every occasion, even though the Australians too notched up impressive scores and performances, the spotlight was firmly on our boys. Pontingís double century paled in comparison to Dravidís or Tendulkarís. Langerís aggressive stroke play on way to his 17th hundred was nowhere near the effort of a Ganguly, Sehwag or Laxman.

It was perhaps the greatest show on earth in the last few decades. The four-Test series produced many moments that will go down in living memory as also in record books. And it is with some sense of pride that one would remember these moments as exclusively Sourav Gangulyís team moments. In fact, the heat of 2003-04 rivalry between two of the greatest cricketing nations in the world have scorched a path that the Indians will have to tread again and again in order to keep their name intact. For Steve Waugh, one of cricketís greatest captains, the memory will take a long time to fade after retirement.