July 3 , 2006
How the west was won
There is something called Poetic Justice that does not come often, more so in sports, which differs from the regular kind in the way it treats the deserving ones. The regular variety does not care about who truly deserved what at the end, but instead is more intent on dispensing the judgement in a hurried manner. 5 days of the game have been played. If the sum of scores in the two innings of one team is less than an inning's score of the opponent, the former lost and the latter one and vice versa; if both the teams were bowled out in both the innings, the one with the larger total is victorious. And here is the worse part - if it does not meet any of the conditions above, it is JUST a draw - quite a heartless way to sum up the toil of days and days under the scorching sun, when the records show, after times have long passed, that no result was produced at the end of the day. It does not account for the fact that the results were brought to the brink, and if not for the rain, or a few more overs, or a few more wickets, the rubber would have showed a decisive victory for one side and a searing loss for another. Clearly regular justice does not have the stomach for good drama. That is where Poetic Justice, its prodigal sibling, comes into play. Poetic Justice fights for the near misses, it sides with the nail biters, it keeps a tally of all the close finishes. It champions the cause of whisker draws. It is a patron saint of the almost won. After it thinks that regular justice hasn't been fair to the record after all, it steps in, takes control and delivers its final judgement. Even though the wait is quite long enough with Poetic Justice, but when the judgement is delivered, it is sweet, historic and feels as though, it was certainly worth the wait.
An entire generation has turned old between the two series wins on the West Indian soil. Any mention about the first series win in the Carribean, the older generation would rearrange its silver tufts of hair, draw a deep breath, talk passionately and reminisce fondly about Gavaskar's hundreds, double hundreds, hundreds and double hundreds with in the same match, his record of the maximum number of runs scored in a series, Wadekar's shrewd captaincy, and the felling of the mighty beast. 35 years have passed in between. In 1996, spearheaded by a wunderkind, the Indians made one more spirited run at rewriting history. The only result producing game in a 5 match rubber was one where the Indians were set around 120 to win in the second innings, to which they responded by promptly closing shop and folding out to 80. That it was a minefield of a pitch and extremely difficult to bat in the second innings, would nowhere be written in the pages of the past and does not echo in the halls of history. All that shows is (yet another) series loss in the land of the Cool. 40 runs divided 20 years of history. 6 more years went by and this time, at the helm was the greatest Indian captain. Again a 5 test series. At Port of Spain, the lucky venue for the Indians, lady luck smiled first on them, giving them a 1-0 lead. 2 more tests later, the score read 2-1 against them. It didn't matter that the West Indies cricket declined drastically in the quality of the players it fielded, it didn't matter that the Indian batting boasted an all-time record holders lineup, it didn't matter that the bowling strengths (or lackthereof) of both the sides were almost on par, but somehow the Indians just weren't able to get over the hump, when it came to the longer version of the game.
And when the victory finally came, in the final test of the series, not before giving the Indians a couple of farewell scares just as a reminder that it is as close to a victory as it is to a defeat, it felt as though it was long overdue, at least for this series. Victory has remained elusive, lurking, and just around the corner from the start of the first test. What an exciting rubber this has been! One test fizzled out for the want of few more overs, another ended up praying for rain to not spoil the fun, the third one remained indecisive right until the last session of the last day, and finally the fourth one, unable to bear the suspense anymore, spilled its guts with an entire day remaining. When the first match ended on the last ball from the "fast" bowler, bowling to a what looked like 10-0 field on the offside, unable to cause the nick from the 11th batsman, the look on the bowler's face said it all - too close, yet too far. And the batting side celebrated as though it just clinched the series. When it rained for almost an entire day in the second test, and the touring side desperately wanted to get on to the field and bowl the opposition out, the look on the entire team's face said it all - close, but just out of reach. And when the stage was setup for an encore in the third test too, with the tourists being set a mountain to climb in the final innings, and it almost had the end in sight before it realized that the goal wasn't realistic or realizable, it appeared like it was never meant to be - close or not, just out of reach or not. With three such result producing no-result tests under their belts, both the teams for one final time to find out in what new way can a result be not produced.
The captains misread the pitch, the pitch wasn't to the hosts' satisfaction, all the natural elements were all in their, well.... natural elements, wickets tumbled on either side like it was practice at the nets of the bowlers and the fielders, the ball whizzed past the bat on the first day, kept low with an occasional odd bounce on the second and started turning square on the third - it took all the above to finally produce a result. It also took a monumental effort from the Colossus of a captain, who simply refused to be taken anything away from him, while he stood as the lone guard standing his post valiantly against everything that was thrown at him. What more could be an exemplary demonstration of leading by example than to have a captain, who just absorbed test after test of disappointment and yet produced innings after innings of pure and rare quality! To stand as the lone Man in the match that actually mattered, to keep the squad motivated after a disappointing one-day series loss and the even greater disappointments that would haunt in the next three tests, to actually believe that his inexperienced and sometimes tame bowling attack had what it took to land the final coup de grâce, and finally claim the rubber was the mark of the Man of the Series, as his award emphasized. It also took an untiring heart of an old workhorse, who saw everything from wins slipping away through the fingers to broken jaws being held up with heavy bandage during his past tours here, to finally produce a scorcher of a ball to claim the final wicket. It shows the heart of the champion when he doubled the duties as a batsman too and led his team out of trouble, once too often. If only there could be a consolation prize for Man the series, the lanky bowler from Bangalore would be an automatic shoo-in. Heart was what that separated the winners and the losers. Heart was what that erased the past the made a new mark. Heart was what that finally endeared to Poetic Justice to set things into motion.
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