There are timeless victories, and there are immortal defeats in any form of sport. There are contests that linger on in the memories of fans forever, and almost compel you to immediately have Grandchildren for the sole purpose of being able to tell them that ‘I was there’. In the context of cricket, it’s a victory snatched from the jaws of defeat, a victory after following on, a defeat from a seemingly invincible position, suicidal collapses and of course, TIES. A test match tie is as rare as a straight politician the world over, and to be able to witness one requires innumerable levels of Black Magic, spiritual guidance and divine intervention.
And then, there is a draw.
A test match draw is probably the most favorable and common result for any test that takes place in sub-continental conditions. Sri Lanka have built an empire on draws, and India have steamed through two decades on the back of half-defeats and boring draws. A draw is a measure of immense mental strength, strategy and grit- for both teams concerned, especially when there is no other result possible because of the way the pitch plays. A draw is also victory and defeat alike, for both the teams involved.
But statistics don’t tell half the story. There are a lot of factors to understand- like the team that was certain to win, or the team that fought their nails off just to get that last-over stunning breathtaking last wicket partnership that ensures a drawn test match. Over the years, we have been witness to many exciting draws that lift the confines of Test Cricket to another dimension, and most of them have involved an aggressor, a back-against-the-wall batting line-up, a charged up bowling pair and the English or South African Cricket team. Some of them that come to mind are last gasp draws pulled off by England on their tour to South Africa in 2009 (with Graham Onions, the hero), and South Africa’s attempt at draws against their old foes Australia.
On 26-11-2011, three years after Mumbai bore the brunt of one of the worst terrorist attacks in the world’s history, the Mumbaikar faithful have been granted a spectacle of unfathomable proportions. It would be farfetched to say that Mumbai has come a full circle, because cricket is after all, a sport. But tell that to the 20,000 fans who beat the heat, humidity, dust, the questionable Wankhede infrastructure, inflated food and drink prices and local trains- only to watch Team India in action, in a DEAD RUBBER game against a relative minnow West Indies. Sachin Tendulkar, it was. Cricket is, as the old cliché goes, a religion in this city- and only their favorite son has the power to cure and heal a million scars. Religion is taken seriously here, and Cricket is often a matter of life and death. It is, if anything, the best medicine a hassled Mumbaikar can hope for after a shattering day.
Harbhajan Singh’s one tight slap
Ask Yours Truly, who jumped 4 tracks (first and last time), two fences at Churchgate station, sprinted in a haze of desperate glory, climbed up, down and up two tiers ONLY to watch the Little Master play one ball on the fourth morning of the Test match- the ball he edged to second slip…on 94. I didn’t feel cheated, I didn’t feel sad that I overslept and missed his first 25 runs of the morning, and I didn’t even feel exhausted. I felt ordinary in the face of greatness, and felt the pit at the bottom of my stomach that one can only feel when he has almost ‘missed’ out on performing his duty. Still, I felt elated.
Because I had, by the end of 26-11-2011, watched one of the greatest days of Test Cricket in the history of the sport. A dead match, at the end of 25-11, was brought to life by Ojha and Ashwin on the fifth day- when they bowled the Windies out for 134, to give their batsmen a chance to achieve what no other team has ever done- chase down a score successfully after conceding 590 in the first innings.
As soon as Sehwag walked to the crease, the crowd in the stadium swelled. Some of us were lucky enough to already be watching these miraculous happenings- and a target of 243 didn’t look unattainable anymore. Why would it? It was Mumbai, after all, the home of Indian Cricket.
Ravichandran Ashwin will, as we speak, be contemplating the emotions that encapsulate Test Cricket after his debut Test Series- where he claimed 23 wickets and scored a test century, and did virtually nothing wrong till the last TWO balls of the series. After putting in an effort like that for 14 days, it is hard to fault him, but- as any spectator will be telling his/her Grandchildren years down the line- ‘Who doosra run Bhaaga kyu nahi?’ (why didn’t he run that second run?)
After Sehwag got out, it was always going to be tough going for a team that favoured draws over results historically. But the series was won already, 2-0, and there was nothing to lose, quite literally. It made complete sense to chase down a challenging target in slow conditions when blessed with a stellar batting line-up. The tides kept changing, and to their credit, West Indies kept the Indians sweating throughout, consistently taking wickets and frustrating the Indian batsmen with their tactics.
Forget the sublime 166 by Bravo, the missed tricks by Sammy, the 1000+ runs in the first innings, the Kumble-esque 5-for by Ashwin, the anti-climactic century by Ashwin, the heart-stopping 94 by Sachin, the gritty 83 by Dravid and the logic-defying 6-for by Ojha…it all came down to 55 runs in the mandatory 15 overs after play. Kohli and Ashwin at the crease, looking in control- looking to repeat their first-innings rescue act.
Kohli has sealed his test place for Australia with a memorable innings that reflects the control, expertise, coordination, temperament and finish of Sachin in ‘that’ Chennai test of 1999. He didn’t finish things, and he didn’t lose either, but oh- what he would have given to hit those elusive winning runs. With 12 runs required of the last 3 overs, it came down to Ishant and Ashwin- the last recognized ‘batsman’ in the side. It seemed so easy, because he looked so comfortable.
Finally, with Ishant gone because of an outrageous heave in the penultimate over of the match (yes, time was running out, not wickets), it was down to poor debutant Varun Aaron to apply himself in a trade he was never familiar with. He did fine by surviving and not getting out, and ‘senior’ partner Ashwin (in his debut series no less) was all set to finish things off in the last over of the series.
3 runs, 1 over. Mumbaikars had gotten their money, blood, sweat and tear’s worth in this one session already. Nobody was complaining, but a WIN would seal the ‘comeback’ for the city 3 years on. It was his destiny, surely, to hit the winning runs after a Botham-isque Test match. But then, Ashwin did what Marat Safin excelled in doing throughout his career…
He had a brainfreeze.
With 2 runs required of the last 2 balls, and with him on strike and the field in, he tried to defend the ball instead of going for his shot. It hit his pads, and he was safe. No run. The gasp around the stadium was so audible, that commuters on their way back from work in the trains behind must have surely taken the stadium to be a massive venue of ritualistic worship. How COULD he?
Did he actually WANT to make sure of the fact that we don’t LOSE the match? Did he actually think so much before playing that ball by Edwards? Was he so calculating? Was he DHONI?
With one defensive prod, the man had ruled out two results- an Indian loss and a TIE. With one defensive prod, the man had destroyed the theatrics of a million spectators home and away- and had changed the outlook of an entire nation craving for nothing but glory. A loss would have done, but SURELY, we hadn’t come so far to achieve a Draw?
Okay, forgiven then. 2 runs off the last ball. Surely, even Virat Kohli thinks, this is Ashwin’s test match. No? No. Ashwin pushes the ball to long-on, and begins- wait for it- JOGGING down for the single. Aaron, meanwhile, is running like a mad animal just to get that second run and reach the non-strikers end safely. Ashwin, though, has no intentions of running the second. It’s almost as if he says, ‘I’m spent, I got you all till here, this is ONLY for you- Mumbai!’ Case closed. Run out by a mile while going for a useless second run, and Ashwin’s dream debut series was instantly greeted with cynical murmurs and Harbhajan-esque slaps.
Virat Kohli can’t believe it. Why is Test Cricket so cruel? Why did Sammy waste all that time? Ashwin, though, doesn’t look too perturbed yet.
The kid still got us so far. The kid still took it down to the last ball. The kid didn’t let us lose. The kid saved Test Cricket. The kid changed the game single-handedly. The kid even made sure we watched ONLY the second draw in Test Cricket with scores level. The kid gave us an experience we would never forget, as spectators and fans. The kid produced the liveliest dead rubber since that last test match at Wankhede in 2004, when we beat Australia on a graveyard of a pitch.
But did the kid need to do all that?