Twenty eight. The number of years that have passed since India last won a World Cup. That miracle at Lord’s. Against the greatest side. 183. Sandhu’s banana ball. His hop after. Kapil’s catch. Madan Lal’s fist pumping the air. Mohinder’s legcutters. Holding’s wicket. Climax.
Twenty eight. Almost half a lifetime. Seven World Cups. Many prime ministers. An economic upheaval. From one television channel to a zillion. In 1983, my dad had to wait eight months before he could own a land line phone. Apparently he was luckier than many.
From Kapil to Gavaskar to Vengsarkar to Srikkanth to Azhar to Sachin to Ganguly to Dravid to Dhoni. Phew! At last. From Srikkanth ecstatically puffing on a cigarette on the Lord’s balcony to Yuvraj Singh sobbing emotionally at the Wankhede.
Twenty eight. The average age of this World Cup winning Indian team. Munaf is 27; Yusuf and Sreesanth are 28; Dhoni, Gambhir and Yuvraj are 29; Harbhajan is 30; Nehra is 31; Sehwag and Zaheer are 32. At the near end of the spectrum are Kohli (22), Chawla (22), Raina (24) and Ashwin (24). At the far, unreachable end is Tendulkar (37).
Among these, only Tendulkar lived the moment in ’83. Only he experienced the miracle. Among this group, only he understands the real significance of that day, the way things were and they way things changed. Only he felt the zeitgeist.
The rest were too young. The memories from that World Cup, if at all there were any, would have been hazy. I’m guessing everything they knew was from hearsay, highlights packages, interviews and anecdotes.
It’s fascinating how the cricket lives of most in this team have run parallel with Tendulkar’s international career. Ten members of this squad, and most of them forming the core, are between 27 and 32. Many of them were drawn to cricket because of Tendulkar and many have talked about idolizing him in their impressionable years.
Many tried to bat like him before getting more realistic. A few initially picked up heavy bats – the kind that he uses – before exchanging them for lighter ones.
Dhoni once said most of the cricket he watched as a kid was restricted to Tendulkar’s batting. He also said how he stopped watching the ’03 final the moment Tendulkar was out. [To understand the man’s leadership read this interview from 2008]
Having lifted Tendulkar on his shoulders, parading him around the stadium, Virat Kohli pretty much spoke for the whole country with his poignant line: “Tendulkar has carried the burden of the nation for 21 years. It is time we carried him on our shoulders.”
Someday Kohli may go on to lead India. He may even lead them to a World Cup. But I’ll always remember him for this line. Always. That was how apt it was.
Twenty eight. That’s pretty much how old my generation is. I’m 29 and most of my friends are between 26 and 30. We’ve followed poor teams and good teams; seen players with ‘potential’ fall flat on their faces; seen domestic giants being exposed at the higher level. We’ve spent years hearing about our mediocre cricketing system, our dangerously scruffy outfields, our medieval coaching systems.
We’ve gone mental watching heart-stopping matches, only to realise that some players sold those games for several million bucks. We’ve seen teams collapse too often, teams that choked at the first sign of pressure, teams that couldn’t win big games, teams that crumbled while chasing, teams that froze while batting under lights. We’ve seen Kambli cry.
Like many in the team, we’ve all grown up watching Tendulkar. We too have idolized him, tried to bat like him with heavy bats. We’ve been nervous wrecks when he’s at the crease and often flown off sofa sets watching some of his straight drives. I almost flew off again when he drove Kulasekera today, that majestic, pristine push down he ground. The bat so straight, so still.
For several years, we switched off our TV sets the moment he got out. The result was a no-brainer. The collapse was inevitable. The rest would simply cave in.
Not today. Not a chance in hell. Not with this team. Not with Gambhir, Kohli and Raina. Never with Yuvraj and Dhoni. Sure we were jittery at 31 for 2 but it was just a matter of one good partnership. This team was mentally strong enough. They too have been scarred by collapse after collapse. They too know how much it hurts if they meekly surrender.
Gambhir and Kohli steadied the nerves before Dhoni imprinted his signature on the World Cup. He promoted himself ahead of Yuvraj and backed himself to prove a point. Not to the fans or the media but to himself. It was high time. The moment was here to be seized. Greatness was knocking. He had to blast the door open.
And what an innings it was. Cutting ferociously, bat meeting ball with an ominously crunching sound, the hands twirling the bat around, the slightly exaggerated backlift, the thunderous power.
And that six to finish, probably the most emphatic full stop you will see in cricket. The beautiful arc of the bat, the sensational timing, the elevation, the sheer shock of the instantaneousness, the most awesome orgasm.
The replays were even more stunning: the intense concentration, the absolute brutality of the focus, refusing to take his eyes off the ball, the bat unrelenting in its completion of the follow through. And that joyous twirl that followed, as if he had just finished a game in a park.
For some strange reason it reminded me of Kapil third six at Lord’s in 1990 – when he was batting with the No.11 and struck four sixes to save the follow on. It was the third six in a row, was struck powerfully, described a glorious arc and soared over long-on . And it was executed with the joie de vivre of a little boy in a backyard.
The baton passes. And how!