January 7th 2019 will hold a special place for every Indian cricket fanatic born in the mid-80s and early 90s. Indian cricket team will walk out on the last day of the 4th test at the iconic SCG with a challenge to go 3-1 up from being 2-1 up. Seems like, it is a mere formality more than a challenge for this team. For any Indian kid, Australia series was about waking up as early as 5:00 AM on cold and misty December mornings, putting the TV on with scratchy and dry eyes and following the cricket played on some of the most expansive lush green grounds. The TV volume stayed low to not disturb the sleeping birds. An Indian fan had two options depending on what the situation of the match was
- Stay awake, have chai with cookies – if India was batting [see the batting line-up implode]
- Go back to sleep – if Australia was batting
The late 90s were simpler times with fewer options. The TV stays on if Sachin is about to bat or is batting. Shut off when Steve Bucknor, while being an ignorant ruminating cow, gave Sachin out, without any proper cricketing sense. Tony Greig repeated the word “dreadful” thrice in 5 seconds. Indians did NOT care about the bowling! Australia scoring big against a mediocre low to medium pace (half-paced) attack (no, it wasn’t even an attack) was a definite event. Probability = 1. Credit also goes to the Australia batting line-up that comprised of Taylor, M Waugh, Slater, Blewett, S Waugh, Martyn, Healy and Bevan. In 1999, the lowest Australia total in the three-match test series was 405 and the highest Indian total was 285. In the third test at Brisbane, India folded-up for 150 with Sachin top-scoring with 45. Such was the dependency on a single player. Best bowling figures in the series for India was 4/130 (J. Srinath) while that for Australia was 5/48 (G. McGrath). Talking about an impactful batting and bowling performance, Australia declared their innings in each of the three tests. Team India was crushed, stabbed a thousand times, brought to life only to be shot point blank. Darkest December mornings were indeed the darkest days for an Indian cricket fan. India lost 4-0 in 1991-92. I was three years old and do not have a memory of father/relatives watching the series. But the 3-0 whitewash in 1999 is as fresh as a wound from yesterday.
2003-2004 Australia series was a different experience. India led the series 1-0 at the end of the second test at Adelaide, thanks to Dravid and Agarkar. But were steam-rolled at MCG where Ponting and Hayden murdered the Indian bowling. Going into SCG at 1-1, India posted 700 odd with Sachin batting to score 241* without playing a cover drive. Kumble grabbed more than 25 wickets and was eventually tired looking for support from the other bowling end. Only if we had better bowlers to win the series!
Before December 2018, 2007-2008 Australia series remained the best memory of an Indian side touring Australia. Sehwag, Sachin, Dravid, Ganguly, Laxman batted their skins out only to lose the series 2-1. The tour is known more for the ‘monkeygate’ and the ‘deleterious and dreadful umpiring standards’. Mediocre bowling and heavy reliance on Kumble and Harbhajan only worsened India’s cause to win a series Down Under. Four years later, 2011-2012 only opened up the wounds from 1999. A team combination of young and experienced players under MS Dhoni toured Australia only to be brutally whitewashed 4-0. India was losing the stars. A player like Dravid, strong with defence, was opened and cleaned up about 5 times. Dravid retired soon after. An Indian fan still awaited a series victory in Australia.
2014 India-Australia series under the leadership of Kohli triggered the change. A change that was going to bore fruits 4 years later. Australia scathed to victory at Adelaide by 40 odd runs and at Gabba by 4 wickets. India had their moments but failed to tighten the noose on Australia’s throat. Kohli (692) almost matched the most runs of the series by Smith (769). Pace bowling attack comprising of Shami, Ishant, Umesh failed to make incisions at key junctures of the series. India lost 2-0 but showed character.
4 or 5 tours involving constant defeat, moments of joy but more of despair, anger, frustration is what a fan born in the mid-80s and early 90s has seen. A wide range of players, Gods, demi-Gods, rookies, the best possible in the country were seen at bay during these times. There were performances but nothing that could keep Australia under the pump. Nothing relentless from Indians over the last 20 years of my viewing. 2018-2019 tour will go down as the fondest memory of a cricketing experience an Indian fan has ever had. India was relentless. The bowling attack led by Bumrah, Shami, Ishant and Umesh were FAST. F.A.S.T. Quick remains an understated word. An exhibition of bodyline bowling and eclipsing the record by Malcolm-Garner-Marshall can only be written in words. One had to see it to experience the thrill. An Indian bowler running in and clocking 148 KMPH, tonking the helmet, making the batsman jump-twitch-fall-beg-cry is different adrenaline. Times have changed. Indian bowling is more watchable than their batting. In batting, India found a monk in Pujara. It seemed that Pujara batted on a different wicket, in a different zone and in a different era. The hustle-bustle of the life didn’t bother him. Notable contributions from Mayank, Rahane, Rohit, Pant and Kohli only tightened the grip on the series.
The argument that Australia is depleted needs to be wrapped in a trash bag and thrown out of the house. For India, a fourth choice opener scored nearly 200 runs in the series (in 3 innings), a third choice spinner took a five-for on a flat deck in Sydney, a second choice keeper smashed 160 odd and Australian media is still stuck on the absence of Warner and Smith. It is high time they realize that it is the domestic cricket that needs to be looked upon more closely for grooming skilful cricketers. Australia was strong on their bowling and it was more about how Indian batters tired the hell out of them and later capitalized on their mediocre lines and lengths. Leading run-scorer, leading wicket-taker – all India. The story will be told for decades to come but it had to be seen. India holds the pistol down Australia’s throat, kept it there and then fired the trigger. Australia following on in Australia after 31 years is massive by all standards.
But for us, for an Indian fan, the dark days are over. We all have survived a long night to see the sunrise that only blinded the bully. No one will be sleeping. The TV volume will be high this time. An Indian team will walk away with the trophy only after thrashing Australia in Australia. Let that sink in!