So... when the last Indian wicket fell and the hurly-burly was done, I was by my nemesis YB’s side in a trice. "How does it feeeeelll?!!" I bellowed, doing my best Dylan imitation, which still isn’t very good. It was vengeance time. Three and a half years ago, we were in Britannica together when that series was on and he rubbed salt in my glistening wounds, sneering all the while. Well, it was my turn at the salt-shaker now; we lions never forgive or forget (or is that elephants? I forget).
Ah well, time for a change of tone now, for defensive humour can only serve to an extent. In actual fact, I have some serious things to say here and doubt I’ll be able to get them all in. But here goes a tentative poke at it. First of all -- and this is something I’m aware that no Indian cricket lover, practically no Indian for that matter will be able to relate to – Kolkata 2001 was one of the worst experiences of my life. I cringed inwardly (and occasionally snapped outwardly at vile celebrators) as the Aussies collapsed in the wake of that unbelievable Laxman-Dravid partnership. I wished I could have vanished inside my computer screen as work was suspended all around me, people even rushing out to buy sweets to distribute them in office. I felt so alone.
Why such an extreme and contrary reaction? I could never begin to articulate all the reasons, even to myself, but here go some of the easier ones: 1) I don’t have a vestige of patriotism in me, I think it’s the most grossly overrated ‘virtue’ imaginable and I constantly marvel that most people don’t feel the same way. 2) The vulgar, jingoistic gracelessness shown by most Indian cricket supporters disgusts me at the best of times. But in 2001 the raucous, masturbatory cries of self-congratulation that came from both the media and the man on the street, and they way they self-righteously postulated that it were the Aussies who were arrogant and deserved comeuppance, were far too much to take. 3) I had a genuine, near-obsessive admiration for the cricket played by the Australian side at the time. (Part of this, silly as it might sound, had to do with the sheer statistical fascination of how far they could go with the consecutive Test wins record.)
Also – I think I can say this retrospectively – the Kolkata Test was the beginning of the end of the Tendulkar Era in Indian cricket, the first real indication (on a big stage, against major opposition, in a crunch situation) that other players could turn a match on its head without a contribution from the little big man. The first Test of that series, played in Mumbai, remains a microcosm of everything Tendulkar had stood for in the decade previous: India lost, badly, but he played boy on the burning deck, top-scoring in each innings. But that changed forever in Kolkata; a new team was born. And while this change was understandably a good thing for fans who want to only see India win, for me it caused a rift with the game that I don’t think will ever mend. I tend to place the individual above the team/group at most times and Tendulkar was the individual who got me into the sport in the first place. I sometimes believe that when he goes out of the game, I will too; at any rate, cricket will never be the same for me.
(Of course, nothing is ever really this simplistic or soaked in melodrama. Fact: Tendu scored a century in the third, deciding Test at Chennai, where India actually won the series. But even so, even back then, I think I knew that the wind had started to blow in a different direction.)
But, as you might already have noted, none of these introspections have stopped me from revelling in the Aussies’ victory in the ongoing series. Things have come full circle, even if that circle is a rough, serrated one. So, to all those weeping about India’s loss: great yarbles to thee and thine....