Breathless in Brisbane
Reflections on a day when I finally aged.
Sometime in the last one hour of the Brisbane test, I finally aged. I understood what it means to become old.
When Washington Sundar hooked the best bowler in the world high over the square leg fence for a 6. When Pant, first, cheekily back swept Lyon for a four and later pulled Hazlewood for a boundary and fell down while doing it. When both of them shaped for drives and pulled off shots like careless billionaires doling out freebies in that 53 run partnership - I heard the 45 year old, middle aged, conservative father of two teenagers shouting inside me ‘Nooo! Play for safety. Why don’t you understand a draw is good enough. Do not take any risk. Why don’t you save for a rainy day! Why can’t you just play safe? Put money in PPF - you’ll always get cheated in shares..? This is life and death decision. Don’t do anything that you will regret..’
The thought of going for a win scared me to pits. In my mind, close finishes and going for a win was passe for T20’s and ODI’s. Test matches were meant to be saved first. And then, if life presents a chance, you take a calculated risk. Moreover this was Australia. Fortress Gabba. 32 years of history stacked against us. A whole nation woke up early morning searching for Brisbane on the weather app and then prayed for a draw. Why are we even taking the risk to win when a draw was secure? Why this change in the script!?
I have developed enough hacks for handling stress in the last 40 years of watching cricket in a cricket agnostic household. But this was different. In the entire last session - not a muscle of mine moved. Not a word was said. And in a number of instances, my system just forgot to breathe.
But. Thank God they didn’t listen. Thank God they follow their own minds. Thank God, this young generation doesn’t understand fear. And thank God for their special ability to forget failure and their inability to brood on it. Thank God for keeping them baggage-free unlike some of my generation who plague ourselves with self doubt, overthinking and cynicism. Thank God for taking time to retrofit them with an extra dose of grit and the heart to brave a challenge.
Because the journey from 36 to 328 was from grief to grit. From an embarassment to unabashed display of courage. From self doubt to an unshakeable self belief. From mere placatory words to real action. From awareness to acceptance. Each one a treacherous and daunting journey in itself. And for most of my generation, even as we were hoping against hope for it to happen, it was also just one of those fantasy pipe dreams.
We have the excuse that history has scarred us enough. December - Jan mornings when India toured Austrailia were unforgettable: ‘Will you get up like this for revising in final exams? Look at him with wide eyes inside that blanket. As if Tendulkar and cricket will give him salary and come and write his exams. Get up! Brush and atleast study one lesson.’ This played on loop for eternity. Funnily even now at 45, I hear a different refrain but in the same tone from the wife and kids. And we lost so many games that made it just worse. Indian teams of the 90’s were mostly in shambles by the time we boarded the school bus.
So I used to make up for it in my self created fantasy games. Step out on to the verandah and enact the story of winning the game for India. I would always walk in with India in deep trouble - 7 or 8 down - 60 odd to win, just a wicket or 2 in hand. I would take it deep. Much before Dhoni made it a template in real. Take body blows from angry pace bowlers mouthing expletives. Battered and bruised I would be, but still gutsing it out. And then finally hitting the winning run out of the park.
‘I learned a long time ago that reality was much wierder than anyone’s imagination’ Hunter S. Thompson had said it. It was just stunning and at times creepy to see my wildest cricket fantasy getting real in the last 8 weeks. And especially on both the fifth days in Sydney and Brisbane. India’s incredibles made my deepest cricketing fantasy come alive.
If yesterday was the last day of the universe, I would have been the first one to pass the gates. With a big broad smile and a swagger.
Much will be written on the extenuating circumstances that India battled in the series. The injuries, absence of first choice champions, minimal experience of those left behind. Eventually, these were the things that made it memorable. We humans are lifelong suckers and cheerleaders for the exploits of David. And will always celebrate the crushing fall of the Goliath.
But for me, as the ball driven by Pant rolled on to the boundary rope, a sagely voice spoke: Time has moved on mate. Your thinking has aged. It’s time for the next generation of believers. The best you can do is to cheer them along their journey. And let them find a way to get up when they fall. By just being there. The least you can do is to not let your baggage get in their way.