It’s the crack of dawn. I get up before the cell alarm goes off- there is so much of anticipation. The coffee is put to brew as Kohli and Paine get ready for the toss. It’s the start of the test series Down Under, it’s the start of the quest to conquer the ‘Final Frontier’.
The year had started with so much of expectation for the die-hard India cricket fan, with away test series in the so called ‘Big Three’- South Africa, England and Australia. We competed hard in both South Africa and England. Our fast bowlers matched the opponents and out-paced them at times. But the batsmen disappointed. Kohli was the lone warrior as one batting collapse followed another. Jo’burg and Trent Bridge were mere aberrations as we lost 2-1 to the Proteas and 4-1 to the Pommies. It was a case of ‘so close, yet to far’.
As I look back, tough overseas tours have been a bane for our cricket team for ages now. There have been many an opportunity missed.
The Adelaide test in 2014 comes to mind immediately. India went into the final day needing 364 runs to win the match. While most other teams would try to stonewall and get a draw, we went for it! Going into tea, we were 160 odd away with eight wickets in hand and in with a real chance. But Lyon had other ideas. Vijay got out for 99 and that set the cat among the pigeons. Kohli played a lone hand but even his majestic 141 was not enough as we fell 48 runs short.
Remember the controversial New Year’s test in Sydney in the 2007 series? Umpiring blunders led to captain Kumble saying after the match that ‘only one team played the game in the true spirit’. There was racial abuse allegations on Bhajji leading to the notorious ‘Monkeygate’ scandal. India took a size-able first innings lead thanks to a Sachin special but had to bat out 70 odd overs on day five for a draw. At seven wickets down, the hopes were low but MSD and Kumble batted for a good amount of time and with the dimming light, there were just two overs to go to get a well-earned draw. Ponting gave the ball to Michael Clarke as a last throw of the dice and he took three wickets in five balls to break the Indian hearts and give Aussies an infamous win.
Barbados in 1997 was a similar story. The Windies were still a feared side with a four pronged pace attack. So when the Indians had to chase down 120 in the fourth innings, one thought that history was about to be re-written. What followed was mayhem- India were bowled out for a paltry 81. Only three bowlers were enough as Ambrose and co. broke Indian hearts.
Not all overseas test series had a sad ending though. Wadekar’s team in 1971 recorded super away series wins in England and the Windies. Kapil gave us a memorable win in the Melbourne test in 1981 with a fifer when he was carrying an injury, helping us comfortably defend a paltry 140 odd in the fourth innings.
There was the Headingley test in 2002 when Dada decided to bat first on a green top. Bangar and Dravid blunted the new ball and played on till tea, setting the game up for Sachin and party to amass 600+ and get an innings victory. That series would be tied 1-1 but India would go back under Dravid in 2007 and win the series 1-0, with a win in Trent Bridge thanks to a Zaheer Khan special.
New Zealand is also a difficult country to tour and one of our famous wins was in 2009 when we triumphed in Hamilton. That series is also remembered for the GG special at Napier. Gambhir batted for more than 10 hours to help us draw after following on.
The Adelaide test in 2003 is also right up there. The usual suspects Dravid and Laxman resurrected India and then Agarkar bowled a dream spell in the 3rd innings to set it up for Dravid again to give a finishing touch. Oh, how we celebrated that win in the hostel common room!
Right after the heartbreaking loss at SCG in 2007, was the win in Perth which is mostly remembered for Irfan Pathan’s all-round performance and probably the best ever spell Ishant has ever bowled when he troubled Ponting for a while before ultimately getting him out.
There was also the Jo’Burg test win in 2006 which was the ‘Sreesanth special’. The wicket was a pacer’s delight but the Indians gave the Proteas a taste of their own medicine. Sree was the MoM with a 8 wicket match haul but you remember more his spontaneous dance after hitting a straight six off Andre Nel. What a joker!
And to top it all, the win in Pakistan in 2004. The series was set up by a Viru special at Multan where he hit a triple hundred. Dravid’s declaration with Sachin stranded at 194 signaled India’s intent to win the match more than setting personal milestones. Pakistan came back strongly in the 2nd test in Lahore but India bagged the series with a win in the decider at Rawalpindi with a Dravid master-class.
So, many a heart break for the Indian faithful with a few exceptions to provide some silver lining. The bottom line is that the Indian team has till date not won any test series in Australia or South Africa. We are the No.1 test side for a while now and the coach claims we are the best traveling Indian team in this century. Let’s hope Kohli and the boys prove Shaz right and they do the talking where it matters- the field. All the best guys! Chak de! Jai Hind!