There are about 3000 seats at the Wankhede stadium which are fully exposed to the brutish Mumbai sun for much of an afternoon. Not even the thousands of English men and women who were in Mumbai on a cricket pilgrimage dared to occupy those seats thru the days of the Mumbai test. Outside of those seats, every spot was taken at five past 15:00 hours on the Sunday of the test. India trailed by 49 and had just lost their new #3 wonderboy Pujara. The resident god of hope and greatness was walking out to bat amidst a cacophony unique to an Indian cricket stadium. On a Mumbai afternoon, a riveting contest was evenly balanced and the local god was walking out for a likely final home test appearance.
Here below is a 40 second clip from really close-up of Sachin’s walk to the crease –
Forgive me for thinking at that very moment that I was part of a fairy tale. The prospect of anything but a Sachin classic and a close, nervy India win did not cross my mind. A Mumbai dream, here we go……
One classic Sachin straight drive aside, the rest of the test match was a tribute to the skill and character of the English team. History, sentiment and local knowledge were cruelly violated by the spin pair of Panesar and Swann. The crowd emptied out in meek and quiet silence thru the next 35 minutes just like the team they rooted for. A match hanging by the balance was now an English exhibition. And a series that Indian fans looked forward to almost as much for the final margin would now have to actually be played for and won.
It’s the Monday of the test now and I will carry with me memories of Alastair Cook, Kevin Pietersen and Monty Panesar. Test cricket is just a touch easier if you have blue chippers and the English had more of them at Mumbai. It was a great triumph of character and preparation as three Indian spinners in very spin-friendly conditions were negated and dominated by the two batsmen who will end up being England’s greatest two ever.
Alastair Cook did the hard yards when fear of mystery balls on a mystery pitch could have sunk the team ship. It would be lazy to call him and his batting lazy or nonchalant. He is way more than that. At the age of 28 and with Malcolm Gladwell’s ten thousand hours to his credit, he is now in the peak of his career and en route to being England’s greatest ever. There’s a lot more runs to come from his blade at Kolkata and Nagpur. Whatever the opposite of Waterloo is, this tour may end up being that for him. Kevin Pietersen pooh-poohed those of us who dared to question his genius on the basis of two dismissals at Ahmedabad. Class is indeed permanent and Pietersen’s positive attitude and strokeplay was quite the contrast to what is expected of an Englishman on a turning track. Monty Panesar withstood constant scrutiny, ridicule and ribbing from Indian fans to fashion a special spell and win. He will not have many days like Sunday. Batsmen will be better prepared to deal with his unique skills but for one test match he was the nemesis of Indian batsmen. Most purveyors of spin do far worse in India.
I will also carry memories of a great test match. The Wankhede is not a great stadium to be in. It is understandably full of metal detectors and security personnel. It is also very devoid of quality food, clean chairs and a 2G signal. But the beauty of test match cricket is that the performance elevates everyone watching it. And for a little over three days, I was absorbed, entertained and immensely satisfied by the spectacle in front of me. Those who worry about test match cricket and its future in an ADD age need not worry. The product will survive and grow long beyond us.
I will carry memories of a large contingent of English fans. They travelled really well, applauded good cricket and rooted hard for their heroes. They were everywere at the Wankhede and wherever you went in Mumbai. It was quite the experience watching them plan, travel and enjoy test cricket.
I will carry memories of Sachin Tendulkar’s last homestand. And I will try to remind myself that as good as it is to be a sports fan, fairy tales seldom occur.
Yeah right! Like I’ll remember……