It was 11 years back, when the unsure kid in me of 12 years faced his worst moment as a cricket fan. The nation was consumed by anger at aspersions on the team cast by all and sundry. Match-fixing was raising its head for the first time in cricket and there were a few Indian players who were suspected to be involved. It was too much for a cricket fan, who was 4 years old, having started watching cricket on February 18, 1996.
India was taking on Kenya. To an 8 year old kid hell bent on watching Cartoon Network that afternoon, it was his father and uncle who impressed upon him that there was this guy, one Mr. Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar, who was nearing a century. Who was this guy and why did I have to sacrifice Swat Kats for him? In hindsight, it was a bloody worthy investment of my 2 hours. The man made me watch the game and then the game slowly took hold of me. As I was placing infant steps in grasping this quite complex game and its technicalities, the euphoria of beating Pakistan was spontaneous and magical that it showed what joy the game could offer. It also showed what reality means to life in the next game. It made me cry for the first time. It also taught me to move on.
The World Cup in 1999 went along. We went, we saw and we came back. I was more depressed about South Africa than India. The heart had grown to accept a modest team without major expectations. All along, SRT was the magnet on me. There were magical moments at Mumbai in the Titan Cup, Chennai and Sharjah in ’98, which made your heart etch itself upon the team that your heart and the team became one entity. That made the gash of match-fixing all the more deep. Indian cricket was at its nadir. But as they say, life had to go on.
There were 5 men of extraordinary pedigree who at this juncture made me continue taking utmost interest in the entity called Indian cricket. SRT was at the forefront, followed by Sourav Ganguly, who had taken over the reins, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Anil Kumble. Through these 5 gentlemen, the journey went along the globe. I had hitherto followed bad to decent teams. This team was good. The 2001 series against Australia is epic for all reasons I am not going pen down now. It woke me up to what a beast test cricket can be. This team also made stay awake till 2AM while travelling in the Caribbean and wake up at 3AM while in New Zealand. I sacrificed a part of my life in front of the idiot box following this team. I was amongst the millions who the team is not likely to know but plays for. This is how I could repay them for playing for some millions of ordinary bums like me they have never seen thus far but take pride in representing.
The entire hullabaloo over the Natwest Trophy and Champions Trophy led to the World Cup, where for the first time the game taught me how near yet how very far you can be from Paradise. We were a distant second and the game was being unduly harsh on a young adolescent. However, the seed had been sown there. There were bitter memories, but you kept waiting.
The journey had to continue. The golden era of the team, for me was from 2001-2004 beginning against Australia at home and ending against Australia and Pakistan away. Those were high points where you could feel proud about your team. There was a new team after that. There was a re-run of following the team across the globe. But it was to end in a mind shattering exit last World Cup. It hurt like it did for everybody. But we did win the T20 WC and the game evolved. Australia revived the interest. Sachin was again the talisman in the CB series. He sparked a revival that took me back to being a 10 year old reminiscing Sharjah in ’98. He showed me how wonderfully moving cricket nostalgia can be. IPL came, I grew out of my teens, became a lesser bum (I confess, I am still one when it comes to seeing India take the field) and life moved on. The team became the Number 1 Test side. I was proud that I spent my hours on this entity represented by 11 players. CSK came, saw and conquered the World unlike the main entity. Dhoni evolved and has become an inseperable thing of joy in your heart.
This wait for 15 years from my little bummy prism found a vent yesterday. I imagined how it would have been for a man who has been representing the entity and an ever growing 1.2 billion people for 22 years. The thing with such a moment is you wait for it all your life. When it comes to you, you don’t know what to do or how to react. It gave me goosebumps and eyes welled up to see Sachin given a lap of honour and hear a young turk say “Sachin has been carrying the burden of the nation for 21 years. It is time we carried him on our shoulders.” I am still numb, wanting to scream to the dog on the street barking that “you are a Champion dog. Now stop the barking and let it sink in.” Such moments make life worth living.
Will Dada, Kumble, Dravid and VVS feel sad missing out on the Trophy they never won themselves? It reminds me of the dialogue in Thevar Magan. “Athelaam paakka naan irukka maatten. Aanaa vedhai, naan vedhaichadhu. Idhellaam enna perumaiyaa? Kadamai.” I think I don’t have to sum it anymore.
To the Rest of the World, We are the World Champions. Come on, knock us off the perch. Indian cricket is at its peak and things have never been so good. Life has come a full circle.