Monday, September 3, 2012

Adieu, gentlemen!

Like the midnight departure of a lover, the retirements of two of the greatest gentleman players in the history of a game has resulted in much soul searching and an increasing tendency to live in denial. If watching them bat was the equivalent of a long love affair, going gaga over Pujara’s century is like a one-night stand – the desperation to feel loved to hide the pain of a relationship just gone sour. For all you know, we could be wedded to the television/computer screen in the years to follow, keenly following Kohli & Pujara’s exploits, but it will miss the spark of excitement on seeing VVS walk out to bat or the assurance of going into a meeting at 11 a.m knowing that Dravid would still be around when you came out a couple of hours later.

Many of us hate to admit it, but all of us are romantics at heart. The first love is still the most special and for those growing up in the 90s, the rush to get out of school was mostly not about hoping to catch the girl from the other section walk home, but to get home to watch Kumble eek out a couple of top order wickets post a declaration set up by a Tendulkar century or a Dravid double. In the days when the cell-phone was still limited to use in big budget Hollywood action dramas, the only way to know the score was to shout to the uncle next door to the school in the hope that he would hear us and update us on the score. After a while, he would be more attuned to the timing of our recess breaks than us. The friend whose house was closest to school was the object of much envy because of the 20 extra minutes of Sachin’s glorious counter attack that he could witness. Schools would close on the first day of a test match in the city. Attendance would dip on the final day of a close test match. And when the “leave letters” would pile in the next day, the teacher would be smiling at the sudden outbreak of viral fever across the city.

Associations of cable television with the remarkable Indian growth story could wait. For us, it would be associated with the delight of watching the Ganguly masterclass at the Mecca of cricket or the glorious first century for Dravid at Jo’burg.

College of course meant more freedom. More classes were missed than landmarks in Indian cricket. While some kind soul would ensure attendance through proxy, you were left to enjoy the vicarious pleasure of watching a Ganguly cover drive. Waking up at 5 am to watch the first ball of the Boxing Day test match or staying up till 3 to watch Dravid block the last ball of the day at Jamaica was made easier by the fact there would be a few more crazy souls in the common room, drowning out the “expert” opinion on television with their own loud arguments on why Dravid is better than Tendulkar or how Kumble should go back to bowling those deadly yorkers. As college life left us behind, so did Dada and Kumble. There would be no more shirt waving on the Lords balcony nor the sight of a heavily strapped bowler bouncing into bowl on a dead track, wearing his heart on his sleeve. The only comfort was that three warriors were still left to carry on the battle.

Work meant that we would have to imagine the poise of a Tendulkar straight drive while reading the commentary on Cricinfo. Every chance was taken to sneak in to the television room on the floor. If school time meant a stretched dinner time to take in more of Dravid’s piece de resistance, office meant more tea breaks to catch glimpses of Laxman’s magical wrist work. Gradually as time wore down the defence of Dravid and the genius of Laxman, the hours at office grew longer, a co-relation which was less forced than it appears.

The internet provided solace, as we dug into the archives for more articles celebrating the achievements of a set of cricketers whose kind India would be lucky to get again, in individual doses let alone as a group. Debates on who was better would be replaced by a collective acknowledgment of each player’s greatness. The heart aching for more acts of genius is replaced by a pragmatic mind which acknowledges that even the greatest of journeys has a destination.

It is then that the lament of not being able to see them together one more time is replaced by the acknowledgment that just as these set of players were once in a generation players, we too will be a once in a generation audience – lucky enough to be witness few of the greatest moments in Indian cricketing history and some of the finest players ever to sport the India cap.

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