Delhi is definitely a city which stirs the senses in you. Right from its charming and buzzing streets to the historical cities which actually make Delhi, there's enough for the romantics to soak in over here. I spent the last week rustling across the various monuments in the city, each one of them has a story to tell about the plundering inflicted on it right from the Lodhis to the Mughals to the British. However, you invariably get your blood seething only when you hear about the British. Inspite of the fact that the empire is a very distant memory, and the fact that an Indian team under Aamir has defeated the Poms, a tinge of revoked history spurred in a sense of nationalism and revenge in me. Promptly blocked the weekend for the India-England series, I was taken through a romantic ride through the past.
My first vivid memory of cricket would be around the time I was 6 and a man who you might have easily mistaken for being a college professor with his pristine dressing and aristocratic looks took 6-14 against the West Indies in Hero cup. Anil Kumble used to wear spectacles then, Kambli had nice french beard, Sachin had curly hair and had some secret energy and Prabhakar used to wear colorful wrist bands. From then on, cricket was not a sport I followed, it was a journey I lived. Roughly around the same time, there was a match (Don't remember the exact details) held in Bangalore when Srinath and Kumble had to score some 20 odd runs, when they showed Srinath's mom praying in the crowds. The tension was too much for this little kid in me, I ran to the prayer hall for the last over only to return after we won the match with a final ball 4. India won the match that day not because of Srinath, but for me it was my little prayer I did. I had never believed in God more.
In those days, India used to lose more than they used to win, so more of times used to be in despair than in joy. So the early morning next day, used to open the papers from the last (The practice has stayed with me till date !!!) to see if the match I saw yesterday was just in my dreams, and used to total the scoreboards just in case to check if there was a mistake. Never could I write a letter to the Editor, but my smart dad made me total it twice everyday just in case I might find an error the second time. Then the came the 1996 WC held in India, my school never seemed longer in anticipation of the bolt-run back home. During the lunch, snacks, and in the 5 mins between periods invariably used to dash across to the friendly watchman who had a transistor with him. Remember when we used to take turns in asking permission for loo ("...Miss Miss I am getting ... (and the pinky goes up) make the quick dash to the guard, and circulate the scores in a chit of paper across the class. The 1996 WC was the first time I saw cricket at a global scale with hundreds of players, colored clothing, floodlights, and countless lunch-time games right from the correctly naming WPUCJ Vaas' name to the score Sachin made in the match against Australia in the Group Stages..(if I remember right he made 137 and was out caught and bowled)..That WC was joyish schoolboyish fun left me with wonderful moments Brian Lara's century against SA, Ajay Jadeja's knock against Pakistan WC, the Aus-WI semifinal innings of Bevan. In hindsight, I hold Calcutta culpable for the Semi's but I very well know had I been there what I would have done. Kambli wasn't the only one who cried that day..
I grew up with more cricket, and absolutely no cartoons, comics or movies (I still feel the pinch when I try to pick up a conversation with girls) but I had a CDMA TV set with only ESPN on it (which used to include matches, Harsha's pre and post match analysis and ESPN School Olympiad on non-match days). Hatred for Pakistan developed when I knew no history about our neighbours or the horrors of partition but when I knew villains No.1 Aaqib Javed, No.2 Razzaq and No.3 Saqlain were from there. The 5-16 by Saurav at Toronto cup was a match I missed due to sleep and haven't cursed myself more doing that. I should have probably missed the Asia Cup Shoaib's consecutive yorkers which I didn't, what will I give to trade those two..Lord's, Eden's, MCG I had seen cricket everywhere but my Mecca of cricket was always Sharjah and its 4 o clock starts (It always seemed matches used to start only after I come back home). The two Sachin classics to make India qualify and win the tourney, with the desert storm in between, the car ride after the presentation and Tony Greig's commentary (I still remember this "What a player...What a wonderful player after Sachin's straight six echo in my head) was the nearest I had come to experiencing magic in sports. It was as if the Mozart had been born again to perform two of his best symphonies live in Sharjah. No desert has ever tasted sweeter till now in my life, and I doubt any ever will.
He was no Mozart, but Warne was more than a wizard. Hardly a few instances in my life I can recount when the actual event has lived up to the expectations of the massive buildup to it, but this one series of Aus-Ind in 1997 exceeded every bit of it. Sachin's dismissal in first innings, then his 150 in the second, along with Sidhu and Mongia's class, this series was more about seeing Shane Warne and his antics of pulling up his shirt take a stick in his face rather than India winning for me. Chennai has always produced classics, and so it did when Pakistan came down to India and India lost the test match after brilliance by Sachin and Mongia. I think I was matured enough by then, and this time I would have given wonderful ovation that Chennai crowd gave after the test, had I been there at the stadium. And I still wonder whether Wasim Akram the last man to get out in Kumble's 10 for din't get out to Srinath fearing for his life.
If you have to tell fables of cricket stories and did your very best at it, still the best wouldn't have been 10% of what was witnessed in the 2001 India Oz Series. There was a revival around this time with India just out of the match fixing scandal, and this was the team which probably had lots of personalities and style associated to it. There was Charisma in Sourav, Grit in Dravid, Class in Sachin, Passion in Bhajji, Perseverance in Kumble. This wasn't a team of players, it was a team of living role models, for once India served a well-made Indian Thali to all the teams. India's ascent to its glory days started around then. Looking at the 2003 WC and reflecting on India's loss in the final would be gross injustice to one of the most admirable journeys of team spirit displayed by an Indian team. The culmination to that journey happened though not in Jo'burg but in Adelaide. I didn't need an alarm now to get up at 5.30 in the mornings then, for during that series I won my battle against Snooze. This to me was more special than the 2001 match just for the fact that we did it in conditions where we used to lose matches in mid-journey to Australia in the previous tours. Rahul Dravid added an another hue to his magnificent rainbow he was painting in Indian colors. He would add to it further in Rawalpindi and Leeds latter. Dravid and Kumble both of them gave grit a good name and perseverance an admirable trait to imbibe.
It was roughly around this time in 2004 that I graduated from school and college and also from my boyish fanaticism of Indian cricket and underwent a metamorphism to a matured lover of the cricket sport. I also flirted with many other sports like F1, Tennis, Basketball, Football. Even though I follow a few of those sports keenly now, I can never say "Kimi should have taken a left turn in the second gear across the champions wall opening up his DRS" as I confidently say "That's sliding down leg-side on live TV when an appeal is made". Cricket is not for the time I see it on field, all the nostalgic memories I have had with it make it an unforgettable first love for me..
So what if the Britishers have taken the Kohinoor from us, they have left the Cricket diamond for us !!!