Thursday, June 23, 2011

Avenged

If the phrase "Sabina Park" doesn't make your blood boil, you might skip this article altogether. Do let me know, though: I might tick you off my friends' list.

It was 1976. We had chased down 406, a world record, at Port-of-Spain in the previous test. Lloyd's spinners couldn't prevent a defeat: Gavaskar and Viswanath scored hundreds, and we had cruised to victory. A frustrated Lloyd thought he won't let it remain anything short of a bloodbath anymore. He picked four fast bowlers, and when we crossed 200 for the loss of just a single wicket, the bowlers, especially Holding, was asked to do something different.

Holding was the fastest of the pack: he came round the wicket, and with a bunch of fielders on the legside, bowled short-pitched deliveries. He was ably supported by Daniel. The umpires didn't intervene, despite the batsmen's repeated protests. As the Indian batsmen were hit, time and again, the crowd cheered. The arena hardly looked like a cricket field any more: the crowd was actually preferring to see blood instead of cricket. They kept shouting for blood.

Gaekwad, Brijesh Patel and Viswanath were all hit (the first two had to retire), and Bedi had to declare to protect himself and Chandrasekhar from being murdered. West Indies took a lead of 85, and then, at 97/5, the Indian innings folded with three men injured and two not being exposed to brutal savagery.

Having grown up on Sunny Days, my blood used to boil as a teenager whenever I used to read this chapter. Why cannot we avenge 1976? We had gone on to lose narrowly in 1983, easily in 1989 and one-sidedly in 2002. Shall we never win at Sabina Park? We shall never have a Holding, or for that matter, anyone from that pack. But it still had to happen sometime, right?

So I waited. Then came 2006. It was a strange-looking pitch, with prominent uneven bounce from day one. We did not have Tendulkar, and we had dropped Ganguly. The openers scored zero and one. Even Laxman looked uncomfortable.

But we had Dravid, who had decided to set up camp at the crease. The usual pack of four fast bowlers hunted for wickets, but The Wall had remained unconquered for close to six hours (no other batsman in the entire test managed to go past two). He handled bounce and pace with ease: he negotiated lifters and shooters; he used loose hands; he waited; he took blows; and when the bowlers finally tired, he got the runs as well. With the help of a late surge from Kumble, we reached 200. Dravid was eighth out, scoring one of the most attractive 81s you'd ever get to see.

The bowlers supported well. Sreesanth removed Gayle for a duck, and once the top order was removed, Harbhajan came on and took 5/13 to bowl them out for 103. Could we win this? A lead of 97 on a wicket that was definitely difficult to bat on: Dravid had bailed us out in the first innings. Who shall it be this time?

The openers got 1 and 4 this time. Dhoni's 19 was the second-highest score of the innings, and no one managed to bat for an hour: no one except Dravid, that is. With the wicket getting worse by the hour, Dravid batted for 215 minutes, scoring 68 to equal his previous effort. Once again he took blows, defended dourly and played his strokes: he went on and on, making me stay up the night.

For some inexplicable reason there were some people watching World Cup football that night (and through the entire tests). I mean, if you can't stay up, that's pardonable: but stay up and still not watch a Sabina Park test? No wonder Fardeen Khan has made a career out of his acting skills in this country.

They needed to get 269. Sreesanth got Gayle for a duck again. Sarwan, Lara, Chanderpaul followed. There was a late burst from Ramdin, but Kumble kept chipping on with wickets. He took 6/78, and we went on to win a test at Sabina Park. After a wait of thirty years. THIRTY.

But then, it's always sweeter if you get to beat them AGAIN. In the next test. And unlike spinners, it was the seamers who did it for us. Ishant bowled unplayable legcutters and bouncers, taking six wickets in the match; the debutant Praveen Kumar made the ball do U-turns in the air, taking six more; Raina and Harbhajan scored fifties; and well, that man got 40 and 112.

Sleep time. Thanks guys, yet again. What would I do without you?

6 comments:

  1. Saludas to the men in blue and their biggest, most ardent admirer/supporter/devotee :)

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  2. 2006 was a revenge (blood bath would have been too much to ask from our pacers). This was a regulation win ;)

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  3. Sabina has been conquered, now twice in a row. What about Kensington Oval, you still have nightmares about it, right?
    By the way, I could not see the Sabina 2006. I was not watching Ger-Arg Quarter Final either. For my parents and parents-in-law, in conjunction with the almanac, chose that particular day, 30 June 2006, for my wedding :)

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  4. Nice of you to bring back 1976, but this Team has bigger agendas than take revenge from past. They are on a long journey, step by step they are completing their goals with or without their best players. Wish them well!

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  5. Tick me off your friendlist then. Ahem.

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  6. I love a test match (more than T20 and ODI) but to miss a World Cup quarter final (30th Jun and 1st July 2006) is beyond the realms of imagination!

    ~ Krishanu

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