Social media is abuzz with videos of players who returned home from Australia. T Natarajan, who went as a net bowler and made his debut in one of the greatest test matches ever, is welcomed by a massive crowd in his village. There is no social distancing and no one is wearing masks. But Natarajan is wearing gloves and a mask, standing atop some sort of a chariot.
From a net bowler to playing in the T20s, ODIs and the test match of a lifetime. What does that do to your heart?
Ajinkya Rahane is given a hero’s welcome by the people in his apartment. He went about his job as captain without much fuss. At the presentation ceremony, the standout moment is usually the winning team in the throes of celebration. Here, it was Nathan Lyon receiving a shirt autographed by the entire Indian team in honor of his 100th test. If he hadn’t won enough hearts already, he won a few more when he refused to cut a Kangaroo shaped cake on his return home. He will now slink back to vice-captaincy without much fuss.
From vice-captain to sagely guide who leads a team to do the improbable. What does that do to your heart?
Mohammad Siraj goes straight to his departed father’s grave after landing. During one of the tests, cameras showed him tearing up during the national anthem. While fielding at the boundary, he endures racial abuse from spectators and reports it to the umpires.
From stardom to grief. What does that do to your heart?
On a beautiful Saturday at Adelaide, our hearts were crushed. Perfect moments are hard to come by and Josh Hazelwood, Mitch Starc, and Pat Cummins had one that Saturday. Edges carried. Drives were punished. Dutifully, a nationwide meltdown followed. There were calls for Rahul Dravid to be flown to Australia without any delay. Rajeev Shukla actually clarified that Dravid wouldn’t be flown. What was Dravid going to do anyway? Pad up and play?
The tryst with winning a series in Australia began in 2003-04. A mistimed declaration and a Steve Waugh special in his final match meant India had to settle for a draw. In 2007-08, factitious umpiring in an ill-tempered match at Sydney crushed all hopes of a win. Though the side came back miraculously at Perth, they lost the series 1-2. In 2011-12, a decade’s worth of work was torn apart in a 0-4 annihilation. It was the last time we would see VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid donning the whites. In 2014-15, India almost pulled off a heist in Adelaide. In the same series, MS Dhoni finished a press conference and without any fuss, called time on his test career. In 2018-19 they conquered a summit that had eluded them thus far – a series win in Australia. It was nearly 20 years in the making.
2020-21 was different, yet the same. Australia crowds have still not realized that the term code of conduct applies to them as well. Virat Kohli is set to return after the first test match for the birth of his child. India is fielding one of its best bowling attacks ever, most of whom will watch from the sidelines as the series progresses. Mohammad Siraj is told about his father’s demise at the start of the tour. He chooses to stay on. T Natarajan misses the birth of his daughter even when he isn’t a certainty in the playing XI.
At Melbourne, the side regroups under the aegis of Ajinkya Rahane. When you’re captain, it’s always time for a captain’s knock. In the first test, Rahane is involved in a mix-up that sends Kohli back to the pavilion. He has a few monkeys to get off his back. Shubman Gill makes a confident and assured debut. Rahane’s century is like the balm of Gilead. There are no over the top rub it in your face celebrations that are synonymous with Virat Kohli. Just like it happened at Perth all those years back, the side strings an improbable victory. There are no calls for Rahul Dravid to board the next flight to Australia.
At Sydney, Hanumana Vihari and R Ashwin defy Nathan Lyon, Tim Paine’s chatter and injury to steal a draw. The 36 all out is slowly receding from memory.
Brisbane is the last stop of a tumultuous tour. All of India’s frontline bowlers, Mohammad Shami, Umesh Yadav and Jasprit Bumrah, are injured. A statistic says Australia’s bowlers have 1,013 wickets between them. India’s bowlers? 13. Washington Sundar and T Natarajan are handed their test caps. Shubman Gill misses a century by 9 runs and Cheteshwar Pujara becomes a punching bag. Rishab Pant, who is coming off a lacklustre IPL and whose attitude and fitness are always in the firing line, rises like a phoenix. According to reports, no one from the dressing room told him to go for victory. He just did. Towards, the end, he commits hara-kiri by going for a big hit. The heart stops and the mind goes back to 1999 when Sachin Tendulkar’s wicket triggered a heartbreaking collapse that hurts to this day. This is 2021. But anything is possible. Once Washington Sundar departs, it’s all on Pant.
The final shot is a punch through long-off. The camera stays on the ball and no one can see if there is a fielder. When the camera finally catches up with the ball, it has crossed the boundary.
Even though Rahul Dravid didn’t take the flight to Australia, he was all over Twitter, garnering praise. Two of his proteges, Pujara and Rahane were critical pivots around which the team revolved. He played an important part in Australia after all.
The series was a lesson in storytelling
David vs Goliath
A sagely guide who helps them make the treacherous journey
Overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles
Winning against all odds
We live vicariously through sport. We wish we can be a part of closely knit team that defies the odds. And when we don’t find it in life, sport delivers us from the humdrum of the everyday.
To be invested in sport is to subject yourself to heart surgery every time the team takes the field. Apart from actual heart surgery, sport is the only other thing that can rip our hearts and put it back together.