Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Big Crash

There was a point, I think, right after the Lord's Test, where I was absolutely unconcerned about how the team was playing; I remained smug and solid in my conviction that this team was the king of comebacks, and that it would bounce back with the kind of alacrity that would lead to people making horrible puns that possibly included the words 'India rubber'. After all, we all know what happened in South Africa, right? Or Australia? Or Sri Lanka? Hell, the Freakin Amazing Test Match in '08 against England in Chennai, where we were losing for 3 and a half days before going on to win?

History said: India will make England slip off its perch so bad, it's gonna get rope-burn. Or something. (History isn't terribly great at mixed metaphors.)

Unfortunately, we went through a wormhole into a reality where it was India that continued slipping. And slipping. And slipping.

But more on that later.

So there we were in good ol' Trent Bridge for the second Test, and India seemed right on track. We had England at 100-odd for 6, Ishant Sharma was finally starting to look formidable again, and PK was a revelation. "See?" I said. "Everything's going according to plan."

Then: we... just let it slip.

Looking back on that moment, that session of play where we let Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann do what they pleased with the bat was The Turning Point. Possibly THE most important session in the series. When we let that go, we'd practically let go of the series, our no 1 ranking, any semblance of dignity we might have had. I remember being more bemused than angry. I still am, actually. It's like being smacked on the head by a cow that just fell from the sky. What the hell happened?

Yeah, sure, England played magnificently - not going to take that away from them - and we were crap warmed over, but - still. What? We can't be THAT bad, right? The depressing thing is that a team with the likes of Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman and Sehwag is performing a couple of notches below how Bangladesh would perform in the same situation. Hell, B'desh could've maybe managed a draw or two, even.

The final Test is going on at the Oval right now, and England scored bucketloads of runs in the first innings (as usual) and we - FREAKIN AGAIN - folded cheaply. It's like somebody went there and pulled the plug on some vital reserve in the Indian players. I imagine little gears and chains in the players' bodies, pulling them through over after over, through minute after minute of the depressing charade. In the few minutes I dared to watch the actual TV coverage - risky, because I tend to spend the rest of the day in a blue funk when I do - I remember Harsha Bhogle saying something along the lines of, "So Praveen Kumar continues to bowl. And bowl. And bowl."

I imagine he was praising PK's perseverance and stamina, but every word was also a statement on the black sludge that the Indian cricket viewer's soul was being dragged through.

And bowl. And bowl. And bowl. And bowl. And bowl...

A lonely and sordid nightmare.

Compounding the depression is that - man, this is England we're losing to. England! Forgive me for my prejudices, but - seriously, India? Seriously? About the only modern English thing I can bring myself to love is Doctor Who. Everything else is a horror acid trip consisting mostly of Swann's 142-character witticisms and Stuart Broad's, well, everything.

Dhoni must've known a series loss was going to come sometime. I don't think he expected it to be this bad.

I can't bring myself to watch/read/write about this series. It's physically painful. Just getting those links for the matches and verifying the scores was like taking raw chunks out of my soul. I remember my Dad watching an NDTV news bulletin about the second Test during breakfast. The anchor announced the highlights package as "Now for the Sadlights" without a trace of irony. If the team's performance is depressing, the local media reaction is even more depressing.

Sunil Gavaskar going, "The players, now that they've won the World Cup, act as if Indian cricket owes them something now, rather than the other way round" (paraphrased), was probably the only time I got angry through the whole affair. That's an unfair statement, Mr. Gavaskar. That's really, really unfair. I really can't say anything more than that, just goggle in sheer disbelief.

I can't stand it. I usually avoid news channels like the plague; now I've taken to just removing the sports pages of the newspaper and folding them under the toaster in the morning. Yes, I'm enjoying my ride in this river in Egypt; how about you?

I'm still waiting for THE moment, however. The moment where the Indian team gets that spring in its step and stop auditioning for extras in a George Romero movie. It's part wishful thinking, part romantic fantasy, but mostly proved by history. There have been passages - tiny, but they were there - of play in this tour where the Indians showed glimpses of why they are/were/are/were/ARE, goddamit, the best team in the world. Some good memories can still be salvaged out of this tour. Maybe even a couple of wins.

Meanwhile, I'll direct the depressing stuff to the ever-growing pile under my toaster.