In this piece Sambit Bal highlights the very thought that I have been trying to avoid throughout India’s shambolic performance down under. However, considering the fact that India do not play another test match for almost 8 months, and the clamour for change in the test side, it is now impossible to now avoid this thought.
This is probably the last test match that Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman will play together.
Ever since I understood the intricacies of test cricket, ever since I started watching test cricket seriously, these guys have been around. Around to carry the immense expectations that surrounds the Indian team, and how well did they carry those expectations! Until Gambhir and Sehwag came together at the top of the order, we never had an opening pair worth comparing to the other test teams. Yet, our batting was lauded as one of the strongest. We didn’t flinch when both our openers would make their way back to the pavilion even before the team had crossed the fifty run mark. We might have even looked forward to that, for then we could see Dravid and Tendulkar bat together. They did enjoy batting together, and they did well too. They are the most prolific batting pair in the history of test cricket (barring openers). Laxman was always the man for a crisis, taking the team to victory from situations from where even a draw was not imaginable.
Winning test matches in India was never a problem for us. However, when Australia came calling in 2001 on the back of an impressive run in test cricket and thrashed us inside three days in Mumbai, it looked like we would lose at home as well. But then, Kolkata happened. Batting again after a follow-on, Laxman and Dravid came up with a flawless batting display and took the team to a victory that not even the most ardent fans would have dreamt of on day three. That match was the turning point. To the Indian fans, it gave belief that the Indian team is also capable of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat (before, often it was the opposite that came true). From that time on, each time “India were in a dire straits” we had a reference point to fall back on. We believed that we could get out of jail, and we did. Tendulkar’s cover drives, Dravid’s cut towards backward point and Laxman’s flicks to the leg side all invariably found the boundary rope. Everything started to fall in place, we suddenly had fast bowlers who could bowl on friendly pitches, we had batsmen who could score run on them. Heck, we even got openers who could give us an opening stand. And we became the highest ranked test side in the world. Lest we forget, dreams of such an achievement would have been considered lunatic at the start of the decade.
Everything might have become pear-shaped in our last two overseas test series. We stand at the brink of losing 8 consecutive away test matches. I don’t remember when was the last time we achieved this feat. And yes, the infallible three are the blame. They are to blame because over the course of these two series they have failed to live up to the impossibly high standards they have set. They are to blame, because they have failed to paper over the cracks of the rest of the team. Now that they have failed, the failings of others have been magnified and the resulting scene is not pretty.
As the realisation that this might very well be the last time I see them representing India, I understand what they gave me. Hope. Over a period of a decade and a half, these men provided me hope. The impossible hope that redemption is possible, The hope that tomorrow will be a better day, a better performance. More often than not, it came true. Hopefully, the new crop of cricketers can provide the same hope, can show the same resilience. Watching India play test cricket without these three will be a lot less involving experience for some time, until the new players can start filling the shoes left behind.
The probability that these three play again is remote (but it is there), however the probability that we will see another set of Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman play in the same Indian team is zero.