December 17, 2003
Dusk had begun its quiet descent on an enchanting day. Empty seats watched loitering seagulls. The team bus had long gone. But inside the dressing room, amidst the detritus of empty Gatorade bottles and sandwich wrappers, they sat, tired grins on drawn faces, the remaining conquerors.
Maybe it was just happenstance that Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Ajit Agarkar, three primary architects of an extraordinary win, found these fleeting minutes together. Maybe they wanted to slowly inhale the last remaining scent of victory, take one last look at this foreign place where their team had imprinted its greatness. They owned this stadium on Tuesday, they were not ready to leave just yet.
In some beautiful coincidence, up above them on the dressing-room wall rested white boards on which were inscribed the names of famous travelers to this ground who had made centuries or taken five wickets. Their names have not been written there yet but, as they looked up, it appeared they could already see them. Men do not make history every day.
Dravid said little then, as if relief and satisfaction had clogged his throat. It didn’t matter, some others had already said it for him. ‘‘When he plays well, India plays well. He’s a great, great, player’’, said John Wright. Steve Waugh was brief: ‘‘Outstanding concentration and magnificent technique’’.
Sourav Ganguly kept it simple: ‘‘He batted like a God.’’
Two hours later, Dravid was sitting in Sachin Tendulkar’s room, some of the emotion of the day washing away. Did he cry? He laughs, ‘‘I’m not that emotional’’. But don’t be fooled, this is a man whose passion runs understated but strong, whose desire is advertised with every ball extra he stays on the field to play.
For 594 minutes he batted for his 233, yet he says he awoke this morning not believing he had ‘‘done his bit’’, that there was ‘‘a lot to do’’. It is the way of this team. He arrived at India 48/1 and he left when India was 233/6, a square-driven four from his bat fittingly finishing it all. Right through his innings of 72, he appeared to exude defiance, suggesting this warrior was not returning home without victory. His sweat, everyone’s sweat, would not be for nothing.
‘‘I’ve been playing for seven years’’, he said later, ‘‘and we’ve lost a lot of games, and I was just fed up, and during many periods on Tuesday I kept telling myself I didn’t want to go through that again’’.
But no one man, he interrupts sternly, designs victory by himself, and to forget Sehwag (quick runs, great catches), Patel (key first innings runs), Tendulkar (vital 37 on Tuesday), Ganguly (powerful leadership), Kumble (five wickets, first innings), Laxman (148), Agarkar (6-41, second innings), Pathan (Hayden’s executioner),Nehra (Martyn and Waugh, first innings), Chopra (two fine starts), and Wright, and the support crew, is to do this team a terrible disservice. Indeed, they only win because they are a team.
In Laxman’s simple admission that ‘‘everyone is always ready to help each other’’ lies the seed to this team’s ability to grow and
become only the side to win after the opposition has scored over 500 in the first innings.
Wright would say his team’s journey to where it is has taken ‘‘a lot of belief’’, and perhaps he meant not just in themselves but in each other, in the crucial understanding that in a land that worships individualism only unity could ensure triumph. One small moment on Monday, when fielders walked up to a disconsolate Parthiv Patel after his missed stumping of Adam Gilchrist, to squeeze his shoulder, to pat his back, told the tale sufficiently.
We will never know every reason for this team’s maturity, and that is fitting for there must be some element of mystery to the process. But that captain approaching the interview tent after the game, his smile so wonderfully incandescent that it lit up the evening, well, without him it would not have been possible. This is not just India, it is Sourav Ganguly’s India.
He had led here with conviction, in Brisbane from the front. He is a cooler, hardier and cannier customer than his glasses-on professorial air suggests. Laxman, asked what he liked about his captain, said ‘‘encouragement’’ and ‘‘aggression’’, and to build this team, to meet Australia head on, required a man of such resolve.
No one thought this victory possible, it has seized everyone by surprise. On Tuesday, as Ganguly listened in on Dravid’s press conference, I asked: ‘‘Are you surprised?’’
‘‘No’’, he said, ‘‘I believe in this team’’. Perhaps India does too.
This team has flaws, this series has also just warmed up. But this was not a day to consider future defeat but to find pleasure in a victorious present.
Perhaps dusk would have descended when Laxman and Dravid and Agarkar walked out of their dressing room.
Perhaps all they met was empty seats and loitering seagulls, even the echoes of the applause they earned having died.
But one reminder of their team’s deed still stood by silently. For in the distant corner history was still written on the scoreboard.
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