Sitting on a wooden bench at King’s Park at Perth, you are at a height, the vantage point providing an enchanting view of the serene city and the sparkling river Swan. Sitting on that same wooden chair, facing Glenn Mitchell, sipping coffee and feeding on nostalgia, I also saw Eden Gardens and Hooghly, purple with Holi colours. (Full Coverage| Points table| Fixtures)
Though, in these parts and those in India who tune in to Australia Broadcasting Corporation radio, Mitchell is someone who doesn’t need an introduction. For the rest, the 52-year-old has called 200 Tests, 900 AFL games, 4 Olympics and 20 different disciplines for the ABC radio. Those around him call him the Oracle. That is actually a skimpy description since Oracles are serious guys. Mitchell is a witty raconteur with an eye for detail and drama.
He has agreed to meet over coffee and it suits me just fine as the Indians are training late in the afternoon. Three hours later when I get up from the park bench, realisation dawns that I have missed India’s net and I have no regrets. It’s a roller-coaster ride where you have goose pimples one minute and are laughing out loud the next.
The point at which I forgot the clock hands was when Mitchell uttered “2001, Eden Gardens”.
The ‘Greatest Game’
They are the three golden words that have magical elasticity to stretch any conversation for three hours or more. Unknown to each other, we had covered the ‘Greatest Game’ sitting in the same media box. Now, several years later, many miles away, we were here exchanging notes. Make it, me sitting in rapt attention, listening to the other view of the Test that ended the Aussie reign and started an Indian revival.
And it’s too much of a coincidence that exactly 14 years back, March 13, 2001 had ended with Laxman and Dravid getting hydrated by a saline drip after batting for the entire day.
Like all riveting tales, this one too has a start that makes you curious. It is mid-night and Mitchell, along with his long-time broadcasting partner and co-traveller on various tours, Jim Maxwell, land at the Mumbai airport. It was to be a busy tour, there were early signs.
“We reach the hotel and we got a call that Don Bradman has died. I don’t know what they expect us to do at 2 in the morning. Next day, we reach Taj Mahal hotel where the teams are staying. Steve Waugh speaks as the Australian captain would and then I go to Ian Chappell,” he says before taking a pause. You expect a punchline and you get it.
“He said, ‘Glenn, my mother always said if you can’t say anything nice about someone don’t say anything’.” Mitchell would explain that Bradman remains the most revered batsman ever but his stance against World Series cricket, or as many felt, players making money, wasn’t to Chappell’s liking.
From the first Test at Mumbai, which India lost in three days, Mitchell has a Tendulkar memory that isn’t about him scoring runs. “The first time, the crowd sees that little blue helmet come out, they roar. He hits the first ball, they roar, he lets it go, they roar. And then he nicks one and I don’t know how it can happen, it’s like all the air inside the stadium is sucked out. He is about 20 metres away and then the clapping starts again, he walks ahead it gets louder, he crosses the rope the roar is same as was when he went in.” He then gives the money line: “It’s like Jesus coming back and getting crucified.”
It’s like the Bradman era, says the Aussie. “It was like the old days when newspaper was king and it had that banner in the street. All they would have was ‘He is out’ and everyone knew that it was Bradman. It was the same in India. You would ask: ‘So what’s happening in cricket?’ and you would say, ‘Well, he is out’. And they wouldn’t think of Dravid, Laxman or Dhoni.”
Mitchell is shaking his head in disbelief when he says, “Tendulkar was almost the human biorhythm, he was the human astrological chart of the country. It’s like, for Aries, if Tendulkar makes a hundred your day will be good, it was almost like he charted your day.”
From Tendulkar, he moves to Laxman and Eden but the awe doesn’t leave his face. “I remember this movement from that Test. Shane Warne bowls on his legs in the rough and the ball is spinning a lot. Laxman casually hits to the right of Mark Waugh at mid-off. Steve moves Mark to the right. Warne bowls the same ball again, this time Laxman hits to the left of Mark. He was toying with them that day.”
The Test would end with a sight that Mitchell has never seen. “I met Warne after the Test, it seemed he was still in a daze. I haven’t seen Warne so helpless or defeated ever.”
Mitchell can’t get over a very Indian thing he saw at Eden.
“After Laxman crossed Gavaskar’s mark, the electronic board showed that the state of Bengal has paid him some lakhs. When he went past 250, some politician gives him few more lakhs. I couldn’t contemplate anything like this anywhere else in the world. I can’t imagine that SCG when Michael Clarke was crossing 300, who was the PM then, Kevin Rudd donating $5000 on behalf of government.” Beyond the field, the Kolkata Test would see Mitchell meeting the ever so well-groomed Jagmohan Dalmiya.
“Not a sweat bead on his head, not a hair out of place and you thought that he wore that crisp safari suit with sharp crease in the elevator before coming for the interview.” The Aussie insists that if given a choice between covering Ashes England or the India tour, he would always take the latter. On his four trips to India, he has seen Diwali in Delhi and Holi in Kolkata during the 2001 series.
“India is a total assault on senses, the colour, the sound, the sense. The sight of people bathing in Hooghly after Holi and the water turning purple, it is fascinating.”
After being on the road for decades, covering Australia’s most successful cricket team, Mitchell went into a depressive mental state. But he fought back. He isn’t with ABC any longer, the noted commentator now guides others who are forced on this painful journey. He speaks on mental health issues and as they say, “Mitchell’s stories are laced with poignancy and humour.”
Like this one. Over to Mitchell, for one last time. “Once me and Jim were waiting to take a flight at Mumbai. We were getting our luggage from the boot of the taxi and we saw a cow walking out of the car park. And it actually walked up and the electronic doors opened. So Jim turns to me and says ‘It obviously isn’t going out for long, it doesn’t have luggage.”
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines