It wasn’t THAT sort of a day – rather it was far from it. It was just another hot and sweaty March day in Calcutta. Day 3 tickets at the Eden were not selling at a premium – after all India were 128/8 and just 12 wickets and 274 runs away from a series loss. After the debacle in Australia (’99-’00) and the home loss against South Africa (’00), even the most ardent Ganguly supporter would not have raised both his eyebrows at the prospect of India losing twelve wickets in a day – especially against an attack that included McGrath, Gillespie, Warne and that genius at chess Kasparov (he would remain Kasparov for most of us till Edgbaston 2005 but that is another story).
And the worst part of it was that my mother was not even an ardent Ganguly fan – because of all the Nagma…err…dogma surrounding him at that point of time. “How could a Xaviers’ bred pure blood Bengali fall for a South Indian actress when he has a traditional, humble Odissi dancer for a wife at home?” she fumed. I readily agreed, for a 13-year-old Bengali kid does not have too many choices when it comes to one’s mother’s opinions and the issue of wearing monkey caps in winter. Of course, Ravi Kissen, Manoj Tiwary (not the Bengal player who recently replaced the wrong R Sharma in the Indian team and had to bowl 10 overs of “My mum wud ‘ve eet it” leg spin and ended up with 4 wickets) and Youtube would expose me to the wonders of Nagma and her Bhojpuri adventures later on but that is another story.
Anyway, somehow I managed to convince my mother that if India managed to avoid the follow-on, we would duly utilize the tickets which my sister’s boyfriend had given me overnight. Obviously the intention was to avoid another India capitulation and spend quality time with my sister instead. I had full faith in Venkatapathy Raju. He wasn’t called “Muscles” for no reason. Sadly, a young 25-year-old tyke stole his thunder with a steady 59. But that was not enough to avoid the follow-on.
With imploring eyes and clenched fists, I turned to my authoritarian parent to give me another opportunity – the last one. This time the bet was on the Indian pair of “The Bowled” – Sadagoppan Ramesh, who always remembered to tie both his shoelaces before he got to the crease so that Navjot Sidhu could drive a truckload of red SG cherries between his front leg and his bat (25% of his Test match dismissals were bowled) – and “The Beautiful” – Shiv Sundar Das, whose name says it all. If they put on 50 for the first wicket, we could even last the entire day and make the sixteen rupee round trip to the Eden Gardens somewhat worth it. Something incredibly incredible, but then the dying cricket fan would always clutch at his last broken willow.
The rest, as they say, is history. Braving the likes of Kasper the Friendly Dost and his merry men, Ramesh and Das danced, ducked and weaved their way to 52 before Ramesh attempted a pirouette once too often only to find his ball land in the safe cups of Mark Waugh. What happened for most of the next two days (and some seven odd years after that) was a mere blip in the space time continuum. The only other thing worth remembering is the delivery which the great Raju bowled to Mark Waugh. It was as unremarkable as the 150-odd unremarkable deliveries that the holy Venkatapathy had sent down in the whole match, but the remarkable thing is that Mark Waugh found it so remarkably unremarkable that he just sighed and offered his pad to it.
It is really unfortunate that, succumbing to the not-so-uncommon mass hysteria following the retirement of Dravid and Laxman, we miss out on the exploits of the Ravishing Ramesh, the Diminutive Das or the Remarkably Unremarkable Raju. Here is a tribute to the Expendables of Indian cricket who won’t even have Sylvester Stallone making a multi-million dollar franchise out of them.