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The un-jinxing

CHENNAI, INDIA – DECEMBER 15: Kevin Pietersen, the England captain, looks on as the large TV screen shows his opposite number Mahendra Singh Dhoni during day 5 of the First Test Match between India and England at the MA Chidambaram Stadium on December 15, 2008 in Chennai, India.

I cannot talk about the entire nation but I was in definite shock. Three buildings within the vicinity of two kilometers from the place where I worked were brutally attacked by terrorists. This was just part of the attack. My CEO was caught in the Taj hotel during the first night of the attack and had his stories to share with all of us. We had all been glued to the TV for days, watching it happen. For the first time in Indian history I think, we saw a live televised version of a terror attack.

There was a fear in all of us, at least in Mumbai, for weeks.

Things were chaotic. The media was coming up with sensationalist news every day. New agencies were being talked about to improve national security. There was a blast after 26/11 in Assam but  no one was really bothered. The focus was in Mumbai. I hated this indifference.

It was one of the rare occasions in my life when cricket wasn’t the first thing on my mind. But the moment I heard about England’s tour to India starting in December, cricket was back to being my first priority.

On cricinfo, I read Sachin’s comment about 26/11:

“It wasn’t an attack on Mumbai. It was an attack on the country”.

He doesn’t talk much but whenever he does, he makes sense, was what I thinking.

The cricket was back in Chennai. The first day of the test match went in our favor. England had lost half their side within 250 runs. Under such a scenario, you don’t expect the opposition to cross 300. But we have always exceeded this expectation. England ended with 316. When we started batting, I thought we would score 600+ and try for an innings victory. But our batsmen looked to be in a hurry. The English bowlers harried them with their determination, discipline, intensity, pace and spin.

If that was not enough, Flintoff sledged Yuvraj into submission. 140 odd for 6 at the end of day 2 was a score which had put us in a gigantic spot of bother.

Those were the days when Harbhajan Singh knew what batting meant, Zaheer Khan used to believe that batting wasn’t all about moving down the leg side and try hitting the ball to Lullanagar, and rest of the tail could hang around a bit. We still ended up conceding lead of 70 plus.

CHENNAI, INDIA – DECEMBER 15: Yuvraj Singh of India hits out past Ian Bell against the bowling of Monty Panesar during day 5 of the First Test Match between India and England at the MA Chidambaram Stadium on December 15, 2008 in Chennai, India.

With England losing three wickets in the second innings for almost nothing, hopes of making a comeback returned. However, Andrew Strauss and Collingwood had other ideas. Twin centuries meant England was out of trouble. With England having a clear edge in the test, it was up to them to decide how much was going to be enough”. It was a tough call. They couldn’t have gone on too long as that would eat up precious time.

India had batsmen who could last session after session, although history had enough evidence of Indian batsmen collapsing hopelessly on the final day.

They couldn’t have given too little to chase and ended up looking like a bunch of idiots. India had Sehwag. Finally, England declared. 387 was the target.

I boarded my flight to Kolkata. I was going to the treasure land – Barbil, a small town in Orissa which is known for its abundance of iron ore.

“Don’t tell me we have lost.” I called up a friend as soon as I landed on Kolkata airport.

“Such a pessimist you are. We are 131/1 and will win tomorrow”

“Sehwag?” I was confirming more than asking it.

“Yes. Who else?”

“Gone?”

“Yes but we will win” he was beaming.

Sehwag had scored a 68 ball 83 and India was scoring at more than four runs per over. This was exceptional. This was phenomenal. This was historical. My only regret was that it had happened when I was in the air and not on the ground.

The next day went in travelling and seeing iron ore mines. While seeing the mines were a good experience, the roads we travelled on were the worst I have ever seen. I also feared for my life. The town was in the heart of Naxal activities. Things were scary there. Not more than three months after I had come back, the Naxals blasted the railway track in that area. And they did it again.

CHENNAI, INDIA – DECEMBER 14: Virender Sehwag of India hits out past the fielding Ian Bell during day 4 of the First Test Match between India and England at the MA Chidambaram Stadium on December 14, 2008 in Chennai, India.

And again.

But my mind wasn’t far from cricket. Every now and then, as soon as my cell phone could catch the network, I would call up a friend to enquire about the score.

“Gambhir gone”

“Dravid and Sachin doing it fine”

“Dravid gone but don’t worry. We have Laxman, the crisis man”

“Laxman gone. If Sachin doesn’t erase the memories of Chennai – 1998 today, maybe he will never do it”

“They are going fine but it will be tough”

I had decided that enough is enough. I told the guide who was accompanying us: “Boss, I think we have seen enough mines. I don’t think one mine differs that much from another and even if it does, I am not competent enough to differentiate. Let’s go back to the hotel and seal the victory.”

He was more than happy at my suggestion and back we were.

Sachin was batting with Yuvraj and he was batting beautifully. Flintoff was trying his best to sledge out Yuvraj but wasn’t succeeding. Maybe it’s the presence of greatness at other end which ensured sanity of mind for Yuvraj. A trademark paddle sweep and we’d done it. We’d won the test match. Sachin got his century. It was, ladies and gentleman, like a dream coming true – not for Sachin but for me.

CHENNAI, INDIA – DECEMBER 15: Sachin Tendulkar of India sweeps during day 5 of the First Test Match between India and England at the MA Chidambaram Stadium on December 15, 2008 in Chennai, India.E

The ghost of 1998 was buried. The blot on Sachin’s CV which said he couldn’t see the team to a victory while chasing difficult targets was erased. It was a well fought and earned victory while we were all recovering from the mental trauma of 26/11. The victory didn’t erase the pain of that horrific attack but it did make us all smile while we were all trying to recover from the trauma. ‘The nation smiles when Sachin does’ had been a theory for close to two decades and it was further strengthened on that evening.

And Sachin’s word said it all:

“In no way am I trying to say that this will make everyone forget what happened in Mumbai. But I’d like to thank England for coming back to play Test cricket. We’ve witnessed a wonderful match. People are again enjoying cricket the way it’s meant to be.”

Few days later, another jinx was broken. South Africa chased down a target of 414 against Australia and for an infinitely small period, washed off the tag of chokers.

Maybe the period of the first of December to  the 21st  should be declared a period of un-jinxing.

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