I am sorry. I got no help. I peered through my friend Lawrence Booth’s list of greatest Test series. I looked over the greatest sporting movies of all times. I scanned the greatest achievements ever. I couldn’t match India in Australia.
How do you define the greatest? Sure, it must have a history, a long one. Sure the odds must be what David had against the Goliath. Sure, it must involve an emotional catharsis: Becoming a part of the combat in which Two are engaged. But emotional spill is an outcome. History and Odds remain the two single biggest causations.
Sure teams have come back from 2-0 down. Chased down mammoth targets. Injured men have risked lives. Fairytales have happened. Comebacks after years in wilderness. All these conjure up faces of Bradman, Flintoff, Laxman, Tendulkar and Muhammad Ali. All this is history: But what were the odds? All these men were already legends cast. They foretold of great feats. The odds were not Mt Everest mocking.
Sports in flicks too form our emotional landscape. Rocky Balboa climbing up the 72 steps to the entrance of Philadelphia Museum of Art, to what are now called “Rocky Steps,” is a memory for ages. The brawn of Robert de Niro, our Jack LaMotta of Raging Bull, destroying self along with everyone close to him; that heart-wrenching moment when Clint Eastwood pulls the plug on his “Million Dollar Baby”; that teenage pursuit of NBA in Hoop Dreams, an unadorned portrait of poverty, broken families and falling education system.
There are two aspects of India in Australia : One for foreign and the other for domestic audience.
Others could peer through their stats, anecdotes and memory and think of an equivalent. But they must factor in the booby traps which like a horror flick gets one, and then the next and then the next till hardly anybody is left in the summer camp. This India was making callow youths guard the tent who had originally come as porters, in cricketing parlance as net bowlers. With the ample knowledge of fellow lambs who have been slaughtered. Was there no fear? Was there awareness that their role didn’t end with ball and that there was batting to be done.
Then you weigh in the opposition and conditions. What was Australia like? With arguably the best batsman on the planet and with one of history’s finest attacks. Gabba is a fortress like Murad Janjira of our own on Konkan coast which neither the Mughals, Marathas nor Portuguese, British could conquer. Remember Tim Paine saying he couldn’t wait to get to Gabba? What do you think are the odds to this outcome? An arctic hare against a grizzly bear; a lamb to a lion, leafy greens to winter?
Now for us Indians. We all by now know that progenies of a weaver or an auto rickshaw driver has lived a dream. That they could dream alone in crushing reality in itself is an insurmountable odd. Before you be cynical and claim that they were already IPL rich before they went to Australia, you got to question how did they come to IPL itself. Oh, so it was India A route. And how to India A? Some representative cricket. Was it plastic-ball cricket? Ahh…could be. How did these poor manage on borrowed kits, shoes and helmets. What do we say to those parents who didn’t mind an extra sack on their shoulders so that their son could buy the bus ticket to training. Do we spare a thought for our Rishabh Pant’s mother at this stage who left the bed at 2.30 in the morning to accompany her son from Roorkee to Delhi and spend the day in a Gurudwara in Capital? Do we remember a Harbhajan Singh who had no time to shed tears on his dead father only because there was a mother and bunch of sisters to take care of? Was sport even an alternative to education? Would most of us even weigh such an option?
What is true of cricket, is true of other fields too. Young lives against odds are coming up in education, entrepreneurship and innovations. It’s ambitious young who like water is forging its way across pebbles, around stone, over the rocks, under the moss. And not one. Possibly a billion. Only the best survives. Today when Australia is struggling to pronounce a Thakur and a Sundar, we in India know that there are dozens other mirror-images who are waiting for their defining breakthroughs. The sluice-gates have opened.
It’s also our best moment to stand to the defence of Test cricket. Greedy runners of the game have already sold its soul to auctioneers. But we need our Pujaras and Rahanes we don’t see in IPL. We need these fresh faces of Pants and Sundars. Those yet uncorrupted Siraj and Thakur. How long before the sloshing money shifts their essence. When time is spent counting your ranches and resorts; jets and islands. When the smile of your billion countrymen fades into insignificance.
It’s a no-brainer to cricket-lovers too. Is there any instant game to sweep us our feet as Test cricket does? We need to bless it with our audience, with TRPs and presence in the stadiums so that it survives and gives us such moments.
In terms of history or odds; the course-correction that it offers to the game, to the message it has for a nation rising after millennium, this Test series is a stand-alone moment. Nothing else even comes close. It is the Greatest Ever.