What a weekend, the sins of past and present life, the sorrows and worries of yesterday, today and tomorrow, and the imperfections in life have all been washed and papered over – we won!! For at least two days, this internal glow and the mysterious Mona Lisa smile will remain, probably making the non-Indians wonder what’s with him – we won!! I am unabashedly proud for a change, there is no “but” associated with this particular pride, such was the event – we won!!! We have won the World Cup after 28 years in champion style – cool, clinical and rock solid. It may be a while before we become the domineering West Indians or the Australians (if at all), this is the win of a side on the way there. Volumes are being written on the match, the tournament, Dhoni’s decisions, Yuvraj’s form, the “God”, the fielding and so on, there certainly wasn’t any need for one more and definitely not one which is anywhere near those standards. Hence I am writing this one from a very personal point of view, more so because the story of Indian cricket between 1983 and today is on different levels and scales the story of India and the story of me and you. Please bear with me for this won’t be too well formatted, it is coming from the heart and not the mind.
Free India can roughly be divided into two eras – the socialist, doubting, negative, scarcity-filled times till the reforms of 1992 and then the times when we opened up, faced the world and made some progress. The journey and changes between these two times are well documented and experienced as well. Me and a lot of folks from my generation (the ones in thirties and early forties) straddle both these times – we grew up and studied in the pre-reforms era and went to work and built a life in the post-reforms era. By and large, our parents were lower to middle class, most of their parents had been poor or dead so they had built up their lives in extreme frugality (dads bought pants and mums bought sarees once a year) and hard work – the only thing they drilled into their kids was the importance of education and good values. These were the tools that helped most of us make it big in our own ways in lives, we (and not just IT) propelled the growth and goodness that has happened in India with these tools – all the time using the benefits of the new open world. Cricket was our third companion (movies being the fourth), always something that brought us together wherever we were in the world, always something that served as a benchmark on how we were doing. The “two wins” then are quite symptomatic of these benchmarks, I am going to trace that cricketing journey between these two wins, lace it with the journey of my generation and that of the country.
The Indian team often used to be whitewashed abroad, we gloated on rare wins like the England series or 1 test won in WI, most of the discourse was about well fought matches where we “went down fighting”. We were the laughing stock of the world in one dayers (Gavaskar scoring 36 in 60 overs) and more so in the World Cups. I remember the Pakistan series in 1982 when Imran took so many wickets and Zaheer Abbas and Miandad walloped us – still hurts. The Indian economy grew at 3%, there were many tensions within Punjab, Assam and North East. The Indian state was a laughing stock as well, the optimism of the post-independence environment had given way to humiliation in 1962, the eternal unemployment, the corruption, the Emergency, lack of opportunities, the failed Janata Government experiment, all showed the world that India was a dark corner, it had no hope, the only good place for an Indian was outside it. There were silver linings like the Green Revolution and the 1971 war but by and large, we were poor, hopeless and “losers”. Most of us kids were blissfully unaware of our parents’ struggles, we had enough to eat, ramshackle houses, lots of cousins, tons of homework, dark and dinghy schools, Doordarshan programs that we watched through long power cuts and report cards that showed us where we stood in the world.
To repeat a cliché, this was like the “Where were you when Kennedy got shot” moment. Sadly, when India won 1983, I was sleeping. My dad woke me up and told me we had won. For me who was slightly indifferent to cricket (mainly because my grandma would make everyone sit around the radio and make us guess what had happened, imagine the difficulty to do that when Lala Amarnath spoke amidst the stadium noise), the love affair had begun. Most of the world was startled, everyone attributed it to “fluke” and were proved right soon enough – WI came to India immediately after and beat the crap out of us. The doors had slightly opened – what these potbellied, middle aged men led by a young captain had done was shown each one of us that we were not downright hopeless as everyone (including ourselves) said we were.
There was new hope in the air with Rajiv Gandhi as the PM, his “let us get rid of the powerbrokers” speech, Sam Pitroda (who we should all thank for our jobs) and so was the cricket. We cheered the World Series in Australia where Shastri got his Audi and drove it around the SCG and such is the irony was named “Champion of Champions”. It was the time when suddenly you could make phone calls across the country – the acronym STD got a new meaning (decent too), that was also the time when my grades started improving. Then came the Reliance Cup – first time outside England, such high scoring close matches, we lost the first one to Australia by 1 run and then got swept out by Gooch in the semi-final, the world discovered Steve Waugh here first. Every time the refrain was the same, well fought, close matches, individual milestones but never convincing, consistent wins.
This was the time of building, winning, losing, losing more, again many individual performances – Azhar’s centuries and magical onside hits with his rubber wrists, the GOD and his fury, Jadeja, Robin Singh, some wins here and there and then the match fixing scandals. There was the small matter of the liberalization of 92 (attribute this to PVNR and not MMS), the stock market scam by Harshad Mehta (fallout, we have a world class fully computerized stock trading system), the Asian financial crisis, the Y2K scare (where Indian IT suddenly found its feet and never looked back), the two United Front governments (Dewe Gowda), the dream budget of Chidambaram (first time personal tax rates came down to 30% and freed lot of cash for people to spend), the nuclear tests of 98, the Kargil War and the first stable non-Congress government. In between all this, we had discovered the guys who made so much difference in the next decade – Ganguly, Dravid, Laxman, Sehwag, Kumble.
I went through my life the same way, ambling through, neither high nor low, finishing engineering (never failed but never in the top rankers), joining a relatively less known field called IT. You’d be surprised that back then, everyone had asked me “Why are you leaving mechanical which is such a stable field to join IT which will go away after the Y2K is over?”.
We are extremely fortunate to have had the GOD but the next best thing after him that happened to recent Indian cricket was this man. So many moments, the sweetly timed offside fours, the thumping sixes to spinners (remember Taunton where he and Dravid destroyed the Sri Lankans in 1999 WC), making Waugh wait for the toss, the removing of the shirt at Lords, the 141 at Brisbane that set the tone for the historic Australia series in 2003. What this man brought to the team was the feeling that “You are inferior to no one, give it back and my oft-repeated line, the Western man is not special!!” Not to forget the team he had got, those historic partnerships between Dravid and Laxman, Kumble’s endless bowling and taking wickets through hard work, Bhaji’s wicket hauls and B and M gaalis, the Kolkata test (can it get any better?), Adelaide and the 2003 world Cup till the finals.
This was the time when the Vajpayee government had firmly established growth as part of the Indian story, had smoothed relations with US and the world and the world had also started noticing India (they imposed sanctions on us after the nuke tests and nothing happened) and its economy. This is also the time my generation was establishing its feet in their fields, trips abroad, promotions, the sudden exposure to the world that changed worldviews and enabled scaling up. The feeling that we are as good and sometimes better.
This win – I will not mention 2007 because that was an aberration. The story since Dhoni’s arrival is that of the new India. Let me quote this from Wide Angle 37 which was regarding the Portuguese conquest of Indian Ocean – “our mission is to make our country rich again and like I said before a “Great Power”. For that, we don’t need chest thumping jingoism, just the quite confidence of the able who believe in themselves and their abilities. It is our time now, better believe it.” Look at the way these boys played, believe in yourself, have patience, look for opportunities, always keep pushing and chipping away and win and then shrug it off, ready for the next battle. Look at the India story as well – despite the humungous corruption and bad governance, it is the new small town Indians who are struggling, innovating, working hard, saving, consuming and in general chipping away that is making that growth possible.
Look at me now, a boy from a non-descript Mumbai suburb called Borivali, growing up in a 1 BHK, studying in non-descript schools like Gokhale High school (the posh ones went to St. Francis or St. Annes), works for a world class company, looks the British man in his eyes and solves his problems. Look at you all now, spread out across the world, so successful, able to rig up watching the match anywhere, then celebrating out in the streets, bursting crackers (yes they managed to do it in my complex here), showing the world that Indians are good and can “do it”, and those who are back home, who are working hard and helping me hear for the first time in my life “It is so great to be in India, that 20% rate of growth” (Yes, British have said this to me) and an American president saying after a trip to India “We created so many jobs”. The story of the two wins is our story, those who rose from nothing, had only their abilities to back them up, believed that they could “do it” and then did.
The journey is by no means over and we are far, far away from real success (not Dhoni and his boys, I meant you, me and India), but we are now sure we will get there – this is the significance of this win.