Cricket: Let’s Give Series Of 2001 A Break; In 2021, There’s A New Story For A New Generation

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Comparison is an exercise in foolishness, particularly if it involves subjects belonging to different eras. The context often goes for a toss, as does clarity. If the time frames are too far apart, then assessment of characters and events often get distorted. How do you compare Sunil Gavaskar to Sachin Tendulkar or the Indian team of the early years of the millennium to that of now?

But after India’s performance in Australia, it’s tempting to get into one. Let’s begin with the questions: Was the recent India-Australia series the best ever? Is the victory for India at the Gabba bigger than victory in Kolkata in 2001? We have to bring in the 2001 Australian tour of India into the picture because for many generation of Indian cricket lovers, that Test series, which the hosts won 2-1, was the ultimate clash of titans. And the second match at Eden Gardens was still rated as India’s best till Brisbane 2021 happened.

For Steve Waugh, the inspirational captain of the visiting team, the conquest of India was the final frontier. With a 15-match winning streak behind him, and some extraordinary talent at his command, it was not mission impossible. The 10-wicket victory in the series opener at Wankhede set him on course.

The final frontier was ready to be captured when he forced India to follow on at the Eden Gardens, leaving Saurav Ganguly’s boys to bridge a deficit of 274 runs. It was then India launched a fightback of epic proportions. That match is etched in memory for the mammoth 376-run stand involving VVS Laxman (280) and Rahul Dravid (180), which ensured that the visitors had a 384-run mountain to climb to seal the series, but Harbhajan Singh’s total of 13 wickets, six in the second inning, was no less critical to the result. The Aussies were humbled by 171 runs. This was only the third time in cricket’s history that a team asked to follow on ended up winning. It was sensational, in every sense of the term. It appeared to have broken the fabled resolve of the Australians when they lost the series decider in Chennai by two wickets. It was an intensely contested match but India had disovered their mojo, and there was no going back.

The series is still vivid in memory, and is still recalled with awe, not only because of the intensity involved but also for the amazing players – most would be called ‘Great’ in later times – involved on both sides. Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Rahul Dravid, Harbhajan Singh and Saurav Ganguly vs Matthew Hayden, Adam Gilchrist, Steve Waugh, Mark Waugh and Shane Warne – it’s not often you see a contest like that.

But that was two decades ago. The new generation of cricket lovers was not even born then, and for the older generation it was getting too distant. In the decade that followed, India had heart-warming performances as it moved from strength to strength, but never a story to upstage that of 2001. The series of 2020-21 inaugurates a new story for a new generation.

Comparison makes little sense, but the circumstances of the new story make it more compelling. In 2001, it was established players and settled teams taking on each other; in 2021 it’s a team of greenhorns locking horns with veterans of many wars. What makes the story more interesting is that the first choice, full strength Indian team had been a disaster in the first Test, registering a humiliating 36 in the second innings. With senior pros plagued by injuries, it was up to the lesser ones to stand up and be counted. They did, and how! With defence and defiance, and aggression and attitude.

The sidestories bring a unique flavour to this series. Imagine a full strength Indian team winning against Australia. Would the feeling be the same? We had won in 2018-19 too. How many cricket lovers recall that with passion? No, the intent here is not to belittle that victory, but to remind readers that the current win carried that extra spice one doesn’t usually find in routine cricketing encounters. These are the stories no scorecard or statistics would ever capture. They deal with abstract values. Is there a way numbers can measure fortitude, grit and resilence?

The series of 2020-21 is a landmark, just the way 2001 was, but for diehard lovers of Test cricket it will remain very very special. A new story for the posterity has arrived.

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