In the dusk of a cool London summer evening, in the dawn of a new era for an Indian team shining with ageing stars and young dashers, The Oval was the place to be.
At the end of the second Test in a row, the town’s most happening party place was the Indian dressing room, which resounded with shouts of joy and laughter, the strident, sweet music of celebration awaking the echoes in a happy arena south of London.
“We will, we will rock you!” blared the speakers from the dressing room’s, the intensity and the sentiment multiplied by the full-throated sound of the players joining in.
Indeed, the Indians had rocked the Englishmen, all of whom made an early, cheerless exit from The Oval — all except Monty Panesar, who lingered around the Indian dressing room for some time, chatting with all the Indians, especially with Sourav Ganguly. Outside the stadium, in the fading light, the lovers of the winners, the Indian fans, created a scene straight out of India, drumming up ethnic tunes and singing songs of joy and triumph. They waited for the team to finish their private party and descend down to board the bus, and they cheered with delight at the sight of each player as he emerged out of the gate.
S Sreesanth, the maverick who invited the censure that’s often a maverick’s lot, waved to the fans, flashed smiles and thumbs-up signs at them and did a few jigs of his own.
The players whose wives are also here could share their joy with family, apart from sharing it with their friends and mates. Anil Kumble’s father-in-law had specially flown in to be a part of the celebration.
MS Dhoni, the Twenty20 captain, was buoyant, shouting with a grin that the criticism from the press would abate — for the moment.
Rahul Dravid, stoic-faced even in his supreme achievement, allowed just a flicker of his smile to touch his face as he posed with the Pataudi Trophy, his wife and son by his side.
Sourav Ganguly, the former captain and the man who inspired and changed the Indian tourists during his stint at top, the man who top-scored for India yet again, had a huge, permanent grin on his face, as he talked with teammates and the Englishmen.
Not far, on the balcony in the pavilion, Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi sipped his drink, satisfied that the trophy instituted in the memory of his father was coming to India, 75 years after India played their first Test.
In the dressing room, the song was Woh Sharabi Kya Sharabi Jo Nashe Mein Gum Na Ho --- the cheers grew wilder and more raucous, the press cameras in the ground were trained at the source of the sound. Evidently, the several huge bottles of spirits were being made good use of.
Late in the evening, as the last rays of the setting sun bounced over the shiny, arched roof over the OCS stand, a weary Dravid finally departed, his son at one hand and his boots in the other.
In the dark, the cleaners removed the amazing amount of rubbish a full house generates.
In the press box, the journalists worked on their last despatches — 21 years on, there was great news to report on a Test series in England.