Shine on, you precious diamonds
“You can’t take tomorrow for granted,” Sachin Tendulkar said in an even tone, his eyes sparkling, his face reflecting the determination he insists is in his heart to do well on what he believes is his last Test tour of England. The fact that these men can hit the ball like no other doesn’t arrest time. Even the Gods of the game have a use-by date, a shelf life of which only they know.
A twist of fate, a quirk of fortune, an accretion of boons or work of destiny — whatever it was, India was blessed to have four all-time greats in their ranks over the last 11 years, supported by a man who too could have been king. But, as in the game of life, cricket’s greats are mortal, good times must end, and so come our famous five to the home of the game for one last hurrah.
India next tour England in 2011 and it can be safely said that this is their last ride together through this enchanted isle, the birthplace of the game, and on Thursday begins what will surely be their last Test at Lord’s.
A look at the protagonists — Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman aggregate well over 30,000 runs in Tests; the fifth in our cast, Anil Kumble, has 552 victims in 115 Tests. They have given birth to a million dreams, they have cheered a billion hearts in their total of 68 years of cricket at the international level.
Tendulkar’s first Test in England was at Lord’s in 1990, a game Kumble missed to debut in the next one; Ganguly and Dravid, of course, famously made their stunning entry into Tests six years later at this hallowed turf. Laxman’s first Test in England was at this ground five years ago.
Now they are in the evening of their careers and it would seem that they are slowly easing up, distancing themselves from the frenzy of limited-overs cricket. Kumble has retired from ODIs, Laxman has not been part of the scheme for a while. Tendulkar, Dravid and Ganguly have pulled out of the Twenty20 World Cup.
Their time at the top is limited, and they are making no bones about it. Life at the top is good, despite their fishbowl existence. “That’s what we play the game for, we want our sport to be the top sport in the country,” Dravid emphasised on Wednesday.
“Let’s be realistic about it, I’ve played with a hugely successful bunch of players, and a lot of them are coming towards, if not the end, then at least the later part of their careers,” the skipper told HT. “The challenge for the new generation is to step up and take the mantle.”
Dravid is not a man known for a pronounced display of emotion, which Ganguly is. Ganguly, though, seemed averse to attaching any emotional significance to it.
“Some day it had to be your last tour and it’s good that for me, it’s happened after 11 years,” Ganguly said. “And not only for me, for a lot of other players as well.
“I just wish to try and do well here,” said India’s most successful captain, the man who again made it possible for the team to win abroad, with immense contributions from the other four and several bit players.
“The last time we toured England, and I wish that we could play just as well this time and go out with a strong performance,” he said.
Tendulkar too knows what he has to do, but he’s not disclosing it. “There are certain things which I keep to myself, nobody knows about it,” he said. “It motivates me, pushes me to go out and do my best.” But, Tendulkar says, it would be like any other series for him, and the fact that he’s never scored a Test century at Lord’s won’t have any bearing on the way he plays.
“It looks like it’s going to be my last tour to England, but that doesn’t make things any different,” he said.
“This is the ground all players dream of getting a hundred on, I’m no different,” he said. “But I don’t want to put any pressure on myself… I would want to get one. Maybe three hundreds in all the Tests here will be good,” said Tendulkar.
Ganguly, the new Ganguly who seems to have come up with an unfailing equanimity after his trials, the man who had the best debut at Lord’s among the five, must have the last word: “Past is past, we’ve got to look forward to the series.”
And so must the lovers of the game, look forward and pray for a celestial configuration similar to the one that perhaps produced these five masters.