“Hanging on in quiet desperation
Is the English way”
Perusing match reports at the end of the first day’s play in Nagpur, it appeared that this tune was suddenly en vogue again. What a coincidence I thought, since my mind had been mulling over a modified version of it. Modified, you know, to reflect the fact that the hapless souls clinging on by their fingernails whilst dangling over the edge of the precipice weren’t the English. Yes, the temptation to sing it aloud having swapped out the identities of the two countries playing out the Test match was strong. But I kept balking at the bit.
It was that word desperation. That didn’t fit.
So I just read on, finding myself in an utterly unfamiliar and unsettling position – of having missed the events of an entire day’s play of a Test match. Willingly. I had looked askance without a conscious or preplanned ambivalence. The telecast had been a click of the remote away, but I never did indulge. Why this Test match, the entirety of the tour had been a perplexing period. And I had struggled with it. Struggled to come to grips with my detachment from it. I could not recollect the last time this had happened. Yes, Pujara. And Cook. Even Joe took root. But it all remained so distant. It certainly wasn’t apathy, but my ambivalence was continually nagging at me.
“This could be a momentousTest match” intoned the first sentence of the match preview on Cricinfo. Momentous! The first word that came to my mind when I saw that was: bollocks. Bollocks, for there were no moments of significance to be had here. All the moments had passed. In fact, they littered the sides of the highway to oblivion the Indian team had ridden to reach Nagpur. The moments were still fluttering to earth from the long and agonizing free-fall the number one team had embarked on. Starting with that running cannonball jump off the balcony of Lords eighteen months ago.
Yes, eighteen months and counting now. Eighteen months of watching it all unravel. Starting with England, where it went belly-up and rigor mortis appeared to have set in at Edgbaston; rendering the rotund R.P Singh’s mad dash from Miami to The Oval a perverse comedic exercise. And then Australia. And it wasn’t long before that tour took on all the gravitas of an extended experiment in proving that it does indeed swirl clockwise in the southern hemisphere too. They weren’t packing as much as a Swiss-army knife in that gunfight.
So it has been. For eighteen long months. That which elicited brow-knotted surprise at Lord’s was followed by bewilderment, shock, anger, frustration, morbid fascination and then the inevitable resignation. Endless days spent gritting teeth and silently goading them on to at least plant their feet and take a few swings. Bare their teeth. Futile exhortations that yielded diddly-squat. Rarely providing a semblance of a sustained contest. There were the results, yes. But the results didn’t come close to trumping the vibe emanating from them. Or how painful watching them had been. The spinelessness, listlessness and jadedness had now proven so contagious that I was just willing the current tour on to a rapid denouement.
Was it Kolkata that shut the door behind emphatically? Was that depressing Test match the moment when it all came full circle? Or full clockwise swirl? When the free-fall was arrested with a resounding thud? Was it really the straw that broke the back?
I did give that thought some credence now in Nagpur – albeit briefly. Only briefly, for it just wouldn’t stick. Didn’t add up and tie it all up conveniently. Kolkata was no straw that broke no back. This straw had been chewed up and spat out ceremoniously a while ago. The more I think about it, it was Perth that precipitated my current state. It had crossed a line at the WACA and then in Adelaide, it well and truly jumped the shark.
Seven in a row it was back in Perth. Seven back to back train wrecks that had each careened one way and then another before the pileup of twisted metal. The mind had been numbed by the relentless debacles that out-jostled each other into our living rooms. The wells of disappointment and bewilderment at the team at the pinnacle plumbing the depths had evaporated dry. Adelaide had been rendered completely irrelevant by then.
The only hope remaining was that some introspection, an iota of it, would surface to begin the process of healing. Of beginning to think about starting to commence the process of turning this iceberg around. Even alcoholics have moments of clarity when they fleetingly contemplate and acknowledge the root cause of their condition. Moments that can possibly lead them through the fog towards the light. Alcoholics Anonymous sessions perhaps.
Instead, in Perth, we stumbled upon an Alcoholics Unanimous meeting. Right after train wreck No. 7. And the foul taste from it has lingered and festered ever since. And enveloped the entirety of this tour in multifarious ways. For that was the day we heard the words “Once these people come to India…” I, for one will always look back to that day as the pits of this eighteen month long fiasco.
We had almost given up on asking for a fight by then. Or yearning for a contest. There was certainly no entertaining of turnaround thoughts. We weren’t seeking any acts of contrition either. Or soul baring honesty in utterances. All we could hope to see was a sign. Any sign. On or off the field. A sign that acknowledged the team’s own state and abject performances and fronted up. A sign goes a long way, you know. Instead came the appalling and offensive posturing. The bizarre and shameful defense. Felt like we were now being slapped in the face with a limp noodle.
This dam was always going to be breached at some point and so it was with these words offered in the face of the annihilation “Once these people come to India we should not be hesitant in making turners, and that’s where we would get to know whether they are mentally strong”. Oh, just a knee-jerk act of frustration not to be taken seriously, correct? An act of petulance at a vulnerable moment that brooked nothing more than a snicker? Kohli’s finger in Sydney was an act of petulance. This ran far deeper. This was when it really stung.
Back home, the big chief, the grand poobah, the big-fat-noodle himself offered this in comfort and solace as he hitched up his suspenders in the face of that defeat: “Next New Zealand is coming to India and it will be followed by England and Australia. We will beat these three teams on our own soil. They cannot beat us here and we will feel very happy.” Between the players’ reactions (or lack of) and their custodians’ preposterous bags of wind lay bare a malaise afflicting Indian cricket. The results should never have been a surprise.
Yes, come to India. Come home to papa. With that the tone for this series against England was set. My tone at least. Match after match in the 8-0 pasting, I had watched incredulously as reactions at post-match interviews and press conferences at the venues and back home took on surreal tones. India just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time – playing away from home – it appeared. Just an anomaly. One that would be rectified soon.
And as this series dawned, the chickens from Perth well and truly came home to roost. There cannot have been a cricket series in memory (mine at least) where the topic of home-field advantage and playing conditions reached such cacophonous levels. Even before a ball was bowled in a Test and as England were playing out their practice matches, commenced the relentless swirl of player and media thrashings that soon became unbearable.
Opening any newspaper every morning revealed yet another buffet, another twenty two yards of horse manure laid out for our consumption. Unmanned drones were dispatched to upcoming venues. We even saw pictures of curators. One miffed curator called all of it “immoral”. The board retaliated by flying in a replacement. Was Dhoni upset with the curators? Or was it the other way round? Always smelling a morsel, leave alone a drop of blood, the sharks from the media thrashed around till it frothed. It did go to eleven and was deafening and relentless.
And I was still looking for just a sign. In the midst of the bedlam. That was all one could ask for given that all was lost. And here, the team abjectly disappointed. Their performances in Mumbai and Kolkata were caricatures of their performances in England and Australia. The trauma of their lame and disgusting threat (“We’ll show them at home) that was now skewered like a kebab appeared to have sunk them into a deeper funk. They looked like they had ODed on quaaludes at Eden Gardens. This lot honestly looked like they couldn’t wait to get it over with.
How did it come to this? Why has the spine and heart to swing their way out of a corner become so alien to this once impressive bunch of cricketers? Why is there such a collective loss of leadership and backbone in this lot? Why do they lose even the veneer of a team and not a rag-tag collection of misfits the moment adversity nudges them in the ribs? And why has Indian cricket descended into such a morass the instant they reached the summit?
In the end, it was still just a sign we sought. A bit of grace, a bit of class in defeat, a little less evasion and obfuscation and a dose of introspection would have made a difference. At any point. Would have erased that surreal halo of entitlement they wore around right through these eighteen months. Sure, the losses would have still stung. The mix of the squad would still need to be addressed. And yes, retirements would still need to be discussed. But just an honest and open inward gaze, that’s all. A blunt look at performance and technique and effort, curator be damned. Catharsis has a funny way of working. Things might even have turned out a bit different.
Today, at the end of it all Dhoni offered: “But there are not many things that will come close to when we lost the 2007 50-over World Cup. This is not even close to that.”
Just telling us how much this one hurt would have sufficed.
This is no ordinary fall. That word desperation never did fit all along.
And coming home to papa can never be bleaker or as empty ever again.
“The time has come
The song is over
Thought I’d something more to say”