Warnakulasuriya Patabendige Ushantha Joseph…..Chaminda Vaas I recited to my friend when asked the full name of Chaminda Vaas. It was the heady 90’s and like any other boy growing up I had one religion –cricket. I wanted to be one thing a cricketer. From boomer stickers to Center Fresh and Big Fun cards cricket was what we drank ate and slept. Who could have forgotten the fact that exchange of 100 centre fresh cards gave us a cricket bat signed by the playing 11 of the Indian team.
The first memory I ever had of a cricket match was perhaps Sharjah in the mid 90’s .Indian bowling attack was lead by Srinath, Prasad and Kumble. I liked Venkatesh Prasad for he was tall and had a way with Pakistani players. I liked the aggression he espoused. But the Indian team had one major fault it revolved around Sachin Tendulkar. Although we were a cricketing superpower and a former world champion yet people prayed for Tendulkar not to get out .The moment he would get out people would switch off their TV Sets. And Tendulkar lived upto every bit of praise showered on him ,who would forget his epic innings in Sharjah back to back in the semis and the finals when he single handedly took India to the winning podium. I remember the treatment he had meted out to the likes of Shane Warne and McGrath. Tendulkar even had a five wicket haul against the Australians.
And then there were the two giant teams Australia and South Africa. I remember the ten man slip position Australians fielded once. Under Steve Waugh they were a mercurial unit they played clinical cricket and looked every bit like the champions for fifteen years. South Africa on the other hand was the more disciplined outfit but a choker in the grand finale’s a tag which sadly they continue to be true to. When South Africa tied with Australia in world cup semis of 1996 and then South Africa went crashing out I was inconsolable. Not only because I loved the Proteas but because I hated the guts of the Australians. Then there was Lara of a fading West Indian team the Waqars and the Akrams of Pakistan and those who played extremely well against India.Andy Flower of Zimbabwe seemed to belong to the later category. It seemed that Flower had mastered the art of spin bowling like a Zen teacher and everytime a spinner came to bowl against Andy the ball would disappear all over the boundary.Then there were other amazing performers Nathan Astle of New Zealand ,Michael Atherton of England, Steve Tikolo of Kenya Akram Khan of Bangladesh and finally the Lankan tigers.
It was 1996 and cricketing world was introduced to something new.The 1996 world cup was being held in India. There was tremendous heat going around Tendulkar was in his best and everyone thought that we would do the best .As expected we reached the semi finals .And then it hit us the Lankan tigers. Under a heavy man called Ranatunga this tiny team became the new relevation in World Sports. I was heartbroken that my team lost in the semis I even cried but I couldn’t help but admire this new phenomenon. It was nothing but pure power when Sanath Jaysurya went dancing down the tracks or Aravinda Desilva played the hook.The opening over of Chaminda Vaas was nothing but havoc it often caught the likes of Ganguly on the backfoot. If anything this tiny island nation was Asia’s answer to the Australians. While the wily Australians relied on technique the Sri Lankans were like the calypsos they were free flowing,they were the first to break cricketing conventions. Sanath Jayasuryua took footwork and wrist movement to a whole new level.Cricket was at its premium best!
As time passed by India did win a lot of matches in between but somehow the World Cup eluded us. When Ganguly and Dravid made a record partnership in England in 2003 everyone thought that India would win again, but sadly our 2003 final performance was the worst ever. So much so that it permanently dissuaded me from cricket. I nomore swore by cricket. My team consistently broke my expectations I shifted my loyalties elsewhere and cricket no more impacted my life. No more bunking classes for matches no more analysis of footwork. Like any other man I jumped the sinking ship.This Indian team would never win the Cup they should stick to Babool advertisements.
And then the years rolled by Indian team was now a new India we had a new team and we were no more dependent on Tendulkar .This was a new India they argued a confident one. We became the maiden champions of the 20-20 format and soon a new slogan started in India IPL (Indian Premier League).My only interest in this format of the game was because my childhood friend Abu Nechim Ahmed played for the Mumbai Indians. That was all that there was to cricket.
2011 World Cup once again in the subcontinent. I was busy with my job and I gave very little chance to the team to win the Cup. The team progressed in the tournament yet I took no interest .Finally I realized that we were in an India-Pakistan semi final. And I was pulled back to the game and true to the records of never losing to Pakistan in the World Cup India stayed on that course.The D Day had finally arrived and India extracted the revenge of 1996.We were the World Champions.MS Dhoni the gusty boy from Ranchi ,Captain Cool had done it.I was glad .And then life moved on.It was perhaps a 2 minutes blip.
It had been two years and inbetween Indian cricket rocked by the usual gambit of scandals and calls for removal. Dhoni was ridiculed for not speaking his heart to the media. The Ranchi boy had lost it.Mired by scandals Indian team arrived in England for the Champions Trophy. But this was not how perhaps Dhoni wanted his final frontier to be.This was a team mired by scandels there was a lingering doubt in everyone’s minds that this Indian team was not true to its religion anymore.There were open wishpers some doubting Dhoni himself.Everyone missed the likes of Tendulkar and Sehwag and Gnaguly and Dravid. Dhoni had a frail Bhuvneswar Kumar as his strike bowler.He had a internet joke Ravindra Jadeja as his campaigner and then there were those who went on and off in form.Dhoni himself with a white beared looked haggled and tired.
But once this team went on field they transformed. A young team averaging 24 years this team played their hearts out like a champion. I watched each and every match and with each passing match I became a greater fan of this team .The way Bhuvneswar Kumar swung the ball reminded me of Kumble,Shikhar Dhawan had the class of Sehwag but a much cooler head .And then there was Ravindra Jadeja it seemed he was out to prove there that he was truly the Rajnikanth of Indian cricket.A true allrounder .And all this lead by the man form the front MS Dhoni.This was no more a team of elites from Mumbai and Delhi this was a team which had players from the dusty lanes of Jamnagar to the paved roads of Chennai.And watching them play made me realize this was a team which played its hearts out.It didn’t matter what the world said to them ,they played for the game for their captain and for their team.Cricket they say is heading for a finish if anyteam can bring it back from this abysss its this Indian team.This team is a beauty to watch.So all those who had lost their faith in cricket its time to get it back !