India’s sledgehammering of England at Lord’s isn’t a sporting miracle or an underdog story to populate this hallowed editorial space, but one reason supersedes any reservations — it’s a welcome evisceration of a diffident memory. This Test win feels like a triumph to a generation of fans who once banged their leather-covered radios to tune into the crackle of short-wave commentary; and the storming of the famous Grace Gates at the ground where Sunil Gavaskar was brusquely sent back by rude stewards does feel sweet. But the real joy lies in its greater significance: The pleasant loss of reverence about overseas Test victories.
It doesn’t feel like a surprise anymore. It doesn’t feel like something to crow about. That’s the real triumph at Lord’s. Indian cricket has the most overflowing coffers in the world. A semi-consciously designed feeder system has been able to tap into the ambitions of a population that obsesses about a well-democratised game. Such wins should be the norm, and it is now.
When they stretchered out battered bodies in Australia after the loss of captain Virat Kohli, nobody told them that they weren’t supposed to win that series with a second-string team. Match after match, they kept bleeding out supposedly irreplaceable players. Yet, they triumphed. When they started the final day at Lord’s by losing Rishabh Pant, England thought it was time for personal payback for the peppering of James Anderson by Jasprit Bumrah a couple of evenings ago. You couldn’t really fault them for that feeling of revenge as they, perhaps, thought they had the game sewn up. They went for Bumrah and Shami’s heads and lost their own in the process.
This Indian team has that curious effect on the opposition. It triggers inchoate emotions in battle-scarred teams who know their ideal headspace should be silence, a beautiful nothingness that aids in tunnel vision. Instead, they almost get emotional and lose their bearings like Australia’s captain Tim Paine did at the start of the year and now England’s Joe Root. It’s not entirely due to the in-the-face presence of pumped-on-adrenalin Kohli, as he wasn’t there in Australia, but it perhaps has something to do with it — his presence, even in his absence, at least in the minds of the opposition. Maybe.
A couple of years ago, the South African opener Dean Elgar, a tough professional who has captained his country, captured that feeling. “I see you guys aren’t yet used to the way of this Indian team, but I can tell you there is huge respect for their kind of cricket and attitude in our team. We know we are in for a real hard battle on the field.” Once, Ravi Shastri was all agog because the most imperious cricketer of his times Viv Richards told him that he appreciates the attitude and the fight in this Indian team. This was before Australia, and Shastri cooed, “King Viv ney bola, boss!”, the only validation that would please the man who threatens to be forever frozen in joyous adolescence.
The effect of that in-your-faceness might be debatable — it has certainly led many to love to hate this team, as deep inside many want their heroes to be graceful. But there is no question about the talent and the fight in the team. One example would suffice. During the phase where they peppered his head, not once did Bumrah back away to the leg. When a bouncer crash-landed on his helmet and rolled to third man, he didn’t take the single and waved back Shami. In the past that would have been interpreted as an Indian tailender being dazed, the after-effects of the hard impact. It is telling that now it was almost universally seen, without a shadow of a doubt, as a statement. That he meant to do what he did. “I am not going to skulk away to the safety of the other end, bring it on, I am here”. Just like this team. Swinging Lord’s or pacy Gabba, they will stay, fight, and win. And it’s no longer a surprise.
This column first appeared in the print edition on August 18, 2021 under the title ‘The defeat of diffidence’. email@example.com