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By Navroze Dhondy
The TV was on low sound mode and yet the volume soared. Every time the Australian crowd did what they have shown they can do — be rude, nasty, boorish, but also very sporting. When the three legends of Indian cricket nicked, nicked and nicked again, the crowd stood to a man (and a woman) to salute players who had, over the years, delighted them but tormented their team.
Were these greats playing their last Test in Australia? Did that show in their emotions when they trudged off towards the ropes to quietly disappear into the dressing room?
Well, Rahul Dravid was the first. After a torrid series — and being bowled in newer ways than ever off the pads, off the inside edge, leaving an India Gate between bat and pad or finally using the elbow to guide the ball down to the stumps — this time he slashed. And slashed hard. One thought it would rocket over the head of gully and go for four. But Michael Hussey had different ideas, and latched on to the blinder. Dravid, The Wall, had all but collapsed.
His finest moment on tour was the Bradman lecture where he spoke from the heart and made people sit up and listen. But his last walk from the pitch to the dressing room at an Australian ground was a reflection of what the man has gone through. He barely looked up. Or around.
No last wave of the bat.
Barely 10 runs later, Sachin Tendulkar nicked one onto his pads and the ball ricocheted to Ed Cowan who gleefully grabbed the dolly. The Little Master waited for the barest of seconds and gave a wry look to the pitch near his boots — at the rough that might have done him in — and trudged off towards the ropes. The Adelaide crowd stood up to applaud one of the finest cricketers the game has ever produced. The man who had stood tall many a time in Australia and scored not just on the field, but also with the Don who found Tendulkar’s batting style similar to his. The crowd clapped, not a single boo, but Tendulkar kept looking at his bootlaces while he took the long walk back. No last hurrahs. No acknowledgement of the crowd after he had played his last innings in Australia. No last wave of the bat.
VVS Laxman flattered to deceive. After a few nervous edges, surviving leg-before appeals, he settled down a bit to eschew four fours in languid Laxman style. One almost believed a miracle was at hand. And with the belligerent Virat Kohli, fresh after his first innings hundred at the other end, Laxman, too, may have believed in miracles. Or at least the one he was to create today. This time, no edge came into play. It was a short arm jab of sorts; very unlike Laxman and it went straight down Shaun Marsh’s throat. As a batsman, Marsh had a horrible series, worse than that of Laxman, Dravid or Tendulkar, but he redeemed himself with a catch that brought an end to an innings (and possibly a career) of the ‘thorn in Aussie sides’. Laxman, the sublime artist who had stroked a wondrous 281 that brought India victory after they were asked to follow on at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata back in 2001; Laxman, who got both his double hundreds against Australia; Laxman, who tucked his bat under the armpit and walked away quietly. Yet again, the Adelaide crowd stood up to applaud the man.
No doffing of the cap (or the helmet). No looking around the ground one last time. No last wave of the bat. What was that, wondered the thousands who had gathered at the Adelaide Oval.
What must be the thoughts swirling in those three minds, sitting dourly in the dressing room? Is this really the last Test that the trio had played Down Under? Or do they really believe that they will be back in nearly three years’ time? For that last wave of the bat.
[The author is the founder and managing director of Creatigies Communications and an avid cricket nut. Mail your comments to email@example.com. The article was first published in the DNA and appears here with that newspaper's permission.]