When I walked into a William Hill betting shop on 19th July there was about an hour left for the first test to get underway at Lord's. I had slept badly and I was ill at ease in office. My mind was a flurry of images, hopes, fears and and the pain/pleasure of anticipation. Images of the golden ages of India's galacticos - Sachin, Sourav and Dravid, images of each of them raising their bats after scoring centuries, images of the sheer delight of taking a wicket or holding a catch, images of them holiding trophies aloft then again images of their heads hanging in despair at the last world cup, images of brilliant innings cut short by edges caused in the insane moments of their boyish instincts taking control from the mature plans thrust upon their young shoulders by the weight of the hopes of a 1 billion strong nation.
I was trying to decide what scoreline I should bet on for the series - the eternal optimist in me said the galacticos would sign out in style 2-0 to India, then the fear of the 'not so glorious' uncertainties of cricket prompted me to consider for a fleeting moment if it would be 1-0 to england? I thought of the top order Sachin, Sourav, Karthik, Rahul excellent batsmen but then I also thought of all the middle order collapses that we've had and the looming figures of Anderson, Tremlett, Sidebottom with his hair bouncing. Finally I decided to go for 1-0 in favour of india - £10. If I won, it would fetch me 60 more. The odds were 6-1. The bookies didn't cosider India favourites. Whatever the result, life was going to get interesting for the next couple of months.
And indeed life was interesting. I cannot remember a series that was so enthralling, so closely fought in recent times. India saved the first test at Lords by the skin of their teeth. But then many tests in history have been saved like that. England had won the toss and had India in trouble right through. But in the end, Dhoni showed great courage in battling on without fear and saw us through to the last hour, when rain ended the game. A lot was written in the media about how lucky India was. But let me ask you a question. How lucky was England to have any cricket at all on that day. In the normal English circumstances, given the weather forecast for the day, it would have been raining from at least noon onwards. How lucky England had been in winning the toss making use of the good batting wicket. They were just not lucky enough to pull it off. So at the end of the day, a draw is a draw. There are eleven players and as long as you don't get 10 of them out you have not got them 'all out'. Period.
India comprehensively beat them in the second test at Trent Bridge, Nottingham. There were a few untoward incidents. English fielders took gamesmanship to new levels when they needled Zaheer Khan by throwing jelly beans at him when he was at the crease prompting him to have an altercation with Kevin Pietersen.
Sreesanth lost his cool and shoulder barged Michael Vaughn and promptly got fined 50% of his match fee. English media tried to take the attack to him by pouncing on a beamer that slipped out of his hand. (Beamers happen in cricket. I got two beamers in a weekend club match, the other day). These things happen. There were several umpiring mistakes in this test match. Sachin got a bad decision. Sourav got a bad decision. Collingwood got a bad decision. (By the end of the tour I think Sachin would have got more bad decisions than in his entire career before this tour. But it is still just bad luck.) But all in all it was an excellent test match. This is as good as it gets as far as test matches go.Ultimately India routed them. Sachin played a fantastic knock and Zaheer produced a few inspired spells to close it out. We were 1-0 up against England in England. What more could we ask for!?
The third test at the Oval was a 'battathon' as predicted with the two sides piling on 1550 runs in the 4 innings and Rahul showed his considerable even if conservative cricketing acumen and instinct in not making England follow on despite having a lead of about 360 runs. If England had gone on and surpassed our total and put on say 180 to 200 runs for us to score in the 4th innings, anything would have been possible. Collapses happen in cricket. So the best thing is if you have a way of ensuring a series win, just do it. Sreesanth bowled an excellent spell and picked up wickets regularly in the second innings. He was consistently troubling Vaughn and the rest. His bowling is loaded with venom. That's the right way to bowl for a fast bowler.
At the end of the series, I got back my £70. I had sat in pubs and sipped gallons shandy and beer while watching the masters at work. There was never a dull moment. To me cricket reflected life itself - its ups and downs, its victories and defeats and its glorious and not so glorious uncertainties. At the end of the day what matters in life and in cricket is it to have played the game in the right spirit and enjoyed it at every opportunity. What made me most happy was to see a grinning Sachin Tendulkar with sheer delight written all over his face when the series was in the bag and the champagne was popped. He was jumping around like a schoolboy. That will be the most enduring image of the test series for me. I get this strange sense of foreboding that the best action of 2007 is yet to come. Maybe when Pakistan tours India, or Australia play ODIs in india or better still when India tours down under in December. Wouldn't it be awsome to see the galacticos ending the year and beginning 2008 in a blaze of glory!
Photographs: Courtesy Cricinfo www.cricinfo.com