Finally 13 years ago, India played host to a full fledged series with England and with the last test match scheduled in Mumbai from Feb 19-23 my father kept his promise. I went for my first live match at the Wankhede to watch the already shattered and cribbing English team under Graham Gooch; with no exciting players except Graeme Hick to watch. It was the series famous for Kumble’s rise as India’s strike bowler (He claimed 21 in that series and the Man-of-the-Series award) return to form by Azhar( his 182 in Eden Garnden was a delight!), young Tendulkar’s consistency and Kambli’s rocking debut!
13 years, many matches and teams later each moment of that match is vividly present in my memory. 3 Mumbai batsmen were part of the Indian batting order. Tendulkar–Kambli had a great partnership. Tendulkar played too patiently but Kambli brought the house down with his double hundred; Graeme Hick’ s 178 being clearly overshadowed in the process but good enough to earn him the Man-of-the -Match. The Indian spin trio then brought about the collapse of the England team in the second innings and India whitewashed England for the very first time!
Like one never forgets the first date, I don’t think I’ll ever forget the beginning of my love affair with Wankhede!
Tomorrow I get a chance to revisit those moments yet again. It’s the same team with much more exciting players, I don’t know the last time I was so excited about seeing an English team. Andrew Flintoff was around in the 2002 ODI and I distinctly remember his famous shirt-off gesture (I was in the stands near the pavillion at pretty close quarters when he chose to do what he did!) Though Ganguly does not make a pretty sight with his bare torso, I was ecstatic when he gave back the Poms in their own fashion 5 months later at Lords!
Only if you had been at the stadium, you would have realised how much it had hurt to lose a close game yet again and later see Flintoff dare to bare!
But Flintoff has come a long way from that episode and so has his team. I’m excited to watch some fireworks from the Pieterson-Flintoff duo. Though I’m a trifle sad that Pietersen has shaved off his hair. Now I won’t get to brag to my friends about how I got to see the famous skunk hairdo!
The only team that excited me was the Australian Team. They interacted amazingly well with the crowds. The crowds simply loved them. I remember distinctly in the 2001 test on day 2 when Gilchrist –Hayden hammered centuries, the Mumbai crowd was up on its feet cheering them. Allan Donald in the 1996 Titan Cup final and 2000 test also was a hit with the crowd while responding to the sounds of ‘Quack Quack Donald’. I hope the English players have some fun as well. The crowd would love that.
I’m just too thrilled to witness important milestones in the careers of two of my favourite batsmen. When India takes field tomorrow Rahul Dravid will become the 6th Indian player to earn 100 test caps and Sachin Tendulkar will surpass Kapil Dev’s record of most tests played by an Indian. I’m hoping they decide to celebrate the occasion with some blitzkrieg attack on the English bowlers.
So there, it’s back to Wankhede and back to my love affair. It’s not the best stadium in the world and the security can get to you, but once you are in and you view the lush green ground; all you want to do is relax, grab a sandwich, shout yourself hoarse and yes enjoy the game of cricket!
P.S: Will try to post regular EOD updates of my experience at the Mumbai Test match