High in the sky
The celebrations never really stopped. At 2.05pm on Friday, Team India clinched victory against Pakistan and the champagne was popped open in the dressing-room. From there on they moved to The Marriott, Islamabad, where they got together for a quick party before peeling off in different groups. Some went to private parties, some to the hotel disco and some preferred to savour the moment in the peace and quiet of their own rooms. Then, when they boarded special flight IC 012, they were together again for one last hour.
While journalists, and a few others in the business of cricket, were shepherded into the flight early, and were plied with scotch or beer, the team made its entry into the executive class amidst raucous cheers from the in-flight staff and passengers. In their light yellow smart casual T-shirts, the team fit snugly into the executive class.
And before the flight could take off there was time to uncork one more bottle of champagne, followed by another round of applause. It's amazing how success envelopes everyone around into its fold. Journalists, who merely reported the series, fed off the natural high the team was in. The sight of Indian newspapers on the aircraft had people burying their noses in the newsprint, doing a lot of catching up.
As soon as the flight was airborne some of the players came to the back of the aircraft to meet and greet the writers. Ramesh Powar, Irfan Pathan, Parthiv Patel and even Sourav Ganguly waded around amid the journalists, signing autographs, posing for pictures and cracking jokes.
How different it all would have been if India had ended the tour in defeat, imagined one journalist, and was almost cracked on the head with the empty champagne bottle for even bringing up defeat. From March 10, when the team left with high hopes and an uneasy anticipation, to April 17, when they returned, it had been such a long journey.
For the young medium-pacers, Pathan and Lakshmipathy Balaji, the tour had been a coming of age. If Australia showed that Pathan had the ability, Pakistan proved that he knew how to harness this talent. But Balaji, one of the successes on and off the field in Pakistan, will really remember these 38 days forever. Murali Kartik, Mohammad Kaif and Powar did not play a single Test all tour, but John Wright and Ganguly had gone out of their way to make sure that everyone in the squad felt a part of Team India.
And as the plane crossed over into Indian airspace there was another wave of cheers. We were back home, even if only notionally, and somehow that felt different. The minutes to touchdown breezed away and before we knew it, the wheels had kissed the tarmac at the Indira Gandhi International Airport. The arrival area was packed with employees and fans dressed in sponsors' kit. But, as has become standard practice, the players were whisked away through an unknown exit out of the airport. In other circumstances the gathered fans might have protested in disappointment. But after twin wins against the old enemy, this team will be forgiven anything. For the moment, anyway.