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Endless summer

Though many results didn't go India's way on their months-long tour of Australia in 1991-92, some players learned to enjoy themselves and keep the enthusiasm going AFP

I remember Shivlal Yadav having a conversation with the younger lot about the joys of touring Australia. That was more than two years before we were to leave, in our winter of 1991-92, for a tour that would last more than four months. Despite Australia's reputation for being a fingerspinner's graveyard, Yadav had a good record there. When he talked about Australia, he always said what a great place it was to tour. I didn't know back then that I would embark on a tour longer than any tour I remember India being on (until they went on a 144-day trip to Australia in 2014-15).

As a young man back then, I felt being away from home for more than two months would be too much. Yadav laughed in my face. "Homesick in Australia? What?"

Those words rang true every day of our 1991-92 trip. Australia is a great place to spend four months when you are young. Four or five of us - myself, Sachin Tendulkar, Venkatapathy Raju, and Vinod Kambli later during the World Cup - used to hang around together a lot. My wife was allowed to join me too, during the window they gave us for partners and wives.

At least among the people I was hanging around with, I don't think anyone was sad or homesick or wanting to go back. I remember a fielding session right towards the end, not having had any success, with India not playing well, but Tendulkar and I enjoyed the session. Challenging each other. Throwing back hard at the keeper. Kiran More watched all that and said, "You know what, I like what I am seeing. That after such a long trip you both are still very excited."

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It wasn't a smooth start. We were to have a two-week break before we set out, but South Africa were just coming out of isolation and had been invited to India for three ODIs. We left for Australia just four hours after the final one-dayer. I remember being very excited, as Australia was a fun place and they were the team to beat. Doing well there was one thing everyone wanted.

It didn't go to plan, and we struggled through the tour, but personally, I somehow remained excited. That was because I was in great form when we went there. Despite not getting enough runs, I expected a big innings round the corner. The team had to keep moving from Tests to ODIs: one Test, five ODIs, two Tests, five ODIs, then two Tests, and then the World Cup was our schedule.

At the time, however, we didn't have any 50-over specialists. The two formats weren't that different back then. With better bowling conditions and less daring batsmen, ODIs were more compressed Tests than what they are see today.

"We used to call Ali Irani "mother hen". He used to plan our evenings. His real job was to mother us, take care of us. He would take us to an Indian family's house for food. He kept everyone in good spirits"

One of the biggest revelations of being on a long tour was our fitness. At that time I didn't think that I was not physically fit, but now when I look back at my performance, I was run out six times on that tour. When you are not playing well, you are lost in your thoughts a bit, but also your legs start getting more and more tired. In Australia you have to run a lot. And we didn't have many big hitters who could clear the big fields. Towards the end I felt the reason for those run-outs was, there was not enough strength in the legs. I found it the same with this Indian team too, when they were there for three months in 2011-12. MS Dhoni was the only one towards the end of that trip who looked strong.

Overall, though, when I compare today's team with the one of 1992, the older one feels a little stone age. The way we panicked in Brisbane, when we went from 194 for 4 to 234 all out in a chase of 238, will never happen with this team. Support staff, back-up machinery, belief, everything has changed. We were just left on our own. Having said that, without any sophisticated machinery to keep us going, we didn't have any major injuries. We all played through.

Our support staff included just manager Abbas Ali Baig and physiotherapist Ali Irani. We used to call Irani "mother hen". He used to plan our evenings. His real job was to mother us, take care of us. At the end of the match, he would say, "Indian mamu. Food. Who all interested?" People would raise their hands, and then he would take six or seven guys to an Indian family's house for food. Sometimes he would take us out himself. He kept everyone in good spirits.

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Poor Baig was a nice person but he had to come across as stern because the team was not doing well. The most he would do was to intensify fielding drills. The only thing I remember him, a stylish, soft-spoken man, saying was, "Come on, diiiive, diiiive." That was the only thing he wanted us to do, but we found a way to get around it. When the ball was not too far away, we used to start slowly and then dive. And then he would be happy.

I can't remember how the older players - Kapil Dev, Kris Srikkanth, or the captain under pressure, Mohammad Azharuddin - dealt with being away from home for so long, but for the rest of us it was about being young. We just had fun. Even on the flights, in the airport lounges.

Once during the World Cup, a stewardess on Ansett Australia was a bit rude. I was the activist type, so I said I was going to write a letter to the general manager of the airline. Tendulkar, typically, said, "Forget it." Kambli said he was going to write one too.

After he finished the letter, both Tendulkar and I wanted to see it. He was not ready to show it, but somehow we managed to extract it out of him. His letter read: "I asked for a glass of juice. And she was rude. Come on, it was just one glass of juice." Three or four weeks later, we got a letter from Ansett, delivered to our dressing room, apologising to us. How proud Kambli was!

When the tour ended, the biggest takeaway for me was how being seen on Channel Nine paid off. I suddenly had a newfound stardom, not because we did well but because Indian fans saw me on TV on the Channel Nine coverage for four months. They could see us up close, recognise us. And when they saw the man from TV in flesh and blood, there was a reaction I had never seen before. We basically became stars by virtue of being on Channel Nine.

In this era of saturated TV coverage, that's not a consideration of Indian teams heading off to Australia.

As told to Sidharth Monga in 2014