It's all over, as Bill Lawry would say. Sachin Tendulkar: 22 years of international cricket, five Test tours to Australia. Rahul Dravid: close to 16 years of international cricket, four tours to Australia. VVS Laxman: same as Dravid. They will never win a Test series in Australia. How broken the three must feel. Australia, the land that loved them and also broke their hearts, had to be part of reason they kept going at their age.
Australia, the big tease. Australia, where they came within three wickets or an enforced follow-on of winning a series in 2003-04. Australia, where they played the most bitter Test in recent memory but couldn't bat out two sessions and a bit. Australia, where Tendulkar is closing in on 2000 runs at an average of 58, where both Laxman and Dravid have more than 1000 at averages of over 45. Australia, where they shall never win a Test series.
The dream didn't even reach Perth. It sounds more natural when Lawry says, "It's all over at the WACA," as opposed to, "It's all over at the SCG". Well, it was tragicomic in the end, with the Indian tail swinging and reaching scores that have now become milestones for this side. Three hundred was almost slow-clap-worthy. Three fifty surprising. Four hundred unbelievable.
It gave you time to forget empathising. To stop wondering what the three would be going through, how they would be taking this. Later on, though, you did. You realised that - and you knew it for a while - the end is near. That the three might not have enough left in them to make it to late 2013, when India start playing away Tests again. They only come to Australia in 2014-15. For non-Australian players of this era, the World Cup and Australia tours have been the big motivation, the events they build up to. Brian Lara managed to win one series here, Jacques Kallis too.
Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman came here this final time with their best pre-series chance of winning. Two weeks in, the chance is no more. They were part of the reason this team was expected to do well. They have seen the team through the worst times. Times when the team wasn't even expected to compete outside India. They played a part in turning the team around. They went through disappointment and despair to finally see a time when they could actually be expected to win matches abroad.
They played a big part in this disappointment too. How they must be cursing themselves. Laxman scored 2, 1 and 2 in his first three innings. Dravid was not the Dravid of the last year, but fought to score a fifty at the MCG. He has been bowled thrice in this series. Tendulkar has looked in glorious touch, but was dismissed at the worst times. They are known for converting starts into big innings, for grinding the opposition down. Not a single century between them. Today, though, even the most hard-nosed analyst would have felt bad for them. Sport doesn't.
The Melbourne Test was within their grasp on three occasions, but they watched it slip: twice in the field, once through their collapse. Dravid dropped a catch, too. It was the bad old days of Indian cricket coming back. Too often in the recent past India have been napping at big moments in Tests.
The despair was reminiscent of their disappointment in beautiful Cape Town when, a year to the day, India let South Africa escape through defensive fields and uninspired bowling. The three saw their last chance of winning a series there disappear then. At least they came close then. At least Laxman made a big contribution in the previous Test. At least Tendulkar scored a superlative hundred against a red-hot Dale Steyn at Newlands.
At least India drew the series in South Africa. Here it will take a miracle for India to even come close to drawing the series. In all likelihood the three will have to live with the fact that their teams never played good enough cricket for long enough periods to win series in Australia and South Africa.
Trying to draw this series 2-2 and retaining the Border-Gavaskar Trophy will keep them going. Life will go on as well. In fact it already has. An hour or so after the defeat in Sydney, the BCCI released the next IPL schedule, a whopping 53-day event. It's all over.