Short square boundaries, a distinct flock of seagulls at cow corner, the spire of a cathedral in the horizon, long straight boundaries, the prettiest old-school scoreboard in the world, the Chappell stand, pavilion & dressing rooms situated square of the wicket. All of these could only point to one location. That fantastic cricket ground - Adelaide Oval.
About 8000km away in Rajajinagar, Bangalore, a few high-school students were on their daily bicycle ride to VVS High School, just after 11am. Unlike other days, this was a rather tense ride and with a loud Antipodean voice chirping away in the background. That monotony would be broken every once in a while by an enthusiastic Indian voice.
What could these kids in Bangalore have in common with Adelaide? Well, a Test match was going on for a start.
Right. And so?
Maybe kids riding to school on December 10, 2018, listening to the commentary on their smartphones?
Well, this is an excerpt from another millennium.
Growing up in '80s and '90s Bangalore, many landmarks in the world of cricket were communicated by word of mouth - typically high-schoolers with a mid-day start to school would convey the latest scores to primary school students, who finished school around mid-day. The youngsters would react sometimes with high-fives, pumped fists, and on other occasions, with "oh noooo" accompanied by long faces.
As a primary school student, an unforgettable landmark was during 1988, when we were informed by a high-schooler about a rookie Indian leg-spinner who had taken eight wickets in an innings. "Sure! Pulling a fast one on us", we thought as we rushed back home to discover that Narendra Hirwani had indeed taken eight wickets and was to repeat the rare feat in the second innings of his debut Test! Magical days.
Anyhow, back to the kids on their bike ride. This happened back during that forgettable Indian 1991-92 tour of Australia. After having been beaten comprehensively in the first two Tests, the draw during the New Year Test in Sydney arrested the steep fall. That rare glimmer of hope in the form of a draw at SCG had suddenly turned into a real sight of a Test victory in Adelaide, as the Australian team collapsed in the first innings against some fantastic Indian bowling. Enterprising efforts by the Indian bowlers, albeit with the bat, helped India earn an 80-run lead.
With Australia returning to normal form during the second hit, the fourth-innings target was a mammoth 372. An unbeaten opening partnership at the end of day four left India with 341 runs to get on the final day.
"Aah. No problem!" I said to myself. After all, the previous fifth-day chase against Australia netted six runs more but ended up in a tie. Game on!
Morning alarm was set to 5:15am and off I went to bed, anxious, but with real excitement about what lay ahead.
We were glued to the television from the first ball of the final day. The first session started off with setbacks at regular intervals and once Sachin Tendulkar was back in the hut, the aspirations of a victory were pruned down to a decent enough draw.
As the morning wore on, India captain Mohammad Azharuddin started off with a barrage of boundaries. After the sixth wicket fell, the scoring pace went up further, rekindling delusions of a Test victory(?!)
Right around this time, it was time to head to school. The only option to know the score was to visit some friend's place closest to school during the lunch break and find out the result. Not enough, I thought to myself.
Then came in a portable shortwave radio to the rescue. It had never left home, let alone be taken to school. It was quickly tuned in to Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the station that has been a godsend to a generation of cricketing tragics around the globe with running cricket commentary. I started off to school with the radio in my backpack at a high volume, broadcasting mobile/instant (in the 90s context, of course) information.
Azhar and Manoj Prabhakar played well in tandem and got that optimism meter to rise. A couple of friends joined along on their bicycles and we resorted to quick strategy discussions in between deliveries. Prabhakar slapped a boundary and we were screaming away crazy as "real-time" information flowed in.
Back during 1992, Harsha Bhogle was a new voice in the ABC studios and in his debut stint as an international commentator. We were engrossed listening to Richie Benaud, Tony Greig, Sunny Gavaskar and other experts, along with newbie Bhogle, describe the action, as Azhar continued his silken touch hitherto not on show until then during that tour.
We reached school and promptly skipped the morning assembly, as we stayed in class gripped to the action at Adelaide Oval. Azhar got to his hundred, but was dismissed shortly after. Seven down!
By then, it was time for the first class of the day, likely around the same time as the last hour of the day's play. Before the teacher came in, the radio was set to a low volume and could only be heard if an ear was thrust against a backpack containing it. Then it began. The backpack was pushed along the desk from one person to the next in the last bench (as a mechanism to prevent suspicion involved with a single individual being down on the desk at all times). Each person would put their ear against the backpack, hear the latest and update the score on a paper.
With Chandrakant Pandit in the team, there was hope that he can put his established batting skills to good use to get India home. Unfortunately, Rohit, my buddy sat next to me, updated the scoresheet by putting an X across Pandit! Damn it! Eight down.
That fighter Prabhakar continued a lone battle and scored a few boundaries until yet another lbw. As the scorecard was updated, there was a look of absolute despair among the last benchers. Could we still pull off a draw? Somehow maybe?
The ear-to-the-backpack ritual continued until I had the misfortune of listening to the last dismissal and adding "333 AO" to the scorecard. Yes, we lost, but what a spirited display it was. The rest of the day was spent lamenting the opportunity lost and what-ifs. Cricket had made its way to the classroom. Little did we realise back in the early 90s about the chance brush with the joys of mobile information, which is, of course, the norm in 2018.
Those demons of 1992 were eventually exorcised with the 2003 Indian win, which was made possible by Agarkar's six-wicket spell, alongside Rahul Dravid and that other wristy genius, VVS Laxman, scoring plenty of runs.
In 2018, India captain Virat Kohli got a chance this month to make up for the 2014 disappointment and he did that in style!
Watching the action during the 2018 Adelaide Test and listening to Harsha Bhogle brought back memories of the fantastic Test match in 1992. The improvisation back then - to stay 'connected' to the action - were just the early symptoms of a lifelong cricket tragic in the making.
While I have been to SCG, MCG, Eden Park, and Basin Reserve, I did not get a chance to visit Adelaide Oval during my World Cup travels. Maybe that's reserved for a special Test match some day.
Twenty-six years on and living outside India now, I wasn't quite hooked to ABC this time but did watch the game live on my tablet from unearthly-o-clock onwards.
Kudos to the simple joys of another age, the current information age, to a splendid Indian Test win at Adelaide Oval and the beautiful format that is Test cricket!
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