I have been covering cricket for more than half a century, a labour of love but which is also my livelihood. But I would have paid to be present at Chennai or the Queen's Park Oval in Trinidad to watch what must surely rank as two of the greatest Test matches ever and both at about the same time.
Test cricket does not provide the instant gratification that one-day cricket does. Yet there was about these two Test matches an excitement and a tension that sent the heart pulsating and the pulse racing of those who watched it, either on the ground or on television and left them nervous wrecks. Both the Test matches could have gone either way though the one at Trinidad did not have the same tight finish as the one at Chennai.
I thought that West Indies were distinctly unlucky with some umpiring decisions, by their own home umpire, the one against Brian Lara proving fatal. He was clearly not out, the ball pitching several inches outside the leg-stump and, therefore, he could not have been leg-before. But in this Test match, Courtney Walsh reached what had seemed unreachable 500 Test wickets, a tally that is likely to stay on the record books for a long time to come, if not permanently.
South Africa beat the West Indies because they were a mentally tougher team but under Carl Hooper and before their won crowd, the West Indies showed signs of resurgence, the batting has more purpose but still retains the joyfulness that is a West Indian trademark. There is still a lot of life in the series.
But the Chennai Test match was something else. Each day was a new day and each session of play like a Somerset Maugham or an O'Hara short story with a surprise twist. In the end, both teams were like boxers slugging it out, trading punches wildly.
Neither willing to give up as exemplified by India going to tea needing 23 runs to win with five wickets in hand, all over bar the shouting, and Australia striking back with three quick wickets. In the end it was left to Sameer Dighe and Harbhajan Singh to see India through but only just.
Steve Waugh gave a model-lesson of a captain keeping his cool and the body-language of the Australians suggested that they planned to fight it out till the last ball. Glenn McGrath did resort to some negative bowling but the idea was to test the patience of the Indian batsman. But Steve Waugh attacked relentlessly. He knew the only way the match could be won was by taking wickets. TV shots of Saurav Ganguly in the dressing room showed him on the edge of his seat, a bundle of nerves, not exactly a source of inspiration to his team members.
But, at least he was showing honest emotions. But the manner in which Harbhajan Singh strode to the wicket, as if to say, what's all the panic about, was a supreme show of confidence in himself. Indeed that has been the reason for his phenomenal success, self-belief. It was this self-belief rather than cockiness that cast a spell on the Australian batsmen. He didn't get them out, he psyched them out.
As off-spinners go, he's a different kind of bowler to Saqlain Mushtaq and Muttiah Muralitharan and it will be interesting to see how he will bowl on wickets other than those in India. But 32 wickets is a lot of wickets in a three-Test series.
It was taken for granted that Sachin Tendulkar would get at least one Test hundred in the series and he duly got it at Chennai, almost on order. He now has 25 Test centuries and many years of cricket left in him which means many more Test hundreds.
I was delighted to see India win the series because it is good for subcontinent cricket. That India won on its home wickets does not take away from their splendid win. When teams from the subcontinent play in Australia or South Africa or England, they too are playing in conditions that are alien to them. The difference is that we don't bitch about it.
I have written about this before but to no avail. Something must be done about excessive appealing. One can understand the fielding side getting excited but some of the appealing is so ridiculous, it amounts to cheating. A wicket-keeper will go up fully well knowing that there has been no nick. I suggested a penalty of one run for every unsuccessful appeal. A bowler is penalised for a no-ball or a wide.
A fielder too must be penalised for frivolous appealing, for in a way, it amounts to bringing the game into disrepute. It is a blatant attempt to bring the umpire under pressure. And also think that something must be done about sledging. One doesn't have to be a lipreader to know what is being said and since a lot of budding cricketers imitate the mannerisms of the players they see on television, we are sending a wrong message to them.
I am surprised that the match referee has been so lenient. I don't think that abusing your opponent constitutes playing tough and competitive cricket, the justification sometimes given for sledging. I think television should raise the volume of the stump mike so that the viewers can clearly hear what is being said. It may be a good idea if the umpire sent for soap and water from the pavilion and get a bowler to wash his mouth out in public. It may work even on someone like McGrath.