The Curse is Lifted, The Dream is Ours: Thank You, Team India

I was seven the first time I witnessed an Indian tour to Australia, in 1999/00.

It was all a little surreal – waking up in the wee hours of the morning (thanks, Dad), and experiencing the summer Down Under while tucked inside a blanket in the bitter Delhi cold, some 8000 kilometres away.

It wasn’t all that wonderful a viewing experience, though. The first trip Messrs Tendulkar, Dravid, Ganguly and Laxman took together to the distant land was a ghastly initiation for a little boy just taking to Indian cricket. India would win once in 11 international matches, including a tri-series also featuring Pakistan, and the lowest margin of defeat in three Tests would be 180 runs.

This, I was told, was routine service when Indian teams visited ‘tougher’ shores. This was the way it was.

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Four years later, the boy was 11 – immersed, soul deep, into the idea of Team India, at a time when its stock was on the way up. Rising before dawn with a greater sense of optimism, the pre-teen self was ready to witness something special.

Day 1 of the tour ended with Australia on 262/2.

Some scripts never change, right?

Fortunately, Zaheer Khan made the graveyard-hour alarm clock worth its while the next morning (thanks again, Dad) – and for the next month, winter was a warm affair, barring a few painful days in Melbourne.

Watching Sourav Ganguly leap in joy while eating lunch on a Sunday afternoon. Lapping up a second Rahul Dravid-VVS Laxman epic against Australia one Sunday later. Rushing out to the ice-cream vendor the second school was dismissed a day later to find out a.) yes, Dravid had made a double century and b.) Ajit Agarkar had raided through the Aussie lineup and India needed three runs lesser than Dravid alone scored in the first innings to win the Test. Stamping the foot down and telling my parents I’m staying home on Holy Tuesday – and soaking in, for the first time in my lifetime, an Indian Test win Down Under. Kick-starting the New Year with the delight of India scoring 705/7 (still their highest-ever total outside Asia).

Coming within one missed Parthiv Patel stumping on the final day at Sydney of having seen India’s first Test series win in Australia.

Oh, man.

Was it even possible to be proud yet gutted in the same moment?

(Years later, with the benefit of hindsight, one realizes which end of the gulf India were in; a drawn series was the provider of the greatest happiness, until now.)

Rahul Dravid and Ajit Agarkar were the stars of the Adelaide Test of 2003, India’s first Test win in Australia since 1981.

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Four further years passed. 15 – a time of teen angst, and how uncanny that it would coincide with the season of angriest emotion ever felt over the happenings on a cricket field.

Sydney. Steve Bucknor. Andrew Symonds.

Michael Clarke, on Day 5, with India trying to bat out for a draw, claiming a catch that had seen more grass than an average peddler. Ricky Ponting pointing his finger upwards to ‘rule’ it was taken cleanly. Clarke returning to take three wickets in an over. India losing with less than 10 minutes left to play.

Oh, man.

Was it even possible to feel more enraged by a game?

Perth would come as a soothing balm two weeks later. Watching Australia field four pacers on a fiery WACA strip, and having to see the fastest of them, Shaun Tait, smacked straight past him by No. 10 RP Singh, came with a sense of vindication. Watching a 19-year-old Ishant Sharma make a world-beating Ponting hop about for eight-plus overs (‘ek aur over karega?’) was sadistically pleasureful.

Riling, or charging, as that victory was, the anguish of Sydney needed much more to be avenged.

The Sydney Test of 2008 would prove to be the most fractious chapter in a heated India-Australia rivalry in the 21st century.

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There was one sweet epiphany between 2008 and the next visit Down Under. It came at Ahmedabad, on 24 March 2011, when a Ricky Ponting-led Australian team was beaten for the first time in a World Cup game. Yuvraj Singh wasn’t the only one letting rip a war cry crouched on his knees that night.

One itch still remained to be scratched, though – a Test series win Down Under.

When that next trip did arrive, the boy was 19 and now requiring to wake up on his own as he pursued a degree away from home. And he did.

But on this Australian summer, of 2011/12, the resolve broke midway. Day 1 of the third Test , at Perth, saw India bat first – and David Warner had brought up a century by Stumps. India were already 2-0 down. Having been walloped 4-0 in England four months earlier.

No more, please.

The World Cup honeymoon had been sucked dry.

Despite hundreds in both innings of his first Test as captain, Virat Kohli would have to watch his side slip to defeat in the Adelaide Test of 2014.

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Come the next trip, the boy was itching to become a man.

As Virat Kohli took his first steps as captain, I was taking my first steps in the bid to pursue a career in sports journalism.

It was a time when I trained myself into watching matches of cricket as a ‘neutral’ – win or lose, there was a story to be rightly reported, a job to be done.

India didn’t succeed in changing the script. A four-match series went 2-0 to Australia. I did succeed (I think) in my attempt to keep the emotions in check, except when it came to be known that we had seen the last of MS Dhoni in the India whites after Melbourne.

Keeping that check on the sentiment, persisting to maintain a balance has been a continued effort; World Cup 2015, World T20 2016, Dhoni relinquishing captaincy, Kohli becoming King Kohli – all of it has been viewed with a constant note-to-self: you’re not, in this capacity, an Indian fan (not first, at least).

Until now.

Until the days leading up to the conclusion of the Sydney Test, the conclusion of India’s 12th Test series in Australia – the one where the script was changed. The one.

The analyses and the breakdown of this unprecedented chapter are another thing. India didn’t just win a series in Australia – they dominated it. Centuries? India 5, Australia 0. 100+ stands? India 4, Australia 1. Average? India 34.69, Australia 25.90. And that’s just scratching the surface.

But this isn’t about the statistics, or the numbers. This is about realising a dream. About defeating ‘the way it us’. About conquering the unconquered land.

Like the boy braving the cold/running to the ice-cream vendor outside school/bunking school/bunking college, there has been a generation waiting in despair.

There have been fathers and mothers, waking up early to let their kids experience the phenomena, despite harbouring their own generation of crushed hopes.

And there has been a generation before that, too.

Waiting for the curse to be lifted.

Waiting for the dream to be realised.

Indian cricket’s dream.

Our dream.

India have been travelling to Australia for as along as the country has been an independent nation.

But on 7 January 2019, the latest band of Indian cricketers to visit the shores Down Under has achieved the unprecedented.

India have won a Test series in Australia.

The curse is lifted. The dream is ours. Thank you, Team India.

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