The heat was sweltering. Starting from March, the weather in this part of the world is inhospitable, to say the least. But that was least of your problems that day almost a decade ago. You and your partner were alone, gladiators facing a team of hungry beasts who had tasted blood, knowing fully well that if you perished the final frontier would be breached. The opposition was anticipating a meek surrender. Beer cans were ready to be opened. Nobody believed you could turn it around, not them, not us.
But you were not just another brick in the wall. You were the wall itself. You and your partner blooded the beasts and won us the battle. That match in Eden Gardens is now part of cricket folklore. And we, dear friend, felt proud to have denied the great general Waugh his ultimate dream-‘The Final Frontier’. After all, what is there in sports other than pride?
But more pride was in store. In 2002, at Headingley, Nasser Hussain probably thought that a green top and clouds would be enough to terrify you lads. You proved him as well as a number of pundits wrong, scored a century in adverse conditions and gifted us another win. By now, I couldn’t imagine an Indian team without you.
Then came that day at Adelaide. I can still see Sourav loitering by the boundary line, waiting anxiously for a win. And most fittingly, it was you who wielded the axe to get us the final runs. A victory against the toughest gang at their own backyard! You scored 233 and 72. No doubt it appeared to Justin Langer that you were meditating, not batting!
I know you have done a lot of other things too. You took outstanding catches, donned the gloves, even captained the team. You played some fine innings in one day cricket. On a bright sunny day, at Taunton, you and Sourav belted Muralitharan for so many sixes that we lost count.
People say you played for the team when others chased records. I consider it somewhat insulting to your great brothers in arms. You, along with your fav teammates, gave us many moments to cherish, helped garner an undying love for test cricket within a generation of Indians.
But I was ardently hoping that you retire and not because you had a bad series down under. I didn’t want to see you getting out anymore to in swingers bowled by greenhorns. I didn’t want to hear half-wit former players calling for your head before every team selection meeting. Simply, I didn’t want to find my hero getting slain by dwarfs. Moreover, as Van Halen had sung—“There is a time and place for everything. You can push with all your might, but nothing’s gonna come, nothing’s gonna change!”
No, I was not worried about new players not getting the chance to play because of you. They don’t want to play tests anyway. I think ICC may have to introduce cheerleaders in tests to get their mojo going.
So, when you announced your retirement today, I felt happy. Like you, the country too bid you farewell with sadness and pride.
Good bye mate and thank you. Have a great life ahead...