By Srikanth Natarajan
Everybody has an SRT story.
Some will talk about Desert Storm as if it happened last week. Others will talk about his last over in the Hero Cup game against South Africa. Others still will recollect the four sixes off Abdul Qadir. Stories that will make them glassy eyed, transporting them to that particular day, however momentarily. I too have many such moments but just a couple will stand out. Something that will flash by my eyes when my time comes.
The first time I saw him bat. M Chinnaswamy Stadium, packed and bursting to the seams. The Kiwis were here in 1997, and it was the 14th of May – a day before my birthday. As an advance gift, I got myself a ticket. The Kiwis batted first and put on 220. The stand I was in was like a light year away from the pitch but it was a nice square view. Ganguly and Tendulkar began the chase in style and I will never forget one Gavin Larsen over: five dot balls to SRT, the crowd is a little restless. The sixth ball was a short one and I can still hear the gunshot ringing in my years. A pull over deep midwicket and long-on as the ball disappeared into the stands for a massive six. Here was a classic example of how he had decided where the bowler should deliver the next ball. The five dots were a lure and the sixth one had the bowler hook, line and sinker. India won the game and SRT’s gift for me was a classic one-day hundred. One of the few birthday’s where I was intoxicated without even a drop of alcohol.
Circa 2010. This time the Aussies under Punter were here for a Test. It was working day and I was pleasantly surprised when a friend called and asks me if I wished to see the game from tea till end of play. I took a nanosecond to say yes, and was inside the stadium as the players walked in.
J stand this time. Behind the bowlers arm. Plush seats. Tea and coffee service behind me. A severe case of cutis anserina came over me when I saw him stride into the middle. Over the next 120 minutes he drove, cut, pulled, and defended with panache. In the middle of an over, Ponting walked up to the hapless Nathan Haurtiz and had a long chat. He then moved cover to extra-cover and pushed short mid-off to a conventional mid-off. Ponting had another quick chat with the bowler, clapped his hands and shouted out encouragement, as if this was his Eureka moment.
The hapless one delivered the next ball. A simple step forward, a caress and a push and even before you could say KSCA, the cherry was being picked up by a school kid in the long off boundary. A classic Sachin straight drive. Etched forever in my mind. I liked the look the hapless one and Hussey gave Punter after that. Now what, it seemed to ask. Punter checked his stubble (a 5 o’clock shadow as early as 3PM).
By the morning of the final day, it was clear India had a great chance to win the Test. The TV experts spoke of how the Wall was due for a big one and how the hapless one could turn to be the matchwinner after all.
A quick check at 11AM showed a number of fellow enthusiasts were ready for the day’s play. For a princely sum of Rs 250, we got into the cheapest stands. This time it was a square view, right in line with deep cover.
Another classic straight drive. And two back-to-back sixes of the hapless one. Both over long on and both so identical that one of our friends, sugar deprived due to lack of lunch, thought it was a replay, only to realize that this was as live as it can get and not on TV. India won comfortably with the wild crowd cheering every run. Sometimes we cheered even when there was nothing happening; the sheer joy of SRT being in the middle was enough. What a Test and what a result. Test hundred No. 49. Test run number 14,000.
Again the acid kicked in.
And everything was etched forever.
Lead image from here
Srikanth Natarajan is a sports nut who has a passion for reading old newspapers and history. Growing up in Bangalore with a steady diet of sports magazines and street cricket, he leads sales for a leading IT organization. Follow him @sriknata