Two major sporting features grabbed the headlines in the week that went by. One was the Australian Open in Melbourne where top ranker Novak Djokovic set rest all arguments on who was the best male player in the world today just as Naomi Osaka affirmed that in the women's section. Then came the highly charged third cricket Test in the spanky new Narendra Modi stadium in Ahmedabad where India thumped England by10 wickets to take a step closer to making the World Test Championship (WTC) final. What struck one in these two sporting events of varying nature is what winning can do in the final analysis. Each had a different fall out!
Even as the Grand Slam event in Australia was being meticulously ready with all the restrictions for players and public put in place in the wake of the pandemic, the sentiments that rose among tennis fans was whether this would be the year to see a transformation, a transformation in fact from the Old order to the New generation kids in the world of tennis. The focus was to be on the tested and established trio Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and the evergreen Roger Federer. The Swiss great, however, chose to keep away citing injury and so the burden of keeping the tradition going was to be on Nadal and Djokovic. As it happened, the Spaniard who had gone on smoothly without even losing a set enroute, fell in the quarterfinal to the stunning come back man, Greek player Stefanos Tsitsipas after being two sets up! That meant the door to a change had yanked open a little more and excitement grew with just Djokovic, already in the throes of a muscle-tear injury scare, there to defend.
Champions do not stutter at the crucial moments. So did the Serbian. Gaining from strength to strength and making light of his injury, Djokovic stormed into the final to face another young aspirant, the Russian Daniil Medvedev. Djokovic's victory thereafter was in keeping with his challenge prior to the final that manifested in his cryptic remark “I am not going to stand here and hand it over to them (young generation)”. How true the end script turned out, with the Serbian's show of class! May be there was some cheer for the next generation in the women's section where Osaka made light of the great Serena Williams in the semi-final itself. The American was in quest of her record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title and if her experience in Melbourne is anything to go by, may be it could become a big ask for her in the days ahead.
Over then to Ahmedabad and to the brand new world's biggest one-lakh capacity cricket stadium. The equations were clear_ both teams, England and India were looking for a win to remain in the race for the one remaining berth in the WTC final. When India won, there was understandable joy on the home side but England did not prove grave losers, only critics drew their swords out lashing at the kind of pitch that the Test had been played on! Indeed when a 5-day match ends inside two days, eyebrows would be raised. Surely this is no good advertisement for a Test match. There was a time when a Test match used to be a cauldron where the contest between the bat and ball be so intense, even if at times monotonous. But cricket lovers would still enjoy every aspect of it. Indeed the arrival of limited over cricket has taken much of the flavour away from the sports main feature. Thus the reason for introducing the pink ball instead of the conventional red and also trying out the day-night experience in this longer version of the game.
We had seen how Indian batting hurtled down to its lowest score of 36 in Adelaide just in December last year against Australia in a 'pink ball' day-night encounter inside two and half days. None talked about demons in the pitch then except to praise Aussie's efficient pace bowling attack.. However, in Ahmedabad in a similar scenario where it happened to be England at the receiving end, the reaction for the win was extreme to say the least, at least from the overseas media. Forgotten was the fact that no rules govern on pitches that a home team should prepare for a good contest. Forgotten for a moment also was the skill of the Indian spinners, particularly with the pink ball or the inability of the English batsmen to shore up the innings in such testing conditions. As Sir Vivian Richards, the West Indian legend was to say on this English discomfiture, in an interview on social media, that this was why the match was called a Test match!
Nearly four decades ago, in 1983 to be exact, when the then Motera stadium made its debut as a cricket venue, this writer was a witness on how West Indian pace attack mauled the Indian batting to set up a grand win in four days. Much has changed since. Cricket has evolved. West Indies cricket if anything has down swung, Motera stadium itself has turned new again and Indian cricket is now flush with such exciting talents that its winning vein, it would appear, has become something not easily acceptable for other opposition! Twice now in recent times has this Indian side risen like a phoenix to script grand moments. And there could be more such wins!