Bangalore: Do you remember, chalk hearts melting on a playground wall?
Do you remember, dawn escaped from moonwashed college halls?
Do you remember, the cherry blossom in the market square?
Do you remember, I thought it was confetti in our hair
- Marillion, Misplaced Childhood (1985)
I'm now at an age when I don't remember any of that, not with great clarity anyway. I do, however, vividly recall a cricket match played on November 5, 1987. In the UK, it was Bonfire Night. In northern Kerala, where I lived then, it was just another hot and sultry day. A school day, at that.
There were no twitter updates or ball-by-ball scorecards. It was only when we fled the classroom during the lunch break that someone's radio picked up that England had made 254, batting first in a World Cup semifinal. The choice in front of us was simple. If we wolfed down lunch and ran across to a classmate’s house nearby, we could see the start of the Indian reply.
And we did, doubled up on our haunches, lungs burning and gasping for breath. Then, it happened. Some inward movement for Phil DeFreitas, and the off stump out of the ground. In India's previous game, Sunil Gavaskar had scored his first one-day hundred, from just 85 balls. This time, as he trudged back to the pavilion, we watched in silence. A few minutes later, we walked back to school. "Maybe he'll score in the final," we said.
But by the time we got home, we knew there would be no final. And it slowly sank in that Gavaskar's slow walk to the Wankhede pavilion would be the last we saw of him on a cricket field. It took weeks, if not months, for the reality to seep through our pores.
At the time, it marked the end of the most significant era that Indian cricket had seen. Yet, not everyone was conscious of it. The Wisden Cricketers' Almanack report of the semifinal mentions Gavaskar just once: "India, with Vengsarkar unable to play because of a stomach upset, suffered an early setback when DeFreitas knocked over Gavaskar’s off stump."
At least the man most of us idolised got his walk into the sunset in front of his home crowd. Nearly a decade later, I was at a friend's place watching the India-Pakistan quarterfinal at the 1996 World Cup. Javed Miandad, scourge of Indian hopes for more than a decade, had returned to the team for the competition after more than two years away. That night though, it became apparent that Sharjah and that six were too long in the past, that the prizefighter had fought one round too many.
During his 38, he didn't so much rage against the dying light as whimper. When it ended, with a run-out, he walked back to hoots, catcalls and abuse. It was no way for a great champion to leave the game.
I thought of both Gavaskar and Miandad when I got up early last Sunday to watch what turned out to be the final day of Sri Lanka's Test series in Australia. At one stage, it didn't look at though Michael Hussey would be needed. The camera kept panning to him sitting padded up, and the crowd chanted his name even as Michael Clarke and Ed Cowan chipped away at the target. I wasn't there to soak up the atmosphere, but the pictures I was seeing reminded me of Steve Waugh's final Test nine years earlier – of the thousands of red rags in the crowd, the match-saving 80 and the exit on teammates' shoulders to the strains of John Williamson's True Blue.
I was delighted that Hussey – one of the few modern cricketers that inspired genuine respect – got such a send-off. There may be those that abhor such shows of sentiment, but I believe it's fitting that fans get a chance to say goodbye to their legends.
The first edition of the Wisden India Almanack has just been published. In it, there's a report by Mohammad Isam on the Asia Cup match between India and Pakistan at Mirpur on March 18. Much of it deals with Virat Kohli's spectacular 183. At one point, Isam writes: "He was into a nice rhythm with Tendulkar, now batting without the weight of the 100th hundred hanging over him."
It's the only mention of Tendulkar in the report. At the time, Isam wasn't to know that it would be Tendulkar's last One-Day International. None of us did. There can't have been more than a handful of Indian fans inside the stadium. Those watching on TV certainly had no idea that the last page had been written. No red rags. No True Blue. Nothing.
As Leonard Cohen sang: Hey, that's no way to say goodbye.
Story first published on: Thursday, 10 January 2013 17:02 IST