Melbourne: You spend months wanting this one article, saving up for it. All the while you keep gazing at it through the shop window on your way home. On some days you feel bold, and enter the store with whatever money you have. Sometimes the shopkeeper ridicules you, on other days he respects your spirit, pats your back and asks you to try another time. On a few occasions, you get into ugly arguments, you even find out the guy has brought the price down for you but you still can't afford it. You go back depressed every time, but make sure you hide that product behind others so that nobody else buys it.
Before giving up you decide to make one final bid. You think you have enough money this time. But while walking to the store looking confident, you see that other people have already bought the product. Your dream article, one you believe should have been yours first, is now not unique. Then you realise there is an end-of-the-year discount sign outside the store. Do you still want it, you ask yourself. Yes, you say before going ahead tentatively. But what if you still don't have enough money despite this big discount? Will that not break you?
It is hard to say if sportspeople think that way; whether they contemplate success and failure thus before embarking on a journey; if Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman had any such thoughts at all before they boarded the plane to Australia. This is their final trip to the country they have spent their lifetimes believing (and learning the hard way) is the toughest place to win Test matches. Let's leave a small window for exceptions and not say it is their final tour. India's next full tour to Australia is in December 2014, which makes it hard to imagine any of the three playing Tests here again; at least not all of them together.
This is the fifth Test trip to Australia for Tendulkar, and the fourth for both Dravid and Laxman. Australia is a special, bittersweet place for them. They have played innings here that earned them the respect of the world. This is a challenge they have cherished. This is a place they have been desperate to win in all their lives. Laxman grew up watching the early morning telecast from Australia, listening to Bill Lawry and Richie Benaud. Dravid possesses all that was and is right about Australian cricket. Tendulkar has scored stirring centuries on each of his trips here.
Tendulkar's class was established beyond doubt when, at 18, he scored that century on a cracking WACA track. Laxman saved his career here, and has gone on to play so well in Australian surroundings that he is one of the most loved foreign players in the country. He has scored three centuries in three Tests at the SCG, making the same Lawry and Benaud speak superlatively of him. One of Dravid's more emotional moments in public came in Australia, when he square-cut the winning runs at the Adelaide Oval in 2003-04 and kissed the crest on his India cap, after he had scored a double-century in the first innings. It was India's first Test win in Australia since 1980-81.
There have been countless disappointments. All their glorious efforts have translated into only two Test wins here; England won three in just one series. There is a picture of Tendulkar that tells a story. Acknowledging the applause after his century at the MCG in 1999-2000, he is alone among the many seagulls in the frame, alone against the Australians during that whitewash. There have been two Sydney heartbreaks. Once when they didn't enforce the follow-on, and couldn't conjure enough with the ball on the final day. Once when, despite all that went around them, they had no business getting bowled out in two sessions and a bit on the final day.
A trip to Australia, one final shot at an elusive series win here, has to be part of what has kept them going at their age. Should it happen, it will be a big win, despite Australia being at their most mortal in two decades, and despite their record of no wins against India in their previous eight Tests. A lot of this series will be about the trio - just keep in mind the kind of reception they got last time, when people might have thought it was their last visit here - but it is about others too.
MS Dhoni has had his unbeaten run as captain rudely interrupted recently. Zaheer Khan, despite the matchwinner he has been, has not completed India's previous three overseas tours. Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir haven't scored a Test century this year. Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma are trying to shake the image of being brash frontrunners. Ishant Sharma has had a long build-up to the series with speculation over his fitness and questions over his decision to delay the surgery on his ankle. Umesh Yadav will want to be what Ishant was here four years ago, a promising young quick who announced himself with a superb spell against the best, a spell good enough for Ricky Ponting to describe in meticulous detail in his book. R Ashwin is going to play his first away Test in what has been a graveyard for finger spinners since they started covering the pitches.
As much as this could be the big three's last overseas tour, this is India's last away Test series for two years. Failure will leave them bitterly disappointed because playing at home has not been such a big concern recently. This time last year, India were working hard to come back from an innings defeat in South Africa. That loss in Centurion was a swift blow to the then No. 1 Test side, a blow they recovered from. This year they are trying to come back from the hammering in England. These wounds take longer to heal, but an Australia summer is not a bad place to start.