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Test cricket in India: the ultimate sporting pilgrimage

Expert
21st March, 2013
4

It was around 15 years ago, watching highlights of Sachin Tendulkar smashing an Australian Test bowling attack featuring such heavyweights as Paul Wilson and Gavin Robertson all over an Indian cricket field, that I made the decision.

One day, I was going to make it over to India to watch Test match cricket – preferably the colosseum that is Eden Gardens, Kolkata.

To stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the fanatics in the crowd and soak up an atmosphere that, through my television at least, seemed unrivalled in world sport.

Listening to the legendary 2001 series through ABC Grandstand (remember how good that used to be?) and sitting in a Winton pub in 2004 as Gilly finally led us to a drought-breaking series victory on India soil whetted my appetite even more.

Early last year, I decided the final Test of the 2013 Border-Gavaskar Trophy series was the time.

Tendulkar’s star was starting to fade, Ponting and Hussey on a likely farewell tour – if the planets aligned, the curtain could’ve come down on three of the greatest cricketing careers of all time, all at the one Test match.

Twelve months later, much has changed.

Tendulkar is still gleaming just bright enough to continue; Ponting has fallen on his sword; Huss fell on his before anyone had a chance to sharpen one behind him; and the Australian cricket team is at perhaps its lowest ebb in the 30 years I’ve been watching them.

Rather than being about last hurrahs, New Delhi could be about the reading of last rites.

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I guess you can’t win them all – or any, as the case has been for an Australian team down only 3-0 after three Tests and lucky to be nil.

Still, the chance to see the Aussies test their mettle in what has long been the final frontier for our cricketers, in front of fans for whom the sport is a religion, is too good to pass up.

As far as sporting pilgrimages go, this is the pinnacle for me, but it’s by no means the first.

As a kid, the highlight of life laid at the end of the annual drive down the highway from Toowoomba to Brisbane to watch State of Origin.

This was back in the glory days of King Wally, Big Mal, and XXXX cans raining down on anyone in a blue jersey – sometimes even on the playing field – at the northern end of the old Lang Park.

More recently, as a Sydney resident, the annual trek out to Penrith Stadium to watch my Canberra Raiders hand a footballing lesson to my mate’s Panthers has been unmissable.

Sadly, the Raiders get schooled just as often as they do the schooling.

NRL grand finals, AFL at the ‘G, Tri-Series rugby league in Auckland, Horse Racing at Sha Tin in Hong Kong, NBA, MLB, Serie A, Premier League… all unforgettable experiences.

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Still, even if the stands are only half-full, I suspect Test match cricket in India will top them all.

Fingers crossed I survive New Delhi’s relentless assault of tuk-tuk drivers, street hustlers, and way too much Dal Makhani to make it through all five days of action at the Feroz Shah Kotla Stadium.

As for Clarkey, Siddle, Lyon and co? I hope they make it through all five days as well, and Nathan gets to finally lead the team victory song.

C’mon Aussies. C’mon.