Michael Clarke’s brilliant century and a near ton from Marcus North saved Australia’s blushes in the third Test and gave them hopes of salvaging the series. It was Clarke’s second consecutive century and will no doubt increase his chances of leading Australia if they lose the series and Ponting thus becomes only the second Australian skipper to lose two consecutive away series. Of course, Australian selectors are seldom known for knee jerk reactions so common in the subcontinent where to appease the masses than take a pragmatic view is preferred but even they will be hard pressed to retain a captain who has lost two Ashes series in England. But for that valiant effort from Clarke and the much underestimated Marcus North, Australia would well have been on their way to losing the Ashes.
Some may say that, after the perfectly legal delaying tactics employed by England in the first Test, it was fitting that they were denied by the Australians in the third Test. They will also not give credit to England’s skipper Andrew Strauss who allowed Australia to substitute a wicket-keeper after Brad Haddin broke a finger during warm up after the toss had been made and team sheets exchanged and suggest that he was only trying to make up for the tactics in the first Test but that is being cynical in the extreme. It was a sporting move by England’s skipper and restores faith in the goodness of this great game and hopefully it will lead to more such gestures that will make the game a hard fought but not a bitter one that it seems to have become in the process of winning at all costs.
Strauss’ gesture had such a good feel about it that it opens up the game to players being a lot more honest in the way they deal with situations on the field where the game can turn this way or that. Like Strauss it is the skippers who have to show the way and this is where one feels confident that India will do the right thing. Mahendra Singh Dhoni has shown that one doesn’t have to holler every ball to the rest of the team nor does one have to go up in appeal every time the batsman plays and misses a ball as some of his predecessors used to do.
No wonder, then, than when it came to a close call, the umpires would not favor India because they were fed up of the keepers appealing even when it was palpably clear that the batsman was nowhere near the ball. Maybe the keepers were doing so after instructions from the team management but it was annoying not just for the viewers but importantly to the umpires too. Dhoni does encourage his players for extra effort or if he wants to convey a message but it is not after each delivery, thank God.
Time will soon tell if Ricky Ponting will also look to play the game as Strauss did, though his past record doesn’t seem to suggest that it is likely to happen and it may well be too late for him to change his spots. He however deserves congrats for becoming the highest Test run scorer in Australia when he went past Allan Border’s record in the first innings of the third Test. For a man who claims that he is neither aware of records nor lays great store by them, it was a sight to see him with hands afloat and waving his bat to acknowledge the achievement.
The players who say they don’t bother about records belong to two categories – those who know they are simply incapable of records and so, on the odd occasion when they achieve something, it is easy for them to say that they don’t play for records and the second category is those who covet all the records and know each one but will not publicly accept it since that would invite the criticism of playing for themselves.
Let us get real here. How does one take up the game? It’s because of being influenced by the exploits and deeds of the heroes in our growing up years.
So to claim that one is not aware of records is an untruth, pure and simple. Sure, there are records and records and in a statistical world there will be some which only the stats guys will be aware, like most boundaries or most sixes or most maiden overs or most dot balls bowled etc. but the major ones like most runs scored, most wickets taken, highest aggregate wickets and runs are known to every youngster who takes up the game. Next time some achiever suggests that he doesn’t bother about records, just take it with a fistful of salt and don’t make the mistake of swallowing it.
By the same token, it must be clarified that unlike in athletics, no player plays for records. They happen. A player will not be daft to put more pressure on himself by playing for records. There is enough pressure on him as it is and he does not need to add to that. Just as it becomes harder to get through the 90s to a century it becomes tougher as a player approaches a landmark and so takes a lot more time getting there because of the pressure of expectations, so he would be downright silly to play for a record and put more pressure on himself.
Records will happen because that’s the natural order of life. There is a bar set by the previous generation that the new one has to vault and set up another higher one for the next generation and for that to happen the previous generation has to know about it. So make no mistake, all record makers know the previous record even though they may not admit it and yes don’t take anything away from them for not admitting it. They are still record makers and deserve the highest accolades.