Some people disguised as Ricky Ponting and his Australian team have arrived in India. How did they get past the security system? How did they survive the media scrutiny? The captain sure looks like Ponting, smiles like him, even crinkles his eyes like him. From certain angles – and this might sound conclusive – he even looks like George W Bush about to crack a joke written for him that he has not fully understood himself. But is this really Ricky Ponting?
“(This tour) is important for us,” he is quoted as saying. “We can learn a lot, particularly the younger guys.”
Wow! That sounds like Indian captains of old, visiting England or Australia who got off their ships saying, “We have come here to learn. England (or Australia) is a great cricketing nation, and we have no chance of winning. Yet, it will be a great experience and good for the future of the game in our country.”
Ponting is usually expected to say, “We are here to win, to bash you guys, and teach your players a few things,” or variations thereof. Then you would get another player, a Matthew Hayden perhaps, or a Glenn McGrath saying something even ruder and more provocative. All part of what former captain Steve Waugh called ‘mental disintegration’ tactics.
Now, when Brett Lee speaks of winning the series 7-0, Ponting, or perhaps ‘Ponting’, chides him gently with “Brett has taken over from McGrath. It’s the stuff that Glenn used to do, but we’ll wait and see how the series plays out.”
When did aggression give way to diplomacy? Is Ponting here in a new role as ambassador, determined to use cricket diplomacy to ease the relations between the countries? Is he under instructions to behave himself, ensure that his team does so too, with constant references to the “larger picture”?
On the other hand, how cussed are we? For years we complained about the badly behaved Aussie, and now we complain about the well-behaved one. Newly-turned leaves have a right to expect more.
Perhaps it is natural to feel that way when clichés are dismantled. And for another, there is something about the Ugly Australian that gives other teams more pleasure to beat than the Beautiful Australian. It would be sad if the Indian team were made to feel (like the bowler Arthur Mailey when he dismissed the great batsman Victor Trumper) “like a little boy who has just killed a dove” every time they beat this new, mellow Australia.
After all, there is something that is bound to make emotional ladies reach for their handkerchiefs when they read Ponting’s hope that “Maybe we will spring a surprise on India.” You almost wish that India allow Australia to win 7-0 so Ponting can feel reassured. No Indian effigies will be burnt if they lose to this cuddly Australian side, so full of good manners.
The question is, how long will this last? How long before Harbhajan Singh gets under Ponting’s skin to tease out the aggression that lies just beneath? How long before an umpiring decision leads them to believe that they have learnt enough and would now like to teach the Indians a few lessons? How long before an awkward question by a working journalist causes Ponting to whip off the mask and question the legality of the guy’s parents’ marriage?
Fans have much to look forward to in this series. Top class cricket by the two best one-day teams in the world and the mask-whipping ceremony that might take place anywhere, any time without any warning, making the whole thing so exciting.