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Aussies are successful, but unable to enjoy the game!
by Partab Ramchand
Jan 07, 2008
By Partab Ramchand - Dreamcricket Special Columnist

Towards the end of the Sydney Test my religious beliefs got the better of me and I found myself saying repeatedly ``If there is a God, India is not losing this match.’’ Considering what all they had been through over five days they certainly deserved to save the match. That would be poetic justice I concluded. At the end there was no poetic justice even if of course there is always a God. It’s just sometimes he works in inscrutable ways. Of course from a cricketing viewpoint as the cliché goes it can be said that God must be an Australian.

After half a century of following cricket and almost 40 years of writing on it I would like to think that I am a pretty dispassionate about the game. As the cliché goes I have seen it all – including Tied Test II. Nothing really moves me overmuch about cricket. All I wish is to see a keen contest marked by some good cricket. I am still taken in by sparkling strokes that pierce the in field and race to the boundary, well disguised googlies that bring about a batsman’s downfall, the generally excellent fielding standards in international cricket or some shrewd captaincy marked by innovation and enterprise. By the same token I am also appalled by the growing misbehaviour of the players, the rude gestures and the open sledging that has now degenerated into charges of racial abuse, the excessive and sometimes just plain stupid appealing and the falling standards of umpiring.

I am mentioning all this for I have just seen a Test match that had both the best and the worst of cricket. As a well contested game marked by high standards of batting, bowling, fielding and captaincy, besides fluctuating fortunes and an exciting finish that saw the match end only in the penultimate over and that with a final cruel twist in the tale the Sydney Test deserves to be ranked as one of the finest in the new millennium – and it must not be forgotten that since 2000 there have been a number of thrilling Tests. But as far as the seamier side is concerned including the sad aspects I have mentioned in the previous para the Sydney Test will unfortunately also be remembered for the wrong reasons.

I have always been curious as to what happens to umpires who err repeatedly, who are plain incompetent and who make the most elementary of mistakes thus playing havoc with a cricketers’ career. All I can say is that I see them again officiate in another Test match a few weeks later. If the aggrieved cricketers are pulled up with a match suspension or a cut in their match fee after showing `dissent’ at a palpably incorrect decision should not some action be taken against the umpires too? Perhaps a ban for a certain period?

To say that Steve Bucknor and Mark Benson had a bad game in Sydney is putting it mildly. Some of the decisions were so horrendously wrong that to be frank both umpires should be removed forthwith from the ICC Elite Panel. One does not have to recount even a single decision for I am sure the mistakes are etched deep in the heart of the Indian cricket lover who though by nature philosophical will find it hard to forgive the two officials. Viewed dispassionately and from any angle it can be said that the umpiring cost India the match. I belong to the old school and have almost always believed that the cricketers make too much of umpires’ mistakes using them to camouflage their own weaknesses. On this occasion I absolve the Indians of any blame.

The ICC must realize that incompetent umpiring can wreck a potentially great game of cricket and they need not look beyond the Sydney Test for any further evidence. This could have been one of the great Tests in cricket history. But the spotless white quality of the play was blackened due to the sub-standard officiating and the boorish behaviour of some of the players.

Here again the Aussies will have to take a much larger share of the blame. I sometimes wonder whether they are really aware of their own strength and their overwhelming superiority over the rest of the opposition. In the ICC Test table they are perched well on top with 143 points and the next South Africa and Sri Lanka are way behind on 109. They have just won their 16th straight Test victory equaling their own famous record notched up by Steve Waugh’s all conquering team in the period 1999 – 2001. Their glorious deeds are appreciated all over the cricketing world. Everyone is aware that the Aussies have taken the game to a new level. They really don’t have to resort to the kind of underhand tactics or ugly scenes that were witnessed at Sydney. If they just focus on the game they will probably win each game that much sooner and easier.

There is little doubt that aggression is one of the hallmarks of Aussie triumphs. Their intensity is unbelievable. They never let go, they always keep coming at the opponents, squeezing them out of the game. One has always appreciated Aussie aggression but of late there is unmistakable evidence that they have crossed the line and their gestures are nothing but straight from the theatre of the absurd. Again I am tempted to recall some of the unseemly incidents involving the Aussies in the Test for evidence but I am sure these will continue to remain fresh in the mind of the Indian cricket follower. All the `Ugly Aussie’ image will do is to turn followers away from the game and it is worth recalling that one of their own former captain Lindsay Hassett voluntarily left the ABC commentary box in 1981 after a long and distinguished career saying that he could stand modern players’ behaviour no more.

Anil Kumble conducted himself with tremendous dignity during the Test despite dangerously provocative moments that probably just needed a little cinder to start a flame. He maintained his cool and only after the match was over gave vent to his feelings by stating quite openly that Australia did not play in the spirit of the game. He regretted the growing ill feeling between the teams and in a sentence that brought back memories of a famous phrase uttered by Australian captain Bill Woodfull to the England manager Plum Warner during the Bodyline series he said "Only one team was playing with the spirit of the game.’’

But Ponting pig headed as usual believed there was nothing wrong with Australia's on-field conduct during the match. "I have absolutely no doubt about this match being played in the right spirit," he said. At least had he added that at times things went overboard the Indian cricket fan always a magnanimous soul might forgive him. But his arrogant attitude has only helped in not defusing the tension.

Half a century ago what Frank Worrell wrote in his autobiography `Cricket Punch’ about the Surrey side could well be applied verbatim to this Aussie squad. Surrey were oft-crowned county champions and simply rode roughshod over the opposition while boasting of half a dozen England players in the team. Describing their game against the touring West Indians as one of the unhappiest in which he had ever played Worrell said that as far he was concerned he would give up cricket altogether before playing in another game like that one.

Recalling the scene he writes: ``Throughout the whole second innings we had to put up with a lot of barracking from the Surrey players. We were abused when the players were changing ends at the finish of each over and while a few of the remarks were addressed directly to either Clyde Walcott or me the Surrey players made certain that we heard them and that we knew whom they were talking about. Their incessant talking even went on among the close-in fielders while the bowler was running up to bowl. And if that didn’t unsettle us the Surrey players appealed for anything and everything. It was a nightmare but it probably boomeranged on the Surrey lads for the more they barracked the more Clyde and I resolved to stick where we were. Most of the language from the Surrey players was much more violent than anything we had ever heard before during a game. As far as I was concerned the whole day was completed ruined. We all got the feeling that Surrey want to be appellants, judges and jury in their own cases. The entire touring party was shattered by this experience. We never knew cricket could be played like that. Never in my life did I ever think I would advocate giving to cricket umpires the power of the football referee – the power to send a player off the field for the rest of the match - but my experience at the Oval taught me that reform is necessary.’’

And then he concludes ``Perhaps the trouble is that Surrey have had too much success. Judging by the way they played us, they are no longer capable of playing the game to enjoy it. It appears that they must win – and win at all costs. There is nothing wrong with wanting to win and nothing wrong with winning. But there is a lot wrong with getting so carried away by success that you can no longer play the game in the proper spirit and you can no longer go through a day’s cricket without swearing, abusing and barracking. What happened at the Oval certainly was not cricket.’’

What happened at Sydney too was not cricket. Ponting and his men had better remember that tolerance with their misbehaviour is fast running out and it’s getting harder to understand their viewpoint with TV evidence proving the contrary. They have always insisted that they play the game ``hard and fair’’ but there was always a very thin line. They have crossed it and their explanations are no longer tenable.

 
More Views by Partab Ramchand
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