Is Everybody In ? The Ceremony Is About To Begin …

While most in the financial world (is there any other kind ?) have been busy – (these past few weeks there’s been this image in my head of finance whizkids driving this snazzy car, but the rearview mirror keeps getting bigger and bigger till its bigger than the windscreen, and they’re frantically rummaging through the glove compartment looking for a map) – the sporting world has, thankfully,  gone on regardless.

Not that its an excuse for being absent from the blog and if an India v Australia series doesnt get me going , virtually nothing will. Who knows, it might even be therapeutic …

So, efforts on to get back to blogging. And cover this series and matters related.

Rahul’s already underscored Dada’s farewell that will run through the series, but as the Steve Waugh farewell tour showed, emotional undercurrents aside, the cricket between these sides always scores.

Highlighting this, is a typically wonderful prelude to the Tests penned by Rohit Brijnath. It followed a beautifully written Elegy for the long player, the romanticism of which seemed to awaken the Twenty20 generation to the subtleties of Tests and related sportswriting.

The following piece was carried yesterday in the Straits Times, here in Singapore.

THE All Blacks in New Zealand. Rafael Nadal on clay. Chelsea at home. Michael Phelps in any water. Every sport has its ultimate challenge. In cricket, subcontinental patriots will insist there is possibly only one thing harder than beating India in India, and that’s beating Australia anywhere. And so when Ricky Ponting’s posse come to Anil Kumble’s turf, a confrontation between gum-chewing mates and white-trousered gods, we’re about as close as we can get to cricketing nirvana.

India versus Australia, which begins again on Thursday, is a fresh tradition in an antique game, it’s a duel of contrasting philosophies, it’s a contest of shared respect and constant misunderstandings. It is, if you take some artistic licence, a bit like Ali-Frazier, it’s skilful, edgy, passionate, brutal.

It’s had walkouts threatened and racism charges hurled, it’s had spats and sledging, and it’s had some of the most incendiary cricket we’ve seen this decade.

Of the 15 Tests played since 2001, six have been won by Australia and five by India. And even the draws have not been dreary. Why these sweaty, cricketing mini-series aren’t played out over five Tests (like Australia-England, or now England-South Africa) is just another bemusing decision by cricket’s unsure officialdom.

The Indians run world cricket; the Australians own world cricket. Indians have a fine affection for a broken-Hindi-speaking Brett Lee, and Australian crowds rise wherever Sachin Tendulkar goes. The visitors, more aware of and open to India, have learnt there is more to Indian curries than a vindaloo; the hosts, less bashful after these exchanges, have learnt that toughness and professionalism are at the core of Australia’s consistency. For two nations, geographically distant and culturally disparate, cricket has been teacher, ambassador, meeting point, battleground.

It is a series that has re-energised cricket and helped nations connect. But like all young relationships, it is an imperfect and often tempestuous one. When Indian observers whine about how well a local Indian association has treated the Australians with regard to facilities, they are incredibly suggesting that a hospitable nation is somehow being too hospitable. When Australian journalists write that Tendulkar’s breaking of the most-Test-runs record would relegate the capture of Osama bin Laden to page three, it is a flippant lack of understanding of how deeply wounded India is by terrorism. Cricket, perhaps, can teach only so much.

This is the fifth India-Australia Test series already this decade and worse overkill is found only in a Schwarzenegger movie. Duels need time to breathe, time for victory to seep in, defeat to be digested, revenge to be plotted, teams to learn new tricks. That said, so bereft is cricket of the competitive, high-class contest that no one is complaining too much. There is talk that Australian cricket’s halo has lost its shine, their aura punctured, their crown askew, but it is all cheap blather. The only proof in sport is victory.

India have to win this series to give substance to the word “rivalry”. The boys in blue grabbed the Twenty20 World Cup and outplayed Australia, in Australia, in their last one-day encounter, but in the Test arena total triumph has been elusive. India’s team have learnt to roll up their stylish sleeves and compete with a compelling fierceness, but they have won only one Test series of the past four against Australia, and none of the last three. Victory seems for some only a matter of time, but Australia’s resilience is underestimated by only the ignorant.

India have to win else their treasured reputation at home will be further eroded, and losing will help dissolve one of the great mythologies of cricket. India have to win because cricket can do with some evenness. The game’s one-sidedness is not the fault of the incomparable Australians, but the sloth of their competitors. If indeed Australia are not as potent these days, yet still win, it says even less about their rivals.

India have to win because it is in cricket’s wider interests. At the game’s new headquarters, the cult of Twenty20 is dominant, and this exciting, energetic but amputated sport (about as much a test of cricket as doubles is of tennis) is threatening to overshadow the traditional game. Test cricket is a harder sell to the young Indian, for it is a longer, sweatier process to greatness, it offers none of the immediate fame and instant riches of Twenty20.

It is why Kumble and his gang must play brilliant salesmen, must produce performances of bravery and imagination, must construct a seductive advertisement for their form of the game. If the Test game has to be saved, the great battle for it must be fought on Indian soil.

Finally, India have to win else it could mean the cricketing death of a band of the game’s grandest heroes. The end of Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Kumble, Sourav Ganguly, V.V.S. Laxman is imminent anyway, but victory will extend their lives a few months, another year. The Australians will not care. Like all majestic teams, they make a living writing epitaphs.

5 thoughts on “Is Everybody In ? The Ceremony Is About To Begin …

  1. Couple of observations –

    Is a win-loss ratio the only barometer for ‘rivalry’? And that too a series win mind you.. because in terms of number of tests won-lost its not skewed is it?
    I respect one’s views on T20 but comparing it to Tennis doubles as not being serious sport is, frankly, completely unncessary. Ask Federer whether he values the Olympics gold at Beijing for that. I am deliberately ignoring Paes/Bhupati because that will ignite nationalistic fervor..

  2. Rahul,

    About the “rivalry”, in terms of number of tests won vs series – those are points that are made in the article itself. The point really is, (and we can debate that all we like) that you could be winning the tests but you’re losing the series. Time after time. Losing on points maybe , but still losing the bouts. And 6-5 on tests is a surprising stat isnt it considering that its 3-1 in series. Because the series is the way it gets remembered.

    About Twenty20 and Tests, my views on T20 are well documented on this blog. I think what this article’s seeking to highlight is that this is going to be cricket being played in front of two of the most cricket-passionate audiences in the world and its important that Test cricket put on its best act because it is cricket’s true test. (I thought Federer’s gold at Beijing was a great stepping stone for is US Open which in turn got him closer and closure – but more of that some other time. Lee and Hesh, thats a great story and some of the better pieces on them have been written by Brijnath himself).

    I just wish we could come to a stage where we could speak about Test cricket without the T20 ghost lurking in the background. That, I think would be a good start.


  3. Dear Sfx,
    Please note that the win -loss in tests is 6-5 in favour of Australia, but the series score (of the last 4) is not 3-1 but 2-1, the 2003-04 series in Australia was a drawn series (1-1). Anyways, there is no gainsaying that this is ‘THE’ rivarly in cricket and the test cricket that has been witnessed b/w these 2 teams since 2001 has been absolutely top drawer stuff….


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