March 5, 2007

World Cup

Dramatis Personae: Australia

Mukul Kesavan
The Australian team pose with the 1987, 1999 and 2003 World Cup Trophies during the Australian Cricket team World Cup portrait session at The Hilton Hotel February 27, 2007 in Sydney, Australia.
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Cricket sides are creatures with personalities. If the World Cup is cricket’s greatest stage, the teams are its characters. And if we’re going to work our way through the cast, it’s appropriate to begin with the hero of the last Cup and the one before that: Australia.

Australia is a protection racket gone legit. You can see glimpses of the lawlessness in Ricky Ponting’s early delinquency, in Shane Warne and Mark Waugh’s brush with bookies, in Glenn McGrath’s snarling unloveliness, in the constant sledging, the occasional racial slur (Darren Lehmann’s ‘black c__ts’ for example), in the pleasure the Australians take in their rep as bully boys. When I watch Ponting spit into the palms of his hands and rub them together, some shabby-genteel part of me cringes, and a stereotype is reinforced. With the exception of Adam Gilchrist (whose popularity shows you that with a sprinkling of good humour, the Aussies could have been liked, not just admired) they feel like political operators with knuckle-dusters, conducting a dirty but legal election campaign.

But like any good political machine that operates on the margins of the straight-and-narrow, the Australians have the rhetoric of respectability pat. A year or so ago, Ponting began to make pious noises about Australians setting standards of good behaviour on the field. A kinder, gentler Australian team is about as likely as the Godfather giving himself up to the olive oil trade, but Ponting knows that in these politically correct times it’s important to talk the talk. At its best the Australian team is a mafia with flair: watching Warne, McGrath and Gilchrist hoodwink, harry and hammer the opposition over the last decade has been the great spectacle of contemporary cricket.

But with McGrath in decline, and without Warne and Brett Lee, the Australians seem duller, their bowling seems efficient rather than devastating, almost South African in its sameness. Mike Hussey is a batting phenomenon: his runs, his average put him in the highest company, but there is an ordinariness, an anonymity to his presence at the crease which makes his record even more remarkable than it is. Matthew Hayden, Hussey and Ponting are fine batsmen by any measure but where Gilchrist’s genial aggression makes me grin even when it’s India that’s suffering, these three come across as bouncers working you over, not debonair bandits pulling off a heist. If the Australians were to be cast in a movie, they’d be Al Capone’s gang in The Untouchables, and I’d be rooting for Costner to bust them.

Mukul Kesavan is a writer based in New Delhi

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Posted by Anup on (April 27, 2007, 19:55 GMT)

Tony, a bit late in responding ...... thanks for correcting my poor English, but that was more like a typo. I meant to write 'misinformedly' and missed the 'is'. Sorry for that........ But yes, the current bunch of 'failures in their primes and success past their primes' Australians are just that regarding their 'all-time ‘greatestness’'.

Sure Nick, all the Dennis Lillees, Jeff Thompsons, Lenny Pascoes, Rodney Hoggs, Gary Gilmours, Max Walkers and Mick Malones were indeed 'past it' in the 70s and early 80s when in their 20s and very early 30s, they were being taken to the cleaners by the incomparable Batting Emperor Isaac Vivian Alexander Richards the Great both in the Packer series and after, in Australia. I also would assume then that Greg and Ian Chappells, Rodney Marsh, Kim Hughes, Geoff Marsh, David Boon, and the likes of Dean Jones were also 'past it' when in their 20s in the 70s and 80s when they were pummeled by the West Indians.

HOWEVER, the present 'great' Australian side has the likes of Matthew Hayden, Damien Martyn, Michael Bevan, Michael Slater, Greg Blewett and Justin Langer were all showing their true class and colors when facing Courtney Walsh, Curtly Ambrose, Allan Donald and Wasim Akram in BATTING-FRIENDLY conditions typical of post-90, in the early 90s. So they got beaten up by those guys not to mention the 'great' Hayden even got a broken thumb from Donald as a bonus........... Perhaps they were all 'yet to be it' in their 20s and now are in the 'prime of their primes' in their mid and late 30s. Born champions that they are, they still need overtly batting-friendly conditions and overtly mediocre medium-pacers like the Zaheer Khans, Mohammad Asifs, Andrew Nels, James Franklins, Jerome Taylors, and Dilhara Fernandos of today to beat up.

I have said this twice before and I am saying this again - its food........ maybe salad for thought - does not need a genius to figure out - If just ONE Shoaib Akhtar, or ONE Shane Bond or ONE Steve Harmison or ONE Makhaya Ntini with three ordinary bowlers to back them) in batting-friendly conditions, and bowling at 90 to 95 mph, has the 'great' Australian bats of today at their best hopping all over the wicket, what would ANY FOUR of Andy Roberts, Joel Garner, Colin Croft, Sylvester Clarke, Michael Holding, Wayne Daniel, the incomparable Malcolm Marshall and Patrick Patterson, all bowling at a 100 mph, and at their throats and THAT in FAR more difficult batting conditions typical of pre-90, would have the 'great' Australian bats doing? TRIPLE BACKFLIPS.

Langer, Martyn, Bevan, Hayden, Ricky Ponting, Andrew Symonds, Michael Clarke, Brad Haddin and Co would be part of a procession of bags of broken bones and torn ligaments, fractured skulls, and smashed toes ....... boy the hospitals around would be minting money ... the insurance companies would be cursing the WI.

AND on the flipside, if the King and his knights could smash the 100 mph Lillees, Thompsons and Co to pulp, what do you think would happen of the metronome Glenn McGrath and Brett Lee? Know of the Packer Series??? Of the 153 no on a fast, bouncy treacherous Adelaide pitch by the King against peak Lillee, Thompson and Hogg at their fastest and most destructive? Your own Hughes and Allan Border rate that as the GREATEST innings ever seen by them to date.

Whether in true conditions pre-90, or the batting-friendly conditions post-90, the Australians would be complete chicken-feed for the WI of the 70s and 80s. It would be pathetic. It would not be like batting against the Zaheers and Nels at all. The current Australian lot and ANY imaginable permutation from 90 after would be utterly, totally, completely blasted, smashed, and annihilated to fine powder.

The current Australians dominate the WEAKEST era in cricket history where bowling is at its weakest, so is batting, and just about everything other than fielding ....... But hype and overratings are CERTAINLY at an all-time high.

Posted by nick mac on (April 9, 2007, 6:11 GMT)

Isnt the ICC chaired at least evenly by participating countries(test status that is?) so therfore should be at least considered fair, or is just another rascist organisation until the sub east asian continents have a controlling interest in matters.LOL if it happens, what then the supporters of INDIA/PAKISTAN/BANGLADESH, burn it down when things dont go how you want HOW SAD. Tony..The PHOENIX is going to take many years to rekindle its flame mate. Too much money has been wasted in an effort to keep it going over the last humpteen yrs. Not to mention the absolute waste of cash building stadiums that the average west indian cant afford to access. I personally hope the windies get it going again and sooner the better, we need the competition. God knows there isnt much from coming from the asian basin is there? Oh and Joel, we didnt lose all the games we played against the west indies, and this team we feild now is much better than the old one where so many of the players were past it. Factor in Warne and i begin to think some would be bitterly dissapointed in the outcomes.

Posted by nick on (April 9, 2007, 5:53 GMT)

Firstly the sledging, good or bad, i dont know but its' there isnt it? Some may be better at it than others but all have a crack at it. Even the good old windies of yesteryears.(check out some of the old footage) response to ti is simple..cant stand the heat..get out of the kitchen. Second..some mug always comes up with the comparrison of teams from today and yesterday. Fact..J.Thompson was the most feared bowler from those days..and the quickest. Because no-one, including Thommo knew where the delivery was going to end up. Fact. The game today is vastly different from years back, Training/fitness level are far superior( unless your Paki/Indian)Simply put, the game has changed and has changed alot. Now for all of you who seem to find a place on a cricket site to express indignity at past or present percieved racial ineptness of countries, will you please take it else where? I'm sure I'm not alone in this request..frankly we dont need your negative input on countries behaviour to its peoples. Where were we...SLEDGING...Hmmm I think that if you want to play like this, when it backfires you should be able to take your medicine. For the money the players are payed, they should just grin and bare it. When the games day is done..leave it on the park, have an ale or soda(whatever your pleasure), then get ready for it all over again. It comes to mind that those who complain most about it are those who have just had a loss.? Australia is fourth rate? I thnk we now hold the record of most TESTS WON CONSECUTIVELY? NOT THE WEST INDIES of yesteryear, NOT THE SINKING INDIAN teams of TODAY and CERTAINLY NOT the PAKISTAN TEAM OF MISERY OF TODAY. instead of looking to castigate a team of successfull Sportsmen, get out and give it to your obviously self indulgent players/selectors, get your own teams right, then xcome and give us a decent challenge. After all, if the closest thing you have to look at for beating us is a team from nearly 30 yr. ago, there is a bigger problem here than sledging. Unless all othersd are a bunch of thin skinned sooks who should be in grade school, not an arena playing world class sport.

Posted by Tony on (March 27, 2007, 9:55 GMT)

Joel I didn't miss the point. I am simply sick of the sour grapes I see on display in these blogs. There is no doubt that the WI teams of the past were awesome and more than a handful for any side. However all the Australian team can do is play the best that other countries have to offer. Against the National teams of all other countries Australia has performed solidly for more than a decade. Yes Australia play mind games and yes they sledge. I know that is not everyone's idea of "fair". But "These utterly overrated, minformedly arrogant fourth-rate cheapskates"??? If you think that's a fair comment then I have indeed missed the point. (I can't hazard a guess at what "minformedly" is supposed to be but my guess is it isn't a compliment!)

Posted by Joel on (March 26, 2007, 20:09 GMT)

tony, you have missed anup's point. Aus might CURRENTLY be the best performing team in the world but their best day would not be able to stand against a mediocre day from the WI of the 80's. they would be blown away like so much chaff. Also, with the new infrastructure and Stanford 20/20 money in WI coffers, the phoenix (and spiritual kings) of cricket will soon rise again. watch this space, all ye doubters!!!

Posted by Tony on (March 26, 2007, 16:57 GMT)

Anup those are very foolish comments. Mediocre teams don't win 2 World Cups in a row. Oh sorry...make that 3.

Posted by Anup on (March 26, 2007, 2:50 GMT)

Its good that our Indian and Pakistan teams are clearing out from that garbage-dump that the various cricketing venues in the beautiful Caribbean are turning into...

Anyway, the nerve of ...people to even think of even comparing the hundreds of times superior WI teams of the 70s and 80s to any of these ...Aus outfits of the last 15 years this era, I have already blown that nerve to bits in my first post here and for good.

Now On the 'greatness' of the current Aus team - To get a closer, better look, we only need to confine ourselves entirely to the 1990 and after era and see what exactly this team's 'great' bats were doing in the early and mid 90s - esp considering that almost all of them were around even then in their early twenties. THEN, keeping even those wonderful batting conditions typical of the 1990 and after period intact, AND in their very own backyards at home, these 'great' Haydens, Martyns, Langers, Blewetts, Slaters, Bevans etc in their PRIMES were all at sea facing the likes of Walsh, Ambrose, Donald, Wasim, Waqar at their peaks. These 'great' Aus bats of today were crawling at the feet of those great bowlers with their noses along the ground. AND then the 90s went by, till came the 99/00/01 period which saw the departure of these very great men - Ambrose, then Walsh, followed by Wasim and Donald and then Waqar etc.

AND CURIOUSLY ITS NOW, that this 'great' Aus team starts their so-called domination in an era where there is NOT ONE bowler - pace or spin - in any team worthy of all-time stature. A period when not just bowling, its pace and everything included, even batting and just abolutely every other aspect of the game is at its very TROUGH - a reverse peak - a shameful lowest of the low. This Aus is dominating an era where the game is at its very nadir, a slide that started from around '90 and kept accelerating through the years.

Indeed this Aus team has the right to be proud of at least this much - Man, they were kids at 22 and 23 when they were crushed by the 25 to 30 years old Walsh, Ambrose, Donald, Wasim, Waqar. However we non-Aussies (and some Aussies too I must say to be fair there are decent ones among them) fail to realize that those 'kids' have now 'grown-up' and in their early and mid thirties are flaying the slow and medium pace bowling of the likes of Zaheer and Pathan and others many of whom are still to turn 20, but are big mature men with greater talent and experience than Walsh, Donald or Wasim.

In other words, the current Aussies have batsmen who at their peaks could do next to nothing against the likes of Walsh, Donald and Wasim at their best, and for the last few years probably past their primes, have been hammering the likes of Zaheer, Sami, Pathan, Vaas and such gentle medium-pacers. That is the 'greatness' of this Aus team, that greatness that we acknowledge, that the current Aussies do not want us to acknowledge, that we still do so even then irks them and brings out their true colors.

I hope WI or SA or SL wake up, play to their potentials and put the Aus bumnch of ...mediocres in their place. WI and SL have a better chance in my opinion though SA is overall stronger. Why I choose WI(anyway my all-time favorite) and SL(our Southern brothers) are, all sentimental attachments apart, the presence of Taylor and Malinga in their teams. They are not 100+mph bowlers, a group that has disappeared since '90, and a few of whom |I had named in my post above. But at their quickest they are almost as quick as Waqar, Donald and Malcolm(Eng) in the early 90s, and as fast as Shoaib, Lee, Bond, Harmison and Tait now. In this lot Shoaib and Bond are the most talented but I am sure that at their best, Taylor and Malinga can match them.

Even in this era's batting-friendly conditions, we have seen both Shaoib and Bond destroy the best of current Aus batsmen single-handedly with no support from the other bowlers. If they can do it so can Taylor and Malinga. One of them need to do it. These utterly overrated, minformedly arrogant fourth-rate cheapskates need to be taught a lesson that for their entire remaining lives they should learning from.

Posted by Tony on (March 25, 2007, 6:43 GMT)

I would have thought an Indian would be too busy looking for another player's house to burn down than pontificating about how nasty the Australian players are. I'm sure the Indian team are all lovely men. I hope they have a lovely trip home from the World Cup after the first round.

Posted by rahul on (March 23, 2007, 21:19 GMT)

so now that India have lost in the first round itself... I wud like to see how many oz players can actually wear a shirt.. most of it is sponsored by India anyway.. look at Brett Lee or Ponting.. thry do an Ad here for a liquor company..l after Ponting's commenst against Gavaskar, or the Indian cricket team, whi is going to give then the money.. its great to talk about performance mate.. but the dough comes down from here in India.. look at the kinda money ICC (a Mr. Speed.. who also happens to be an oz) is going to lose now.. andits going to be very gud fun in furture mate.. u dont wanna play with India.. u dont get the big bucks.. r u ready for that.. our team mite be crap.. but u still have to play with us

Posted by NT on (March 18, 2007, 22:32 GMT)

Australian team are typical bullies and cowards. All there bravado is when there are two batsmen and eleven of their own on the field. Even then they cant handle it if given back in style. Unfortunately most cricketing nations have ingrained in them that cricket is a gentelemans game and the old adage of its not whether you win or loose but how you play the game that matters. Australia plays the exact oppsite because they will try to win at any cost, anyway they can bordering on illegality . It is all about money. The Australian public want to see winners because there are so many other sports they are competing against. All the player contracts, advertising contracts, reierement plans, luxurious lifestyles depend on how ruthless winners they are. Warne and Mcgrath would not have half the succsess with the same skills if not for intimidation and sledging by himself and his team mates not only to the opposing batsmen but also intimidation of umpires. Another factor for this behviour is the catering for a inreasingly uncivilized spectator base who do not appreciate cricket but have this false sense of nationalism & racial superiority. Some of the players themselves come from this background. They forget all the wonderful infrastructure in place and the massive investment from childhood perhaps the best in the world which has got them playing at this level. To conclude lets not forget that the Australian team are just a bunch of selfish bullies with massive egos who are just playing for money and celebrity status. They will probably win the world cup but they shall reap what they sow as all bullies do in the end. The message for other teams is know them for what they are and be more detrmined not to fall into their traps.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mukul Kesavan
Mukul Kesavan teaches social history for a living and writes fiction when he can - he is the author of a novel, Looking Through Glass. He's keen on the game but in a non-playing way. With a top score of 14 in neighbourhood cricket and a lively distaste for fast bowling, his credentials for writing about the game are founded on a spectatorial axiom: distance brings perspective. Kesavan's book of cricket - Men in Whitewas published in 2007.

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