Michael Jeh June 19, 2008

Australia's Indian affair

The cricketers can thank their talents and their bulging wallets for this new-found appreciation of India

If cricket were a modern Australian fairytale, we would probably see ourselves as the cavalier knight who has fallen in love with Miss India, a beautiful princess whose kingdom is a kaleidoscopic contrast of fabulous wealth and numbing poverty. It is now clear that India is the new dynasty of cricket and the rest of the world, Australia included, is watching this love story unfold with a mixture of emotions.

Not so long ago in Australia, the subcontinent was the butt of crass humour and cheap stereotypes. The famous 'Twelfth Man' skits were hilarious but they hinted at a first-world superiority that made no apologies for making fun of the so-called curry munchers. Ironically, winning in the subcontinent was a major achievement (if you managed it) but losing was a minor irritation. After all, dodgy umpires, dodgy curries and dodgy pitches were standard fare, were they not? Real cricket was always played on fast, bouncy pitches or perfectly manicured green fields in faraway northern lands. Mind you, when the West Indian pace quartet of the 70's and 80's were playing 'chin music', we weren’t that keen on fast, bouncy pitches but that’s another opera altogether!

But Australian cricketers and fans alike are starting to warm to this impending marriage with a grudging affection that is born from being a nation of no-nonsense pragmatists. If you can’t break up the lovers, there’s no sense in missing out on a good party! It helps of course that our wonderfully talented team has all bases covered in cricketing terms. Batting, bowling and off-the-field, Australia is now comfortable with the notion of competing with the home nations in their backyard. The mystique and fear have largely been replaced by cultural familiarity and supreme adaptability in all conditions. No one can argue with Australia's ability to win away from home.

The cricketers can thank their talents and their bulging wallets for this new-found appreciation of India. Let’s be honest – the rupee is now the most seductive mistress of world cricket and any cricketer who pretends otherwise deserves our scorn. There’s nothing wrong with this so long as the love affair is mutually beneficial and not conducted behind a veil of hypocrisy.

From an Aussie fan’s perspective, India is both Montague and Capulet, saviour and villain. Reality suggests that this is where the future of the game now resides in an unholy alliance with the corporate moguls. It may be a marriage of necessity but here is a young maiden who is happy to be consummated on the altar of satellite television. And this bride is neither demure nor is she afraid to experiment. IPL hardly made a ripple here in terms of avid fans of the concept but there was nonetheless an appreciation that India had now changed the face of cricket forever. Whereas Australia used to be the innovator of change in the cricket world, even those who prefer tradition could not help but marvel at India’s ability to put on a show. And what a wedding it promises to be.....

On the other hand, there is also this uneasy sense that this could be a marriage based on a very convenient double-standard. The public perception of India is still that of a relatively poor country with social ills that the average Australian cannot comprehend. Perceptions can of course be wrong but perception is reality. How do we reconcile this poverty with the outrageous dowries being paid for Twenty20 mercenaries and the possibly devastating impact on our own local talent pool? If Corporate India has this much money to ‘waste’ on cricket, perhaps India should be viewed as a first-world country and therefore no longer to be viewed in a condescending (or sympathetic) light when it comes to broader economic perceptions.

South Africa has had to grapple with this duality for a long time and their experiences will provide a fascinating insight into how we understand modern India. Powerhouse or poorhouse?

At many Western weddings, it is customary for the guests to be asked the question: “if you have any objections, speak now or forever hold your peace”. Cricket Australia may have done just that but it is now a faltering voice, ignored by the princess and her followers. Australian cricket is definitely nervous about this shift in power but one hopes it is not a nervousness spawned by cultural prejudice. We ran the game for so many years and expected everyone else to respect our authority. The King is dead. Long live the King. We should now have the grace to hand over the reigns with willing hearts and minds.

To continue with the marriage analogy, it is not so much an issue as to where the Princess hails from but how benevolently and wisely she will govern the kingdom. World cricket cannot afford a ruthless dictator but countries like Australia need to remember that when we ran the show, shotgun marriages were often the norm. The only difference may be that the shotgun is now in different hands.

Michael Jeh is an Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, and a Playing Member of the MCC. He lives in Brisbane

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • testli5504537 on February 3, 2013, 5:43 GMT

    Heck yeah this is exactly what I neeedd.

  • testli5504537 on July 10, 2008, 4:44 GMT

    Who the hell is Michael Jeh and why the hell is he pretending to be an Australian?! If he dislikes Australia and Australians so much, perhaps he's better off writing about subjects he has a more balanced view of.

  • testli5504537 on July 6, 2008, 17:58 GMT

    Your article was pretty good Michael! The irony in the Aussies' switching stands is well borne out!!

    But, there is a self-righteousness which isn't justified!! As if the Aussie viewpoint is what matters! What about the rest-of-the-world? Or you don't care may be!!

    India is held in high regard world-wide despite it's poverty and other problems!! We don't claim to be perfect, do we?!!

    The bottom-line is, that however comfortable the Aussie lifestyle may be, rest assured no Indian envies you!!

  • testli5504537 on July 4, 2008, 14:21 GMT

    IPL is a huge success. Agreed. But today I read in papers that Flintoff is being offered $1 million or more for his contract. He is injury ridden and even English Board would not touch him. I am just wondering if League owners are losing perspective and goals ( to make profits and try to win ) by betting on wrong names based on past history rather than current performance and potential left. League owners have to be shrewd and offer dollars only for proven performers, rather than just marquee names ( Look what happened to Bangalore Royals and Deccan Chargers ) I don't know when this business sense is gonna sink in to them . Please forward this to league owners and management in case if you happen to know any. IPL should not be free ride or free ticket to make easy money ( Look at Dale Stern or some other South African Cricketers comments )

    May God Bless the League Owners to achieve their goals and objectives

  • testli5504537 on June 26, 2008, 2:45 GMT

    Don't worry India despite what Michael writes, we still hate you. Don't get upset though we hate everybody equally! [OK we hate the Poms the most but we have known them longer]

    And as if who controls the ICC matters one iota!

    I mean we are still going to play tests together right and whatever breed of administacrat controls the ICC matters nought.

  • testli5504537 on June 25, 2008, 5:30 GMT

    I guess my point is lost. As you mentioned everyone has their point of view. I just don’t appreciate any cricketer (mostly Aussie and now also includes Harbhajan Singh & Sreesanth) who act like they own the world and above cricket. Don’t confuse this with not being a good fan. I used to stay awake until 3 AM India time to watch Australia tour of West Indies when even Aussie people don’t watch their team. Think before you type.

  • testli5504537 on June 25, 2008, 5:27 GMT

    jondavluc Wow man you are judgmental too. Who are you to say that I’m a good fan or not. I guess you get your opinions from Australian media that only shows Indian crowds of the 90’s throwing water bottles. I come from a place in India (Chennai) where people are cricket crazy but not psychos as you call them. You may not know it but we (Chennai crowd) gave a standing ovation to a victorious Pakistan team (1999 test match) at a time when India-Pakistan tension was at its peak. I never recall anyone from Chennai ever behaving abusively towards cricketers or visitors. I never recall any of my friends (again in Chennai) who treat Tendulkar like a God. We like him as a cricketer and a role model that’s it. Again don’t just go by your media.

  • testli5504537 on June 23, 2008, 12:05 GMT

    Biso, it's normally good fun to get involved in a battle of wits but you appear to be unarmed!

  • testli5504537 on June 23, 2008, 6:12 GMT

    Firstly, a clever article whatever your opinion happens to be. Thanks Mr Jeh. I'll get it out of the way first and say I'm an Aussie and as such that neccesarily clouds my judgement, however let me add that I will happily watch any cricket and that I enjoy watching VVS more than any other current player. I consider myself a fan of Cricket foremost, a fan of Australia second. I just wanted to note that once upon a time Australia was in the same position as many Indians feel they were until recently in regards to control of the game. Australia's tradition of leg-spinners is well known, any guesses as to why a batsman can't be given out LBW to a ball pitching outside leg anymore? Power corrupts, everybody knows it, can Indian's really blame Australian's for fearing change? After all, it's only natural to fear what you don't know. Thankfully, I think the BCCI regained a lot of standing amongst Australians when they disciplined Singh for 'Slapgate', I for one expected a lesser punishment.

  • testli5504537 on June 22, 2008, 14:23 GMT

    It is nice to give opinions. It is stupid to hope and pray that the other person starts thinking on your lines. Michael! get that clear.In any case you are after all an asian. Dont try being a Naipaul or Nirad C Chaudhury...

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