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October 1, 2008

Samir Chopra

Now, that's what I call a rivalry

Samir Chopra
Ricky Ponting and Anil Kumble share a word after a draw in Adelaide, Australia v India, 4th Test, Adelaide, 5th day, January 28, 2008
 © AFP
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Much is made of the India-Australia rivalry these days: that it rivals the Ashes, that it supersedes the India-Pakistan series, and so on. But I live in a city where one sporting rivalry - the New York Yankees versus the Red Sox - sets the standards, and so I must evaluate this hype accordingly.

I've done the needful examination and I'm glad to report that this rivalry matches the hype. For what mattes in a true blue sporting rivalry is squabbling and nastiness, completely divorced from reality, and plenty of it. And that's something this particular match-up has in plenty.

The Ashes hype is a bit silly. The English love the Aussies and vice-versa. I'm not taken in by all the "Pommie bastard" and "convict thug" lines. The Australians let in approximately two million English backpackers into Bondi Beach every year, and the London police has to be called out periodically to quell stampeding Aussie expatriates at Heathrow. They happily drink each others beer, eat each others food, and praise each other. Heck, some of them - Warne and Pietersen for instance - would marry if the laws allowed it.

Aussies play in county cricket, hand out their wisdom, and are revered. Tell an English cricketer he played like an Aussie, and he'll blush. Tell an Aussie Freddie Flintoff wants a date with his missus, and he'll hand her over. True, the 2005 Ashes victory parade was something to behold. But does anyone think it was about the cricket? No, folks just came out to cheer at the news that their cricketers were also prone to all-night drinking binges like them.

The India-Pakistan thing is even more silly. All we have now is one big love-fest. Gushing Indians write about the kababs, the free cab rides in Pakistan, the hospitality, and how "Pakistanis are just like us." Pakistanis lap up Bollywood, the ICL, the IPL, the BCCI, heck, anything with an I in it. The players check out each other's iPods, and go to parties together. And some fans even hold up giant India-Pakistan flags at games. It's all enough to make you barf a bit. Why can't we have Shoaib and Sourav going at each other any more?

But India-Australia, now that's a piece of work. Everything comes to the fore here. "Your mama wears handcuffs!" "Yours is a curry-cooking Ganguly groupie!" And this is just the more mature stuff. Senior journalists are not immune to this fever. Gideon Haigh has succumbed to the bug and now refuses to order Indian takeout. Sunil Gavaskar has been placed on the No-Fly list at Qantas. History, dietary preferences, accents, everything is up for ridicule in this particular flame-fest.

No rivalry works without a good dose of sanctimoniousness to underwrite it. (For instance, the Red Sox, that poor, struggling, high-school team, frequently complain about how rich the Yankees are). Thus Australia, that impoverished sporting power, complains about the riches in Indian cricket. And so it goes. There are exceptions of course. Australian cricketers manfully trudge off to the obligatory charity photo-ops; Brett Lee tries to learn love songs in six different Indian languages; Laxman expresses his desire to have his ashes scattered in the Yarra; and everyone on both sides agree that the other side is so tough, so competitive. But really, what these guys want to do more than anything is settle down with a cold one, and watch Harbhajan do Hayden impersonations (or vice-versa). And then break wicker chairs over each other's heads. (The fans too).

But what you really need to get a rivalry all stoked up is a nutty media corps. And that's what India and Australia have in ample measure. The Indian side gives us conspiracy theories about Greg Chappell. The Australian side gives us half-baked social commentary on the caste system. This series might lack fast pitches, attacking captaincy and a legspinner that can actually turn the ball. The one thing it won't be missing is stories on, about, over, and under the game.

Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here

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Posted by Harpreet on (October 3, 2008, 14:53 GMT)

I love following contests in the following order 1) India V Aus 2) India V Pak Simply because of the intensity of cricket in these matches is beyond imagination. Aus has been the team to beat for rest of the world. I would even like it if Pak came out victorious against Aus. Hence, I like Ind V Aus more than Ind V Pak.

Posted by Rauf on (October 3, 2008, 13:13 GMT)

Disagree with your analysis but much better article then your last one!

Rivalries are not made by few derrogatory comments on or off the field. Rivalry means to beat the other side at any cost and the desire comes from deep within the players. I am Pak cricket fan and beating Australia would simply mean you have beaten the number one team in the world. You gain few points in the rankings and that is it.

Beating India however; has a unique sweetness attached to it and vice versa for Indians as well. Pak and Ind cricket fans always go at each other with passion. Your last article, albeit political in nature, was riddled with anti-Pak sentiments. You don't get that with any other country because there is 60 years of good and bad history behind India and Pakistan which gets translated to any sport between the two. Kababs and Bollywood are merely personal likes and dislikes but at the core, there is always the passion to beat the other side and I believe it is still alive.

Posted by Mahesh on (October 2, 2008, 16:56 GMT)

I agree with Dan and Abdus Salam. Not just media hype and off and on field antics and impressions, the cricket between the sides too is of great quality.Waiting for this series to get under way to enjoy some good quality cricket and of course laugh at the hype.

Posted by Yankee for Ever on (October 2, 2008, 15:25 GMT)

The red sox suck. The Yankees will always be greater. It's a no contest. Unfortunately, despite being an Indian I have to admit the aussies are superior. India may have the richest board but professionalism is an alien concept in every Indian sport. We should be ruling the cricket world. Right now we just lord over it like a fat cat on a throne.

Posted by Dan on (October 2, 2008, 5:50 GMT)

Well said. We have the tough cricket on the one hand, India has been the toughest place for Australians to win for at least 15 yrs and the Indians give us the best test in Australia. And, on the other hand, we have hysterical journalism accusing everyone of everything. Leaving aside what each press says about the other country, we're all used to reading the Indian press's rants against their own team but it took the last India-Australia series for Australian-based reporters (prime example, Peter Roebuck) to get hysterically abusive of the Australian team.

Much as it may dissapoint, I think most Indians and Australians (players and fans) really do like and respect each other (with the odd exception on both sides: e.g. we're really not keen on Harbhajan) and enjoy the rivalry on the field.

I'm just hoping for another classic contest.

Posted by Abdus Salam on (October 2, 2008, 2:35 GMT)

Maybe the article wasn't supposed to have any serious value but I thought you downplayed the cricket totally. The personal rivalries and everything else you mention wouldn't amount to much if the quality of cricket wasn't great. I have thoroughly enjoyed the last few series between the two teams because the quality of cricket has often been very, very high. If the quality of cricket had been poor, it wouldn't matter much if the two teams hated each other -- the hype simply wouldn't be justified.

Posted by Saptarshi on (October 2, 2008, 2:33 GMT)

finally a good article from cricinfo. Thanks Samir.

Posted by ASymonds on (October 1, 2008, 21:31 GMT)

Some of the crowd stuff is just not on..

Posted by Naresh on (October 1, 2008, 18:15 GMT)

Well done - quite bluntly stated. Personally, I cannot write what I feel about the aussies here - my language skills are so unrefined it would end up being very uncivilized.

Posted by Divya on (October 1, 2008, 18:11 GMT)

As an Indian and Yankee fan, I couldn't agree more. It is the hostility that counts, the altercations that occur, that makes cricket between these two so much fun. The thing with baseball analogy is that while the Sox-Yanks can only go to the ALCS, Aussies and Indians can (and do) compete for the World Series.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Samir Chopra
Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He runs the blogs at samirchopra.com and Eye on Cricket. His book on the changing face of modern cricket, Brave New Pitch: The Evolution of Modern Cricket has been published by HarperCollins. Before The Cordon, he blogged on The Pitch and Different Strokes on ESPNcricinfo. @EyeonthePitch

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