Now, that's what I call a rivalry
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