October 4, 2007

Grow up already

The attempts by some Indians to out-sledge the Aussies have come a cropper in this series

Sreesanth has fallen sprawling over the line that separates aggression from farcical chest-thumping © AFP

Adam Gilchrist had a certain someone in mind when he spoke of the on-field behaviour in Kochi being ridiculous even by kids' standards, but his words could have applied to any of four or five individuals who have hardly distinguished themselves with their antics in the opening two games of this series.

Were it not for the fact that both teams have been led by thoroughly likeable men, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Gilchrist, things may well have deteriorated to a level where cricket became a contact sport. And with so many thousands of children scrutinising their heroes' every move, the two teams that now hold all three world titles on offer in the sport really need to take a long hard look at themselves.

India have gone into the series determined to match Australia in what Stephen Waugh might have referred to as the mental disintegration stakes. There's nothing fundamentally wrong with that. For too long teams have allowed Australia to intimidate them with more than just bat and ball, and the feistiness shown by some of the English players during the Ashes series of 2005 proved that even the biggest bully in the yard could be stared down.

But controlled aggression is one thing and some of the nonsense we've seen in this series quite another. It's worth recalling that most of the men who in the past got too enmeshed in verbal skirmishes paid the price with miserable failure, which was what the Australians intended in the first place. Graeme Smith was a notable casualty, talking the big talk before home and away series against Australia, only to be ruthlessly cut down to size by a team that prided itself on targetting the opposition's main men.

Paul Collingwood was another who allowed himself to be drawn into a war of words with Shane Warne last year. Till then, he and Kevin Pietersen had been the standard bearers of England's resistance in Australia. But after the verbals in Adelaide, he scarcely made a run all summer, and it was perhaps no surprise that his game revived only after Warne exited the stage.

Harbhajan Singh and Sourav Ganguly were two who had a measure of success in getting under Australian skin and causing an itch or two. Ganguly did it with a smile on his face, and Waugh's subsequent irritation and complaints were the reaction of a man who had been caught out at an essentially Australian game.

Harbhajan's tactics have been far less subtle, and have involved plenty of lip. "He likes to have a chat," admitted Glenn McGrath during Australia's victorious tour of India in 2004. McGrath was keen to emphasise that white-line fever didn't afflict his countrymen alone, but for his part Harbhajan could point to 21 wickets from three Tests as proof of successful aggression.

He was again one of the main protagonists in Kochi, having an animated discussion with Steve Bucknor and exchanging heated words with Michael Clarke, all of this while at the non-striker's end. Even after he was dismissed, Harbhajan found time to trade a few words with the Australian huddle, and his demeanour suggested that a few choice words had been whispered to him as soon as he arrived in the middle.

Australia, as ever, haven't been angels themselves. Clarke, cherub face and all, is developing a bit of a reputation as an instigator, having already achieved the impossible feat of making Chris Gayle drop his cool dude façade in Mumbai during the Champions Trophy last year. Matthew Hayden is a legend of the coarse chirp from slip, and Andrew Symonds too has been noticeably belligerent in this series. When he returns to the fold, you can be sure that Ricky Ponting will be bristly as ever, and there's always Brett Lee with those throws to the keeper that invariably accidentally hit the batsman.

Given the backdrop it says a lot that Sreesanth has managed to take the sledging spotlight away from its most skilled practitioners. In Kochi, though, he walked the line, and was most fortunate that Chris Broad had one of his more lenient days as match referee. Over two games Sreesanth has had words with Clarke, glared at and dismissed Hayden, and mouthed off at both Symonds and Brad Haddin.

It's worth recalling that most of the men who in the past got too enmeshed in verbal skirmishes paid the price with miserable failure, which was what the Australians intended in the first place

Sreesanth's apologists will point to how McGrath used to carry on sometimes. Fair enough. But McGrath was also the best bowler in the world, certainly the best we'll ever see, and he never let the white-line fever affect his performance. If anything, it probably enhanced it. Sreesanth, who started both games in this series superbly only to tail off at the end, needs to learn from that and learn quickly before a ban or two comes his way.

He doesn't need to look as far afield as Australia for a role model. Zaheer Khan has been like a coiled spring since his return to the side, controlled aggression unleashed each time he has been given the ball. As the Trent Bridge Test showed, he's not a man to back away from a scrap, but he also knows when talk becomes cheap and actions take precedence.

Sreesanth is an outstanding fast-bowling talent, capable of genuine pace and controlled swing, and despite his antics there's grudging respect for him in the Australian camp. But what both he and India need right now is focus. A good opening spell alone seldom wins matches, and making faces at the batsmen certainly doesn't.

It matters little what the Australians make of Sreesanth, and even less what their newspapers think. But his team-mates do matter. And right now he's letting them down. Dhoni faces a question about his behaviour at pretty much every press conference, and he certainly can't have been too thrilled on Tuesday, having to walk down the pitch to ask Sreesanth to get on with it after an appeal for a run-out that would have embarrassed someone playing gully cricket.

None but the most naïve expect games of this intensity to be played out in a "Top shot, old chap" atmosphere, but it's not edifying to see them descend to schoolboy boorishness either. Before an awards function on Tuesday night Sreesanth quipped that the blow he took to the head - from a shot by Dhoni down the ground - had set him right. For the sake of an Indian team that depends heavily on him for wickets, you can only hope that he wasn't joking.

Dileep Premachandran is an associate editor on Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • rienzie on October 5, 2007, 8:33 GMT

    The whole thing about sledging is that it is intended to cause one to be distracted and lose focus of the game. My take is give some and take some. If you cannot take it, then DONT give it. Harby, Sreesanth have lost the plot. By the end of today, Australia will be 2-0 up and all because the focus of the criket match has been made secondary. These guys have taken it personally and lot focus. Well done Ponting and Co, you guys have really managed to keep the game in perspective!!!

  • Sameer on October 5, 2007, 3:16 GMT

    Big mouth and less action. I think that if India wants to live in the past so be it. But the truth is that, they have to play good cricket. India themselves didnot like the sledging by the Australians when it was done before and said that its not good for the spirit of the game and personal interactions. But now it seems that India wants to take a bath in the same pit. Set examples dont try to copy others by saying that we fight fire with fire, and there has never been a result when fire fights fire, the result only appears when fire ffights with water.

  • Abhishek on October 5, 2007, 2:35 GMT

    I just don't understand why it bothers people when Indian cricketers show their aggression. Sreesanth's attitude is a welcome change to the times when not so long ago Indian batsmen used to cringe at the bouncers ad beamers hurled at them from the West Indians and Thomson, Lee from Australia, and the bullying from John Snow and Bob Willis. They did not have the bowlers then to give as good as they got, including Kapil Dev. Perhaps Mr. Dileep is more comfortable with the docile Indian cricketers (losers) who were always polite and well mannered and clapped at the opposition hitting them all over the park. Well, he needs to get a reality check. If Sreesanth was an Australian, nobody would write anything about him. Mr. Dileep, we live in a different world now, now and India is a different country. India needs more aggressive sportsmen/women like Sreesanth, Yuvraj, Dhoni and Sania Mirza. Remember Vijay Amritraj? A talented tennis player who never won anything because he had no killer insti

  • Steve on October 4, 2007, 23:27 GMT

    Why does performance on the field excuse bad behaviour? Poor behaviour is poor behaviour anyway you slice it, regardless of your match figures.

  • ravi on October 4, 2007, 22:46 GMT

    I dont think what sreesanth did/said to symonds is entirely right,but australians deserve that and more. Mcgrath might have been a good bowler but that doesn't take away the fact that he was worse than Sreesanth ever can be in mouthing on the field. If the referee wants to get involved in this, then he better go back in history and fine/discipline all those australians who have sledged in the past years - remember slater to dravid, mcgrath to every possible batsman, ponting to dravid,ganguly,sehwag etc in the last series ????

  • Salim on October 4, 2007, 21:25 GMT

    I agree with what you have to say in your article for the most part. The part I don't agree with is when you present the argument about Glenn McGrath sledging and was right in doing so because he was the best in the world. Sledging has nothing to do with how good you are in the long term. It is totally about the moment. Sreesanth sledges when he bowls a good delivery. He sledges when the batsman plays and misses. He doesen't hide his joy of getting the batsman out when he does get the wicket, whereas most times McGrath used his choicest expletives when a Lara or a Tendulkar smacked him out of the park. Having said that, doesen't take anything away from what a great bowler McGrath was or the fact that Sreesanth overdoes it at times. But the Aussies should be the last ones to be mad about it. The premise for sledging is not whether you are a great cricketer but that you are on top at that moment. Ganguly did it best. I'd personally prefer a Zak but will take a Sree any day in my team!!

  • Chris on October 4, 2007, 21:24 GMT

    Thanks for the article, however, I'm sick of hearing about the Aussies being "bullies" - and this article was heavily in favour of that. It was so obvious that Sreesanth was the fool this time, and yet you concentrate mostly on how bad (you think) the Aussies are, or have been. How about an unbiased article criticizing your countrymen with no need to "even" the conversation by jabbing at the opposition, and in this case, more so. And don't give me this nonsense about how India and Australia now have the "three world titles on offer" between them. You simply can't compare the 20-20 lottery to the 50-over World Cup, Champions Trophy, or the other "world" title, the Ashes, which you so conveniently left out, presumably because it doesn't involve your beloved sub-continent.

    Dileep - grow up already.

  • Harsh on October 4, 2007, 18:40 GMT

    It is good to see both teams played aggresive cricket in ground and also during off the field. This increases the interesent in cricket. But they shoud not forget the rules, this kind of activity increases the tension of captain, so player should aware of that thing also.

    I hope India will level the series, and I want to mention one thing that we exactly not aware of the things that had been occured on the field, we know as the players' announced. I think umpire should interfere in this and they should know what actully what happened on the ground because once you make angry another person then only you woould say few word, so the player who made first mistake should be treated more. So, in this case umpires' can play a major role. Thank you

  • usha on October 4, 2007, 18:02 GMT

    I think the sledging experts are Australia and they started almost a decade ago...but they got away with it because they were good on the field too. So everyone at the time thought that its the arrogance which usually comes with being very good at your job. When Steve Waugh came out and said that it was deliberate to play phycological games with the opposition, everybody took note and said they can have that weapon in their armoury too..so Australia are getting as good as they give...they can't now start crying over it, can they?

    As for being a gentleman's game...sorry that period is over..when people used to play test matches before catching the next ship leaving port..so given that its big bucks, big money and careers now...its now part of the game...I think we should introduce yellow cards and red cards as in soccer and give them to the umpires...

    look at the positive...Zaheer Khan's bowling subsequent to being chatted up in England..

  • L on October 4, 2007, 17:53 GMT

    Mr. Premachandran has written on a topic that is foremost on everyone's mind. However, the article is strongly biased in favour of the Indian cricket team. It's strange that so many have forgotten that Australia were one of the 3 nominees for the Spirit of Cricket award this year. India have displayed an appalling habit of behaving badly when playing against Australia since the 2003 World Cup. Nobody liked Australia's behaviour before so they should also have a problem with India's. Australia are a brilliant cricket side and are now better behaved than India. Instead of condoning India's actions by saying 'Clarke, cherub face and all, is developing a bit of a reputation as an instigator', we should just accept that Harbhajan Singh is very badly behaved on the field and whenever he gets caught, he blames it on Australia. He's done it for years and never got into trouble because everyone's afraid of persecuting the Asian teams. Australia are no longer the 'bullies' but India certainly is

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