January 19, 2012

Prayer for a strong India

Lloyd's West Indians kept coming to Australia because they played good cricket and everyone made money from it. India and Australia keep playing because everyone makes money from it

"Kerry was in love with them," the old Australian Cricket Board chief Bob Merriman once said. By Kerry he meant Packer. "Them" were West Indies. The love was real love, not an "I love ice-cream" sort of love. This love was widely shared, across a nation. Boys batted with Viv-approved SS Jumbos and dog-owners named their dogs Eldine and men dug the swagger of these cricketers and an abnormal number of normally non-cricket-mad women dug that too. "Just the attractiveness of them," said Merriman. "I think Kerry himself loved watching them." So six summers out of eight, from 1977-78 onwards, Clive Lloyd-led West Indian teams came to perform their lethal magic in Australia and, more particularly, for Packer and his Channel 9. Other than on Sesame Street they were just about the only black faces seen on Australian daytime TV.

Six summers out of eight felt like a lot. Throw in Australia's two Caribbean trips and that made it eight encounters in eight seasons. Australia is locked now in another gut-on-gut embrace with a country two oceans east of the Caribbean islands, population 1.2 billion, estimated TV sets 112 million. "India's major partner" is how senior Cricket Australia men describe the organisation they work for. They say it a bit proudly. What it means is this: 11 times in nine summers, India have toured Australia or the Australian team has gone there. There live Indian boys of 12 and 13 with no memory of an Australia-less cricket summer at home. The last one was 2005-06.

Lloyd's West Indians kept coming because they played thrilling, menacing cricket and because everybody made money out of it. Australia and India keep playing each other because everybody makes money out of it. If one of the two ingredients - good cricket - is missing, does that wreck the cake? The men who sit on the board of "India's major partner" might say: "To a point." Or: "Pig's arse." If India win or India lose, Indians will keep watching cricket and Indian TV stations will keep buying cricket. That's the presumption. The market decides. An ailing, rebuilding Indian team might make for years of fascinating TV-watching in India. It could, true, get teeth-itching for Australians. With one Test left this summer people have already mentally flicked over to the tennis. Also, there is right now in Australia a palpable shortage of dog-owners naming their dogs Gautam. But even if Australians do stop watching, stop going, stop caring, Australia still gets the Indian TV money. That's a payday five to six times bigger than when England tour and it's incalculable trough-fulls more than they get from hosting any other country.

The Windies' pomp happened in pre-TV bonanza time. But their players were well paid for coming. For Australia, the hype was huge and the crowds were solid or better and advertisers queued up with glee. One constant guaranteed it: the cricket was good.

It can take years to retrospectively read a series of four or more Tests in clear morning light. No one knows yet if this summer's meting out of awesome thrashings is down to Australian awesomeness or India's decline or both. If you bend your mind to the issue, though, most of India's troubles seem traceable to people's preoccupation with slashed-down Twenty20. Their batsmen run between wickets with the stepping-on-syringes gait of men used to dealing only in boundaries - men for whom "runs" might more accurately be rechristened "points". No stonewaller exists to balance Sehwag at the top. No technician of Dravidian pristineness can be found to bat at three, so poor Rahul Dravid is still there, even though he's 39. VVS Laxman looks Twenty20-fit, not cricket-fit, with 20 overs his batting ceiling and that's only on rare days of very vast stamina. To point out that the tailenders hit exclusively to cow corner and that cow, intellectually speaking, is in this instance a particularly apt animal metaphor is to underestimate the craftiness of cows. Despite this, no one protects the tail or tries farming the strike. The one who could, Dhoni, bats in bursts. As a wicketkeeper Dhoni exudes a kind of disengaged competence: this from the country that gave cricket Tamhane, Engineer, Kirmani…

An ailing, rebuilding Indian team might make for years of fascinating TV-watching in India. It could, true, get teeth-itching for Australians. With one Test left this summer people have already mentally flicked over to the tennis

Which is to say that regular Twenty20 meetings between the two nations might be no bad thing. But 13 months from now they'll be playing four more Tests in India, then another four Tests two summers later in Australia, with seven one-dayers and a T20 the season before that, and an additional seven one-dayers and two T20s the season after, and that's not counting one-off clashes in World Cups, Champions Trophies, World Twenty20 carnivals, yet-to-be-named insurance company cups and anything else India's major partner or even India itself plans to sneak into the schedule and hasn't forewarned us about. Meanwhile, Australia is likely to get better on the field while India struggles and spurts along. To keep Australians interested, somehow India must replace Laxman, Dravid and Tendulkar - and replace them not just as cricketers. Those three men are deeply liked.

Cricket needs a strong India, it's said. Cricket Australia is begging for one.

There's a cycle that works. It's called the Ashes. Thirty months after England tour Australia, Australia go there, and 18 months later England come back again. Occasionally they have increased the frequency. That hasn't worked since the 19th century.

Most love fizzles, fades, sometimes never to be rekindled. In the last of those six West Indian summers, 1984-85, Andrew Hilditch blocked Australia to a heroic draw at the MCG and only 11,325 spectators paid money to see it. West Indies weren't invited back so often after that. Malcolm Speed, Cricket Australia's former chief executive, is an admirer of his successor, James Sutherland, and in his book Sticky Wicket, Speed says: "I think his best work will revolve around Australia's partnership with India."

Two cricket teams playing each other ad nauseam is seldom a bright idea and in the last couple of weeks the idea got a whole lot dumber.

Christian Ryan is a writer based in Melbourne. He is the author of Golden Boy: Kim Hughes and the Bad Old Days of Australian Cricket and, most recently Australia: Story of a Cricket Country

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • V on January 21, 2012, 3:54 GMT

    While Christian is right about some aspects, he is way off on the rest. The Ashes have also produced one sided results, yet Christian seems to like them. England also sent a side in the 70s that failed miserably. The side had many old hands lincluding Cowdrey who not only failed with the bat, but also got hit by Aussie pacemen like Lillee since they were too slow to get out of the way. India's tours in 2003 and 2007 made for very close and interesting test matches. A single one sided series is not reason enough to conclude that Inda-Australia contests should be less frequent. Besides, it would be impossible to schedule and reschedule cricket tours constantly based on the most recent performances.

  • Dummy4 on January 21, 2012, 0:24 GMT

    @LordTendulkar: idol worshippers who think that indivudual and mindless records are greater than the team . punter is there in the team because he gives tactical guidance to the team and also gets some runs..... since so-called GOD is doing neither it is time for him to leave as Django said....

  • Dummy4 on January 20, 2012, 16:38 GMT

    What's he talking about? Prayer for a stronger India. Dude, Aus and Eng both were thrashed in India recently. If they come to India and beat them the way they did in their backyard, we will call them a better team. Even India isn't bad in their own backyard. As a matter of fact, India have won more matched in India than Aus did in their own country in past year or so. You should instead pray for a better Aussie team that can win back the so-very-hyped URN rest of the world doesn't give a damn about. I know India is, by no stretch of imagination, a world beater, but neither is Aus, and definitely not England.

  • Dummy4 on January 20, 2012, 15:57 GMT

    since 1996,india is 12/13 against australia even after taking into account these recent loses ,no team matches this record in last 16 years, so it wasnt only money which was responsible for great interest in oz/india matches,it was great cricket played by two countires too, which made watching these matches compelling.

  • kenil on January 20, 2012, 14:38 GMT

    well after india got whitewahed in eng people said india can only win in ther backyard n now we find out its the same wit eng,aus,sri lankan maybe SA but pak also won against eng at home n wen they went away they played easy oppositions

  • Dummy4 on January 20, 2012, 13:24 GMT

    When you start paying players based on their performance things will change and there will be incentive. Current system is based on socialistic attitudes - pay them per their rank (seniority). This breeds incompetence. None of these so called players havea fighting spirit left in them if you see them play. Secondly start promoting other games in India - such as hockey, soccer, volleyball etc. A healthy competition across sports is as important as within a sport. This develops character of players and also inspires newer, younger players to learn skills limited by a single sport.

  • Dummy4 on January 20, 2012, 4:47 GMT

    This is getting a little too much on the trio of Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman. There were 8 others in the team who also did not perform. Being the senior pro...these 3 should have fared better. We are missing out or not highlighting the failure of openers, wicket keeper , our regular spinner, Number 6 batsman(sourav retired 3 yrs back). Our pace bowling Zaheer bowled good enough but definitely not spectacular, Ishant has played 45 test matches but not good enough..... It's doing a reality check , than blaming the senior pros....they will in all probability will retire in a year or so.......after that? Do you have the solution for the rest of 8 spots as of now? Sachin still look good, Dravid inspite of being showed the most fighting spirit, Laxman could have done better but he had amazing run in the last couple of years... Australia won at home..these pacers will be zeroes once they visit subcontinent.they dont have a quality spinnertheir middle order is vulnerable against spin..

  • Jay on January 20, 2012, 2:13 GMT

    Some of these articles that rubbish India are preposterous. Indeed, India has made an utterly pathetic show of cricket down under this summer; which makes a reason for the fans to be very very very angry. But ridiculing India like they were always a rubbish team and thrive in the cricketing world only on the basis of the large cricket crazy Indian audience is not appropriate. Especially when that comes from Australia which sank so low that even if it defeats India 4-0 in this series, it would barely be able make its ranking above India. And about the Indian fans, it is rude and imprudent to consider them not able to appreciate and ask for good cricket. For that matter, the quality of the last ashes where Australia was trashed was very low if someone was watching the high quality battle of equals in SA (vs India) going on simultaneously.

  • Sudhakar on January 20, 2012, 1:56 GMT

    Ryan, the success of Australia against India does not necessarily mean that it's only India which is "an ailing, rebuilding team". Funnily I was watching Australia's 98 all out at the Ashes boxing day Test match a few minutes ago and guess what Australia has the same batting team that has consistently failed them in non-Australian conditions over the last two years. What about the aging Ponting, Hussey. We see no replacements! Haddin continues to struggle - no replacement in sight. The worries at the top continues - save for David Warner. Phil Hughes, Ed Cowan and Marsh don't appear that they belong to the top league. So before commenting on India's ailing team, look at Australia. It's bound to get thrashed outside Australia (& even in Australia against strong bowling attacks). Indian bowling has been traditionally weak, and if Australia sits on this 3-0 glory, it'll be a HUGE mistake.Australia's rebuild process has hardly commenced and it's still long way to go to unearth good batters

  • rob on January 20, 2012, 1:23 GMT

    As usual, 90% of posters are completely missing the point. Though I have to admit it isn't a very obvious one on this occasion. I think what the author is trying to say is that from an Australian cricket followers perspective we just want to see good cricket being played by the touring teams. Even if that means we get consistently massacred, as the great Windies sides used to do to us. Ratings were fantastic even though we were basically no hope of beating them . He makes no comment about Indian audiences or what they want, presumably he doesn't feel qualified to make such comments. (Something Indians could learn from perhaps). So, given that, all he is saying is that people will turn up to watch India play in Australia while ever they play well. If they don't play well enough to give us a run for our money or even beat us, people will stop watching. Quite simply really and nothing more should be read into it.

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