“Indians know how to shout with their eyes”. In his epic novel, Shantaram, which connected the two countries like nothing else before it, author Gregory Roberts exposed the raw underbelly of India to an Australian audience whose previous preconceptions were mainly based around cricket and jokes in poor taste.
It revealed a seedy, beautiful, sophisticated and complex society that caught most Australians unaware. Watching the Indian cricketers do their thing after four days in Adelaide, I wonder how much thought has gone into trying to understand the Australian psyche, much less complicated but forged in a frontier-style, siege mentality that thrives on adversity.
Umpire Ian Gould calms down Australia's Steve Smith at the Adelaide Oval yesterday. Pic/Getty Images.
Anyone who truly believed that the Phillip Hughes tragedy would prove to be a negative distraction weighing on the minds of his mates clearly knows very little about the way Aussies react to a crisis. As an Australian of Asian origin, it took some time for me to understand the poignancy of the pride of Gallipoli — here was a nation that took enormous national pride in being part of a massacre on the beaches of Turkey in World War 1.
The fierce sense of nationalism that is born in adversity has never failed to astound me. Pain is almost an inspiration. For a nation that professes very little spirituality, they harness the underdog mentality to the point where it sometimes becomes the ugly attack dog!
Look at the cricketers who were close to Hughes. David Warner — twin hundreds. Steve Smith, almost a carbon copy. Michael Clarke ditto, under severe physical duress. Nathan Lyon gets a five-wicket haul against the best players of spin in the world. Ed Cowan, one of Hughes’ closest friends, peels off two big hundreds in a Sheffield Shield match. NSW win by an innings in their first outing after the funeral.
Sean Abbott, incredibly, picks up career-best figures of 6 for 14 when there were many, myself included, who seriously doubted if he would ever play again. If you believe in divine intervention, you’d think the cheeky Hughes was writing the script as he sipped on a cold beer in Heaven!
You could argue that there wasn’t much India could have done to prevent the Warner, Smith, Clarke freight train in the first innings. Sheer emotion, no small amount of courage, a lashing of skill, naive captaincy and inept bowling contributed to the fairytale start to the game. India’s batting was brave and bold, a statement of intent. We will not be bullied into submission. We will fight fire with fire. It made for compelling Test cricket.
Kohli’s vital wicket
Virat Kohli paid for that attitude late on Day Three when he took on the hook shot and holed out with 10 minutes to go. In the context of the match, that was a game-changer. But timid he is not and that is his currency. This was the new India, the proud, unapologetic, in-your-face India so vividly portrayed in Shantaram.
Attitude is one thing — tactics another. The bowling plans on the first morning were dumb. Ishant Sharma should have taken the new ball. Ravichandran Ashwin’s control was what was needed to blunt the adrenalin that was inevitably flowing with Aussie tears. The obsession with bowling round the wicket was sheer madness, especially when you know you have to bat last on a dry pitch and your top order is stacked with right-handers.
They’ve been unlucky no doubt, but you make your own luck. Wriddhiman Saha would have been reprieved if India had agreed to DRS. Warner would have been caught behind. There’s no bad luck when you take wickets off no-balls. If India’s over-rate continues to insult the spirit of cricket, they will need a new captain soon. Some of the field settings defied belief for a captain who exudes aggression in his body language.
Speaking of aggression, getting involved in a sledge-fest with Australian cricketers is dumb and dumber. Rarely does that reap dividends. They thrive on conflict, on adversity, on having their feathers ruffled.
The Kohli/Dhawan/Rohit Sharma brigade may be a generation away from the timid caricature of the diminutive Indian artisan and they clearly enjoy a verbal stoush but it just doesn’t work on the Australian psyche. They’ve grown up with this — most of them were sledged by the midwife who delivered them! It simply doesn’t work.
Kohli’s unseemly send-off of Chris Rogers looked ugly when it comes from a captain, an Indian captain. When Clarke did it against England and South Africa earlier this year, it was celebrated as a sign of manhood. Double standards I know but it pays to get into the head of the national psyche. All it did in Adelaide was to spur Warner and Smith on to concentrate even harder. It put the Indian bowlers off their game. The result was all-too-predictable; give an Australian an excuse to get into a junkyard scrap and he tends to grit his teeth and fight harder.
Just look at all of Hughes’ best mates. Their performances this week defy belief, in the context of their grief. They thrive on it. Kohli and his team got those tactics wrong — sometimes, the less said the better. Fight fire with fire? Try cold water or try shouting with your eyes!
“Wisdom is just cleverness with all the guts kicked out of it” was one of the gems from Shantaram. And sometimes, when playing against an abrasive opponent that thrives on the adrenalin rush of the ‘contest’, this advice from the great book may yet prove prophetic — “sometimes you have to surrender before you can win.”