The Australian cricket team which took pride in a win-at-all-cost attitude now appears to lay more emphasis on team discipline rather than constructing the best possible arsenal to get back in a prestigious series which they trail 0-2.
Australia’s turnaround seemed highly unlikely even with Shane Watson and James Pattinson around, but unpredictability is very much the fabric of sport. Didn’t the Kolkata Test match of 2001 reaffirm this to the Australians?
The discipline aspect is vital too, but Australia have not given themselves the best chance to win. Michael Clarke ought to realise that the last time Australia won a Test in India was when his career was just three Test matches old. He will play his 92nd today in Mohali.
Thirty-two years ago, an Australian captain ordered his brother to bowl underarm off the last ball in a vital one-day international to prevent the opposition batsman from hitting a match-winning six at the colossal Melbourne Cricket Ground. Greg Chappell’s primary aim was to win that 1981 game against New Zealand and in the process avoid playing an extra one-day international in an action-packed schedule that chipped away at his patience and endurance.
Ten Februarys earlier, Greg’s elder brother Ian was on the verge of rejoicing in the dressing room when England captain Ray Illingworth decided to stage a walkout with his team after fast bowler John Snow was attacked by a spectator on the boundary line. Snow had returned to his fielding position after his delivery hit tailender Terry Jenner on the head.
Having taken over from the sacked Bill Lawry, Ian was captaining Australia for the first time in Test cricket and did not mind the sight of Illingworth walking off because that would mean Australia win the Test albeit through a forfeit. “I’ll take a Test victory anytime,” thought Ian. However, Illingworth & Co returned to the field and England went on to win that seventh Test in Sydney and with it, the Ashes.
In November 1969, a riot broke out at the Brabourne Stadium when umpire Shambhu Pan declared Srinivas Venkataraghavan out caught behind off Alan Connolly when the tailender, according to a radio commentator, didn’t get a nick. As the East Stand was being burnt and the players were in danger of being attacked, vice-captain Ian Chappell suggested to his skipper Lawry that it would be wise for the team to return to the dressing room. “What do you think?” Chappell asked. And Lawry just said: “Gee, Chappelli, we need a wicket bad.”
The Australians finally had to retreat to the dressing room, but Lawry’s words to his deputy amply indicated that gaining superiority over their opponents was the prime objective.
In the dressing room, manager Fred Bennett told the team that 10,000 spectators in front of the grandstand wanted Lawry’s blood. (According to off-spinner Ashley Mallett in his biography of Ian Chappell). And Doug Walters said, “C’mon Fred, give ’em Lawry and let’s get on with the drinking.” The 1969-70 Australian team had a bunch of characters who may not have survived the current-day regime. Kevin Douglas Walters was one for sure.
Winning and getting back in the series should have been Clarke’s prime goal. Today at Mohali, he will field a playing XI that includes players who have not exactly forced their way through sheer performance and reputation.
Look which team has just contributed to lowering the standard of Test cricket — the pristine brand of the game that completes 136 years of existence tomorrow. Not IPL-drunk India for sure in this case!
Clarke, like the punished quartet, has not come out smelling of roses. And while he’ll hope for vindication, Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s team will be feeling like kids who have just been told that candies are on the house, the after-effects notwithstanding.
Clayton Murzello is MiD DAY’s Group Sports Editor
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