Oz should learn from sporting India

Updated: Jan 03, 2019, 08:25 IST | Michael Jeh |

Australian cricketers should adopt India's wicketkeeper-batsman Rishabh Pant's mantra of what happens on the field, stays on the field

Rishabh Pant with Tim Paine's wife, Bonnie, and Paine's kids. Pic courtesy/Twitter
Rishabh Pant with Tim Paine's wife, Bonnie, and Paine's kids. Pic courtesy/Twitter

Michael JehThere's an old saying in Australia — don't poke the bear. In a cricket context, Australia might now regret poking the tiger. For all their verbal aggression and sledges, the Australians simply didn't have the weaponry or the sharpshooters to nail the Indian tiger between the eyes.

It always promised to be a fool's mission, trying to provoke a snarling beast, no longer timid, no longer cowed by colonial history and no longer prepared to be condescended to. The result was all-too-predictable. For the neutrals, sick of the hypocrisy and condescension of the local commentators, this victory at Melbourne was a triumph of character. Substance over sub-standard; actions over words; class versus crass.

It was only a few months ago that Tim Paine spoke eloquently about the new Player's Charter and how the Australian team wanted to reinvent itself in the aftermath of being caught cheating in Cape Town. For those of us closely associated with the culture of Australian cricket, those well-intentioned words had a hollow ring to them. We knew it wouldn't last. If not quite spoken with a forked tongue, it had sickening, insincere and temporary written all over it.

Along with elite honesty, these words were never likely to survive the test of time. As it turned out, they didn't even survive three Tests. Note the reference to "all Australians", presumably cricket-loving Indian migrants too. What the cricketers fail to realise is the link between their on-field behaviour (playfully written off as banter) and the flow-on effect to the ignorant cricket community at large.

That is why it was appalling to hear the chants emanating from the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Show us your visa. Not bad for a young country built on an invasion that presumably didn't afford the indigenous folk the courtesy of a visa! In 2004, I was accompanying some Indian journalists at the Gabba when members of the crowd called us "coolies" and threw chicken bones at us.

Australians are beautiful people, no more or less than any other people. They saw through the soft bigotry of Kerry O'Keeffe's commentary, disparaging Mayank Agarwal's triple century by referring to the Railways team bowling attack as canteen staff. Undeterred, despite a mealy-mouthed apology, he went on to poke fun at Indians by adopting a mocking accent and asking, "Why would you call your kid Cheteshwar Jadeja?"

The rest of the commentary team could be heard giggling in the background. Mark Waugh was not amongst them — he was busy preparing to commentate on a Big Bash game, no doubt keen to watch the cream of Australia's domestic talent. Days before, he opined that averaging 50 in Indian first-class cricket was like averaging 40 in Australia. Oh, so that's why India are currently No. 1 in the world? Or because Australia have a better first-class competition?

That's why Mitchell Marsh, who has averaged just over 10 with the bat in his last 13 Test innings is our best No. 6? Even allowing for his 10-run handicap (how generous), how many Indian batsmen get selected with career batting averages in the mid 20's? Waugh ties himself up in knots by later justifying these selections by claiming that there is no one else in the country who is performing any better.

Hang on Junior, weren't you just saying that the Sheffield Shield was a much tougher test of skill than India's system? But you can't find an all-rounder who averages more than 26 with the bat and less than 42 with the ball? Maybe he has forgotten that unlike the days when the Waugh brothers were both selected on merit, it is not compulsory to select teams based on family ties!

Tim Paine's sledge to Rishabh Pant about babysitting his kids could easily have been misinterpreted as cheap stereotyping. Australian cricketers can learn valuable lessons from the way Pant adopted the mantra of what happens on the field, stays on the field. The subsequent social media photo of him cuddling Paine's children shows his maturity, a far cry from the unseemly vision of Warner confronting Quinton De Kock in the pavilion stairway in Durban in 2018 or Darren Lehmann yelling racist insults near the dressing rooms at the Gabba in 2002. Or even the blow-up with Andrew Symonds and Harbhajan Singh...why did the Aussies find it so difficult to live by their own rules of leaving it on the field?

It's typical of people with thick heads and thin skins. They are quick to make jokes that get them a cheap laugh but when they get caught out, they offer an apology and then try to garner sympathy by making it all about how distressed their family is at the fall-out from the joke gone wrong. As if they are suddenly the victims!

India are no longer a one-dimensional team, in skill or in character. They have the batting and bowling to compete in all conditions. They are no longer prepared to cower timidly in the face of cheap jokes and stereotypes. Ravi Shastri and Virat Kohli have imbued them with a fierce pride in their own hegemony.

As much as the Australian batting is under the spotlight, there must surely be some questions asked of the bowlers who were unable to generate reverse swing, even on the abrasive pitches of the UAE in October. Perhaps, the Jalandhar Railways canteen staff might be invited to coach the Australian bowling unit. If they are granted a visa, of course!

Michael Jeh is a Brisbane-based former first-class cricketer Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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