In an excellent article on ESPNcricinfo Jarrod Kimber described an impending clash between India and Australia in the World Cup Semi Final as the battle of the bullies. It was a good read and I found it difficult to find any fault with his sentiment.
However, at the end of his article there were approximately 180 comments all praising his work and many of the ones that I read stated that while Indians play as gentlemen of the game, Australians are brash and no one likes them, er, us.
I’m not disputing that our cricketers are hyper competitive, in your face type characters who skirt the line of how one should or should not behave on the field and how one should treat ones opponent. They are aggressive, relentless and yes they are brash at times and I think it is because that’s what they think being competitive means. This facet of their play could certainly make them unpopular with opposition players and supporters, and arrogance from an opponent leaves a long lasting sour taste in your mouth when they have given you a beating – and for the most part Australia have been beating teams for a long time now.
When I speak to my friends, neighbours, family and just about anyone I come in contact with about the Australian team, there are words that always get used. While not the nicest of descriptions, I feel they are often accurate when used to describe the on-field personas of our cricketing folk: he’s a knob, a flog, a tool, a goose and they’re all arrogant. I don’t think that you can get to the top of your sport without enormous self belief and confidence in your ability, and perhaps this comes across as arrogance. Any flaw in a player’s self belief will be exposed under pressure, and then exploited by their opposition.
Basically many Australians can acknowledge that their cricket side is full of talented, self assured, cocky players who look for ways to unsettle opposition players with bat and ball or words and actions. We don’t pretend that our players are saints or gentlemen, and many celebrate the aggression shown by our players. I tend to think that it has gone a few steps too far. I’m all for the “give ‘em nothing”/”make ‘em earn it” mantras (this is why my father hates rushed behinds in Aussie Rules Football), but for me the verbal attack has gone way over the top.
What I find interesting is that Indian supporters feel that their players are gentlemanly. I’m not sure if they are getting the wrong impression of their cricketers or if I am. Firstly let me say that I hold no real grudge against India as a cricketing nation other than I feel that they have too much say in the running of the game, but the fact that money talks should not be a surprise to many. As was said in the film The Lorax, “There’s a principle in business that everybody knows is sound. It says the people with the money make this ever loving world go ‘round.” Currently India is the cricketing nation with the money. That doesn’t make them right, but it doesn’t necessarily make them wrong either.
I really liked Rahul Dravid, and from what I have read and heard he is a thoughtful and respectful man who played the game the way I like to see it played: hard but fair. I feel that though he might not be the exception rather than the rule in current Indian cricket, he’s certainly not the rule either.
Harbhajan Singh was an abrasive character and from my experience he hasn’t been well liked in Australia. This may have partially been because he took wickets, and partially because of his in your face, I’m better than you persona that he projected. He may not have actually been that sort of a guy, but it was the impression that most Australians got. We didn’t like that he seemed arrogant, and we certainly didn’t like the “we’re taking our bat and ball and going home” approach re the unfortunate events of the Sydney Test. I was brought up to believe that if things aren’t going your way, get out there and fight harder. Never ever give up and never spit the dummy and go home.
Let’s look at Anil Kumble. Often described as a true gentleman, Kumble was an excellent cricketer and a very competitive player. I found his presence on the field to be anything but saintly. He would often appeal for a wicket after just about any ball he bowled that struck the pad or popped up to short leg when he must have known that many were not out. How can it be gentlemanly behaviour to ask for a wicket when you know it's not out? He was using the action of raising an appeal to build pressure on the batsmen. It was a tactic and one that I found distasteful.
Virat Kohli is not backwards in coming forwards, and seems to cherish the verbal side of the battle before, during and after the contest. How about Shanthakumaran Sreesanth? The volatile medium fast bowler now banned for life for his involvement in a spot fixing scandal must have been hard to get along with as he was once slapped on the face by a teammate at the end of en IPL game.
M.S. Dhoni carries himself with the confidence of a man that has been there and done that. He remains unfazed by just about any situation he finds himself in on the field and looks nearly dismissive of the pressure that he should be under. He’s not an unlikeable character, and for the Indian supporters around the globe, he must be an idol worthy of worship. To many on the other side of the fence however, he appears as an arrogant man who believes he’s a step above the rest.
As a friend of mine commented to me recently, Australia was most certainly sledging when they were getting killed by England a few years ago and more recently in India and against Pakistan in the UAE, but as we were losing no one seemed to care. When we are winning, the manner of our players is scrutinised more closely. His thoughts were that the use of such a tactic is because they think it will unsettle the opposition and help bring about victory. Does it work? Who can say?
For me, most of the comments from elite cricket to have found their way into public knowledge have not seemed to me to be particularly hurtful or noteworthy. If anything, they seem to be pretty childish, reflecting more on the sledger than the sledge, and should fit comfortably into the sticks and stones policy.
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