ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday March 9, 2008
Vol. 42 - No 41

How to burn the tough cookie

Unite and come back as lethal as you can, the Australian muscle machine freak-out and meek. This has been a stubborn fact through the past seven decades or more, but, rarely applied and whenever it was done the end result has been the same.

I was not born first when the now proverbial Bodyline series took place, but it is rather interesting just because it were the Australians at the receiving end.

The celebrating Indians proved that they are no meek pushovers.

Since the advent of a lad by the name of Don Bradman in late 1928, this young lad started to devastate the English bowlers. So in the year 1932, when skipper Douglas Jardine arrived in Australia he came with a battery of fast bowlers and started bowling a barrage of short pitched balls on the leg stump with a pronounced leg side field and expectedly the Aussie batting was shipwrecked and England won the series. Meanwhile there was a high-level off the field badgering behind the scene and the bodyline mode was taken off the field.

That was the first instance. The next that comes to mind is our own experience which we expected in the mid 90s. This time Australia blocked our entrance to ‘big time’ with England and the whiter than white West Indies until 1975. This time they were the aggressors and they masterminded a plot that misfired very badly. Initially in the first Test they came up with a spurious ball-tampering allegation against a side that had only a little over ten years experience but, failed. On that fateful Boxing Day Test umpire Darrell Hair called off spinner Muralitharan for ‘chucking’. However later on in the series he was once again called in a limited overs game while he was delivering leg spinners and the whole marsupial conspiracy fell apart because it is humanly impossible to throw the ball while delivering a leg spinner. Then it was revealed that this young lad had been deliberately targeted for allegation.

In this episode another thing worked for the Lankans. They took the field under Arjuna Ranatunga—a captain who took no one’s ‘monkey trick’ as a barrier. From this time he moulded the Lankan side into a battering unit that went on through the next World Cup Tournament unbeaten and then go on to beat a bewildered Australian Xl with consummate ease.

Thereafter the Australians who re-grouped to win the next two WC’s, but then had to make use of a squash-ball aided century by Adam Gilchrist to beat Sri Lanka in the final last year in the West Indies.

While these happenings were going on India was going through a transformation and beat Sri Lanka 6-1 in an ODI series and then followed it up with a 2-1 win just prior to the WC, but suddenly made an inauspicious exit during the preliminary round during the real event. Undeterred they pursued with the ‘young blood’ agenda which also had a good balance of experience.

However when Cricket India announced that their string of aging stalwarts were not interested in taking part in the inaugural twenty20 World Cup in South Africa and it was going to be Mahendra Singh Dhoni who was going to lead them towards that quest. A side that had gone out of the World Cup during the preliminaries in the actual World Cup now coming with a pack of juniors under an untested captain, well… one took them seriously until they proved the pundits wrong and brought home the Inaugural Twenty20 World Cup, and in the midst Australia dropped in for a visit and beat India in an ODI series which made the ‘Pontingboys’ cockier. However from the legacy that skipper Rickey Ponting inherited from his predecessor Steve Waugh he had lost the services of batsmen Darren Lehmann, Justin Langer, Damian Martyn and bowlers Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath, but with that prevailing momentum the Aussies carried on regardless until early this year when they took the Lankans on. They did win both Test matches, but they began to ask themselves questions about beating other quality teams on equal terms.

In the first Test the home team beat the daylights out of a team that was badly short of match practice, but the drama began when the Australians were tottering at 121 for 5 in the first innings of the first Test. First it was Symonds who refused to walk back knowing well the ball had taken a piece of his willow after the umpire had chosen to ignore the incident. And then it was followed by the behaviour of skipper Ponting towards the end of the match who made sure that they would equal his predecessor’s 16 straight wins in Test matches. However the ‘Pontingboys’ would never have thought that the soup will so sour at the end. India not only won the next Test, but began to usurp the power on to their camp there onwards. Nevertheless Australia won the series 2-1.

How the Indian youth built their fortress on Australian soil was very interesting. While keeping Tendulkar as model at the top and skipper Dhoni himself down in the middle, the Indian young guns started firing. Either it was Uttappa or Gambhir. Then it was either Yuvraj Singh or Rohit Sharma.

All batted with purpose and were never afraid to put their hands up when the call came up.

On the other side of the coin, there came another hero in Ishant Sharma, a raw nineteen-year-old who held his own against Australia and made them feel old against the140odd kmph ball that kept dancing around them. Then in the latter stages of the series in came Praveen Kumar who proved to be more than deceptive with his swing bowling and finally the young leg spinner Chawla, a tiny 22-year old, kept on pegging the Australian batting machine making them more and more vulnerable.

Like a curse cast upon him for his deeds during the second Test, the Australian skipper Ponting kept on floundering besides one face-saving ‘ton’ when it was not that necessary. This personal ordeal submerged the entire spirit of the Australian team and whatever the contributions made by Hussey, Hayden and Clarke seem insignificant.

For the Indians Harbhajan Singh was reborn as a folk hero who did not bow to any force that tried to undermine him. The lesson -- go as hard as you can at the Aussies; then they freak and meek. Not only that, beware even the Indian teenagers are hot on their trail. In their run to success they killed the Kangaroos and the Springboks among the many others.

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