“That’s the way the cookie crumbles”. Oh! Yes I have seen it many times before and I am sure I even have used that phrase before. Yet, reoccurrences like what I am going to jot down below could well afford to carry phrases which are being reused. It was not many moons ago that the [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Cricketing is not for sissies


“That’s the way the cookie crumbles”. Oh! Yes I have seen it many times before and I am sure I even have used that phrase before. Yet, reoccurrences like what I am going to jot down below could well afford to carry phrases which are being reused.

It was not many moons ago that the English cricketers were almost invincible. Their batsmen, more often than not, were on song. The English bowlers — both pace and spin — had done their homework mapped out at the Grant Flower cricket institution. They knew which delivery could get which batsman. Ask Kumar Sangakkara about the time of reference, he would say the English bowlers bothered him more than our own home grown mosquitoes, I mean the real thing. Besides these obvious factors, the English fielders did almost hold every catch that came their way and even ran batsmen out. Then what about the stumpings and the snicks? Always the poor victims walked back home.

That confidence took them through for almost a half a decade that included three straight Ashes wins. English cricket which was in the doldrums for some lengthy period had come of age, as if Grant Flower had infused some Zimbabwean magic into them. The last Ashes series played in England provided ample testimony. There was very little difference between the two traditional foes. But, what was evident was that where mental toughness was concerned, the Pommies had the edge over the Kangaroos.

Australians on the other hand, besides a 3-0 home win against Sri Lanka (if that is any indication to go by), received their worst drubbing at the hands of the renaissance Indians who incidentally unleashed rookie opener Cheteshwar Pujara against them on home soil.

At the same time a fast bowler by the name of Michel Johnson who was brought on in the fourth Test match, went wicketless in the first Indian innings and bowled only three wicket less overs in the second inning before the home team thrashed them by six wickets.
Then in England bad hot-spot machines and below par umpiring did not bring any joy to the Australian camp and that even almost brought the zipper down on the Clarke-Watson association. So much so Watson relinquished his duties as the Australian team vice captain.

While the Australians were in England, there was another dressing room change that took place, even before the series began. The gun was pointed at coach Micky Arthur, who was dumped unceremoniously.

At present, a national coach’s job does not entail the correction of a wrong grip of a batsman or the wrong delivery stride of a bowler. Those specialist jobs are handled by men who are subject specialists — they have to keep the horses on course.

The job of the chief or the national coach is different. His job is man management. Besides that he has to be the non-fighting general who has to draw up the battle plans — sometimes conventional and sometimes unconventional. He cannot afford to give any quarters, because in international cricket there are no quarters to be given. He has to plan how his army is going to decimate the opponent, even if it means burning a few bridges. Some bad umpiring decisions during a series may benefit your side and even help in your war strategy, but when Broad refuses to walk after a huge umpiring faux pas it is the business of the opposing coach to make it happen. Make the incident the biggest blasphemy in the history of cricket.

Darren Lehmann, who once called Lankan batsman Sanath Jayasuriya a funny name while a tussle between Sri Lanka and Australia was going on, sat with steely eyes on the Australian team balcony while in England, and made a decision. Now he is the Australian coach. His job was to grab the Ashes back from the ECB cupboard and his intuition told him that they could not win it while being clad in white. They had to be panthers clad in white and some even wearing big burly Mexican moustaches. No smiles on their faces, but lips full of sledge.

When the series began in Brisbane it looked the conventional Ashes series that we are used to. By the second morning the English bad boy Stewart Broad who was already a villain even before he set foot on Kangaroo land had drawn the dagger with six Australian scalps and were all out for nothing boast about 295. Then till the dot of lunch England 55 for 1 were coasting.

By this time Lehmann had given a new lease of life to Mitchell Johnson who could not find a place in the last Ashes series after his poor show in India. At the dot of lunch it happened. A delivery directed at Jonathan Trott at 145.7 kmph, short and down the leg side, Trott played away from his body and wicket keeper Brad Haddin went up in celebration; Johnson had done it, on the stroke of lunch! Then when Johnson got Trott for 9 also in the second innings and the Ashes holders lost the Test, Trott was already boarding a plane blaming the pressure.

England had lost the plot. The aggression that was unleashed by the Australians just managed to remain within the ICC tolerance limits, but that was what Lehmann brewed for the Australian cricketers for this Christmas.

The new cricket is not confined to the niceties anymore. It is winning by all means or else your job is at stake.

Unlike the days that cricket was played by gentlemen or the flannelled fools are over. It is a million dollar industry. Now the game is played by professionals, managed by professionals and also watched by millions who want to see their side win. When people watch the game, there are entrepreneurs who decide to make that channel a medium to sell their merchandise. The result — the game becomes an industry. In this equation ethics only play a marginal role.

Good still there are cricketers in the caliber of Mahela Jayawardena who walk out without waiting for the ruling of the umpire. Yes, that gesture was recognised even by the ICC. What did he get? A round of applause and may be a trophy to go with it.

Then during the last ashes Stewart Broad did not walk out when he was caught at the slips. He did not walk out while the three umpires played dumb. The result – his half century steadied the English ship and finally he helped his side to retain the Ashes.

On this platform there is no room for sissies. Join the bandwagon and become a marine and not a gentlemanly cricketer who runs away when things get hot. Bad show Trott I do not agree with you. You left your adopted home doors wide open and now the Johnsons are playing hell in it.

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