16/03/2017 8:29 AM IST | Updated 17/03/2017 9:20 AM IST

It's More (Or Less) Than Cricket When India And Australia Play

Let’s see more playing and less sledging.

Danish Siddiqui / Reuters

The truce following the DRS controversy during and after the Bangalore test match between the Indian and Australian cricket teams is unlikely to last. If matters do not turn ugly again in the remaining test matches, they surely will in the next Border-Gavaskar series in Australia. The relationship between India and Australia in cricket is spiteful, confrontational and petty. Where both teams should see each other as joint custodians of the game that are invested in promoting it, they instead waste energy in creating new grudges and rekindling old ones to the point where it is a matter of time before an incident will become a diplomatic issue.

What's with the constant spats?

The question which arises is why has the cricketing relationship between two similar democracies, India and Australia, become so controversial? There are five major reasons:

  1. Both India and Australia are cricket powerhouses and are vying for control, both on and off the field. Given that both teams are very skilled, the matches are fiercely contested and both teams are on edge always due to the fear of losing. Naturally, words will be exchanged and gestures made in an effort to seize the initiative.
  2. On the Australian side, there is resentment at the power and influence of the BCCI and the rising dominance and popularity of the Indian cricket team. The resentment stems from the fact that the Australian establishment is stuck in a world which has ceased to exist and they have not got used to the idea that it is India which is the financial powerhouse behind cricket. Having conceded the financial space, the Australians do not want to concede whatever dominance they feel they have on the field to India.

The Australians are the masters of playing ugly—whether it is cricket or other sport...

  1. The Australians are the masters of playing ugly—whether it is cricket or other sports. Winning is all that matters and everything's fair when it comes to seizing the advantage. This is why Australian teams have generally been very good at sledging and haven't shied away from using personal or racial abuse to attack their opponents.'

But one cannot blame the Australian players too much: Australia is a country where despite her adherence to being multicultural, the Anglo-Saxons dominate most important positions. For example, over 40% of residents in Melbourne are foreign-born but not more than a handful are in important positions in politics, sport or on boards of publically listed companies. So, the players in the Australian team have grown up seeing all this and they feel that they are entitled to be dominant. This type of psyche is then what is behind why so much vitriol continues to be poured by the Australian team, officials, former players with disgraceful conduct, the biased media and the public on Virat Kohli for daring to say that the Australians had systematically cheated.

This is how the imperium still works: it requires the focus to shift from the perpetrator(s) to the victim and in this case, unfortunately, Virat Kohli provided a way out for the Australians when he foolishly widened his charge, without evidence, to two earlier incidents of Australian cheating. Had it been the other way around, there would have been no truce and the perpetrator would have been sanctioned, as was the case with the South African captain Faf Du Plessis in the doubtful ball tampering matter.

India gets under the skin of the Australian cricket team because it knows how to stand up and fight

  1. On the Indian side, there is a clamour for respect and equality. Given that India generates a substantial amount of revenue which ensures the survival and prosperity of cricket in an over-competitive sporting market worldwide, the BCCI and the Indian team will not take to Australia dictating terms and trying to view India through the prism of their western superiority lens.
  2. The Indians do not take kindly to the Australian way of playing and sledging. It can be suggested that the manner and severity of the Indian sledging is a direct response to the way in which the Australian cricket team has targeted Indian players in the past and continue to do so. Cricket was a gentleman's game as demonstrated by the champion West Indian sides of the late 1970s to early 1990s, which won games by their batting, fielding and bowling skills and kept their mouths mostly shut. It was the Australians who played both the ball and the men and lay the seeds of the sport turning ugly and upon itself. And all teams much to their detriment have followed the Australian model rather than the champion West Indians of the past. India gets under the skin of the Australian cricket team because it knows how to stand up and fight, though at times, to the detriment of their cause, by aping and outdoing the Australians in childishness.

India needs to save cricket from sledging

So it's more than cricket when India and Australia play. This young Indian team is a good one and the world's best batsman Virat Kohli has the makings of being the most successful Indian captain too. But his success will be hollow if he is remembered as someone who was a master of sledging. He will be truly successful if he can lead this Indian team to win—and win as the champion and gentlemen West Indians of the late 1970s to early 1990s did. After all, there have been many successful Australian teams, but no team is considered in the class, skill and conduct of those West Indian sides. Surely, the role model to follow is clear and cricket needs to be saved from its own sledging. And it must start by India showing the way.