While the Asia Cup final was a momentous victory for the Indians, it was a pretty one-sided affair against the Lankans. The previous India-Sri Lanka match was also one-sided. In fact, the standout match of the tournament was the tense Indo-Pak encounter.
The referee had to separate Gautam Gambhir and Kamran Akmal from going at each other. Then there was an altercation between Harbhajan Singh and Shoaib Akhtar. But the cricket was sublime. As the match see-sawed continuously, in the end a stunning six sealed the match, followed by Harbhajan’s usual pyrotechnics.
FIFA World Cup
While both Gambhir and Harbhajan have been involved in tussles before, do they make the game of cricket more exciting? Are bad boys better for the game of cricket and, more importantly, is it necessary to become a world champion?
The mean bowlers of the Windies
When the West Indies were world champions, the fast bowlers were the face of the team. They terrorized batsmen with their legal sanitized brand of bodyline. In 1962, a Charlie Griffith short ball on a Barbados pitch ended the career of Indian captain Nari Contractor. Contractor barely escaped with his life.
In the 1976 series, leading 1-0 in the third Test, the Windies made a sporting pitch at Port of Spain. In the fourth innings, India chased a then world record breaking total of 403 with six wickets to spare.
Clive Lloyd and his “meanie” quicks came down on the Indian team like a ton of bricks in the very next match and a very curious scoreboard emerged. In the first innings, India had two retired hurts and in the second innings, there were five “absent hurts”.
India lost just 11 legal wickets in the whole match and still were bruised and battered out as the Windies won with 10 wickets to spare, taking the series.
The Caribbean reign is replete with such incidents and it is difficult to imagine them becoming the undisputed world champions without the unchecked aggression of their fast bowlers.
Waugh and his merry band of sledgers
The baton passed in 1995, when Australia won the fourth Test of the tour at Kingston to take the series 2-1. Fittingly, Steve Waugh hit his only career double century in that match and later went on to captain his side.
When he took over, Waugh quickly unleashed the tools of sledging and “mental disintegration” to solidify Australia’s reign over cricket. Australia has always played rough, but this was probably to be their ugliest era. The last 15 years has been full of incidents of player aggression, indiscipline, cursing and abusing on the pitch and even intimidation of umpires. So much so that “sledging” almost became Brand Australia.
Ricky Ponting continued the tradition and only Michael Hussey disapproved of it. Funnily, Hussey became captain briefly, was branded a failure and the baton passed to an even more aggressive Michael Clarke. So it’s not just strategy and talent, you need to have the aggression for it too.
India rising… and fighting
It is no coincidence that the last decade has seen India as one of the most indisciplined sides around. Sourav Ganguly brought to Indian cricket a much-needed aggression and the team continued with the same strategy after he was gone.
Post-2000, Indian cricketers have sledged back, stared back, never were shy to clash on the field with their opponents, spoke their mind to the media… the result? In the last couple of years, we have finally reached the No. 1 ranking in all three forms of the game.
Of the symbols of aggression, probably Harbhajan stands at the very top of the Indian pile. He was there in the 2001 denial of Steve Waugh of his so-called “Final Frontier”. He was at the centre of the Sydney monkeygate controversy.
He was there in the T20 World Cup final victory. He was again at the centre of IPL slapgate. And he was very much there in the recent Asia Cup victory. India probably needs players like Harbhajan.
But the question is: Could we have achieved all of this without all that aggression?
And do the Indian fans like watching bad boys over the “Gentleman Travelers” as we were once upon a time?
The author is a Bangalore-based journalist and blogger.