Cricket fans barring the Aussie ones are in a state of euphoria following India’s historic chase at the Gabba that condemned the hosts to their first defeat at one of the most venerable venues down under in 32 years.
Does anyone remember what the talking point was at the start of the tour during the ODIs? Great happiness or great sorrow, both have a tendency to affect memory so it’s highly unlikely that fans will remember that now.
Anyway, to those whose mind has gone blank following the Indian triumph, the talking point was how the matches were being played with over-friendliness. Players from both teams were smiling at one another and many, including former players on both sides, looked at it with disapproval blaming the Indian Premier League for the overflowing camaraderie.
And then things changed during the first T20I. Hostility took over like a sea storm after Yuzvendra Chahal substituted Ravindra Jadeja as a concussion replacement and bowled a match-winning spell to the great ire of the Australians, who were clear that Jadeja faked it.
The atmosphere started to take on a hostile hue from there on. And when India produced their worst-ever batting performance in a Test innings by being bowled out for just 36, the Aussies, led by some of the former greats, rubbed it in real bad by making predictions of a 4-0 whitewash.
The hosts then totally lost it when India, without their designated captain, stunned them against all odds in the Boxing Day Test, and thereafter all hell broke loose in the Sydney Test. Whatever little equanimity was there was lost for the rest of the series.
Marnus Labuschagne kicked it off when he tried to disrupt Shubman Gill with his casual, meaningless questions. Things took a turn for the worse after Mohd Siraj and Jasprit Bumrah complained of racial abuse by some sections of the Sydney crowd. Matthew Wade, with unquestionable complicity of other Australian players, made fun of Ravichandran Ashwin and Hanuma Vihari as they took body blows to save the Test on the last day. The Ashwin-Tim Paine verbal-boxing made the headlines the world over. Steven Smith too had to face allegations he was trying to obliterate Rishabh Pant’s batting mark during a brief break in the second innings. Wriddhiman Saha earlier had substituted Pant to keep wicket in Australia’s second innings after the latter went for a scan to assess the damage caused by a Patrick Cummins delivery while batting in the first innings, and home fans didn’t hide their suspicions at all on social media.
All this while India went from strength to strength. No doubt the hostile atmosphere brought out the best in them. The same people who were sick of over-friendliness during the ODIs were now zeroing in their guns on the Aussies for crossing the line.
Frankly speaking, we can’t blame the Aussies for playing the Aussie way. Barring the racial abuse incident, there was not anything that deserved over-reaction.
Without Paine, Wade, Labuschagne and Smith, the series wouldn’t have reached the grand proportions that it eventually did. They played good cricket too, just that India played better.
That cricket is a gentleman’s game is unnecessarily peddled these days. The phrase came into being when it was just played for fun. With so much at stake from money to reputation, it is utterly wrong to blame the players when things go out of hand a little. Time has come to acknowledge sledging is an important part of the game and Test cricket — already gasping for breath with the rise of T20s — will particularly be the beneficiary if it is encouraged. Credit to the Aussies too for making it a series for the ages.