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If I can just give to the world more than I take from it, I will be a very happy man. For there is no greater joy in life than to give. Motto : Live, Laugh and Love. You can follow me on Twitter too . My handle is @Raja_Sw.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Australia - everybody's punching bag ?

I have just checked the thesaurus definition of vitriol. It goes “anger, wrath, fury, rage, temper, ire, spleen…:

Add a new one : Aussie-hate.

What I noticed today, here on this, our very own site, during the England – Australia game was nothing short of vitriolic. Calling it banter would mean stretching the meaning of that word to limits challenging elasticity. No, it was vitriol – nothing else.

It saddens me. Although Indian, I am an avid Aussie fan and I make no bones about it. I have been a huge fan since the Thommo-Lillee Ashes series of 1974-75. I was backing Australia today and their loss, unexpected for many but not for me, does sadden me. A little like India’s loss to Pakistan a couple of days ago.

But this sadness is different. It does not stem from a loss of my favoured team in a cricket game. I may be cricket-crazy but even I am not so blinded as not to realize that it is, after all, only a game. And in a game, on a given day, there are winners and losers. Just as there are supporters of winners and supporters of losers.

So why was there so much Aussie-hate to be seen today ? I can only speculate.

For one, Australia has been so far ahead of the rest of the pack, especially in one-dayers, that the price they have paid for their success seems to be goodwill amongst non-Australians. Many non-Aussies quite candidly admit that all they want is for Australia to lose – otherwise it is “so boring”.

According to me, the second reason for Aussie-hate, is that they are seen as arrogant. Players like Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Matthew Hayden, even Ricky Ponting are regular targets for this.

Sure, they make statements sometimes that may give this impression. But so did Viv Richards, Ian Botham, Tony Greig and even Imran Khan. Why single out the Aussies ?

Another reason is that they are seen as master sledgers. Glenn McGrath, in particular, has earned a huge reputation for this. This may be true – and I am not supporting sledging one bit – but, just hypothetically, if the Aussies stop sledging completely, would there be no sledging at all in the game ? Sledging happens even in matches not involving Australia – and has been around for years. Read some cricket history of pre-war county matches – you will realize what I am talking about. It is nothing but psychological warfare – players need to learn how to cope with it. Mind you, I am not supporting the practice of sledging – I just don’t see why Australia is singled out for this.

I have been trying to think of other reasons. A couple come to mind. A few Aussie players have been accused of being racist. There have been a couple of incidents involving Sri Lanka. Again, without downplaying this despicable behaviour, assuming it is true, it does not mean the entire team is racist. Let us not generalize.

Another reason I can think of – and again it seems to be Sri Lanka that is most the aggrieved party – is the Muralitharan saga. It was an Australian umpire who, years ago, called Murali first for chucking. Cricketing relations between Sri Lanka and Australia, never particularly great, hit a new low when Murali’s doosra began to be scrutinized for its legality. On being asked his opinion of it, the Australian PM, without diplomatically shouldering arms to this loaded question, had no hesitation expressing his disapproval of Murali’s action – something that a delighted media lapped up and played to its full potential. Give them an inch…

Add to this the fact that Murali and Shane Warne were in a neck-to-neck race for the honour of becoming the world’s highest wicket-taker in Tests and the story of an Aussie conspiracy against Murali gained serious credibility in non-Aussie circles. To broaden the rift, the media and some fairly eminent cricketers went on to make it a conspiracy against the subcontinent – something easily saleable to a sub-continent which loves drama.

And I have not even mentioned the Poms and the Kiwis yet. Their rivalry with the Aussies is too well-known to merit repetition here. Suffice it to say that they will gladly twist a knife in an Aussie defeat, whoever be the winners. They have been bitten too often to miss the once-in-a-blue-moon opportunity when it presents itself.

That leaves the Saffies and the Windies (not counting Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and other minnows).

The Saffies, hemispherical cousins of the Aussies have always considered themselves worthy challengers to the Aussies in every sport, be it rugby or cricket. When they consistently find themselves that bit short, can they be blamed for reveling in Aussie misery ?

Historically the Windies and the Aussies have enjoyed a healthy cricketing rivalry on the field. This is best evidenced by the Frank Worrell Trophy, set up after that amazing 1960-61 series between the two teams. However, the last couple of decades have seen some very unsavoury incidents – who can forget the Kim Hughes incident of 1983-84 and more recently the McGrath-Sarwan incident ? So even here the Aussies have been losing friends.

Add all this up and what do you have ?

An Australia, winning all the time and giving supporters of losing teams nothing to cheer about, perceived as arrogant and ill-behaved both on and off the field, with perceived racist undertones and constantly involved in some controversial incident or the other.

So what should Ponting and co. do ? Lose a few games - to win some goodwill ? Most certainly not ! I would say “Come on Punter, keep going – and continue to grind everybody to the dust !”. If they want to rise from the ashes, they will rise by themselves – you don’t have to feel guilty for winning”.

Should Australia work on its PR ? Maybe a little. It would not do any harm. Should the PM keep his mouth shut about controversial cricketing matters ? Perhaps.

But let us see the other Australia for a change.

A team that has set new standards of performance and professionalism on the field.

A team that for almost 130 years of Test cricket, has provided us with some of the most memorable moments in the game. And some of the greatest players, if not the greatest.

A team, whose captain till recently, Steve Waugh, was actively involved in supporting a children’s home in Kolkata (India) and continues to do his bit, even after retirement from top-level cricket.

Sure, they play a tough game. And yes, they hate to lose. So what's wrong with that ?

So I would say , to all those aspiring and pretentious cricketing nations, if you cannot match Australia look at yourself first instead of venting your vitriol at the Aussies. Beat them on the field and then talk.

Today England has done just that. They raised their game to a new level altogether and beat the Aussies fair and square. Even the “arrogant” Ponting admitted that he had been outplayed.

That’s the way to do it – on the field. Not in a cricket chat, showering vitriol not just on the Aussie team but also on its supporters. It says more about the frustration of non-Aussie supporters than about Australia itself.

Not that the Aussie supporters mind it – they are a cheerful lot and know that nobody kicks a dead dog.

And now here's another take.

Think of a cricket world without Australia. Without Shane Warne’s magic.

I, for one, don’t want to.

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