Monday, January 07, 2008

Total Cricket from Australia

Let’s not take anything away from Australia – they were so obsessed with getting to the finishing line for the 16th time in a row that they let little come in their way, notwithstanding their captain’s delayed, safety-first declaration.

Leading from the front, as always, was Ricky Ponting. The nick he got off that flick would have shamed many lesser lights to have walked, but then, none of them was standing on the threshold of greatness. Of course, Ponting demonstrated his sporting side by walking when the umpire gave him out erroneously, in one of the rare howlers that went against Australia. And yes, he denied having taken a catch cleanly in the Indian first innings when he very clearly had not. Of course, he made amends for that on the final day when he claimed a catch after having obviously grounded the ball while getting up. (But in a rare lapse of concentration, the umpire seemed to have realized that for a catch to count as a dismissal, the ball needs to make contact with some part of the bat or glove.) And Ponting demonstrated his total commitment to the team’s cause when he took over the white coat to declare Sourav Ganguly out caught by Michael “Pup” Clarke. To which incident we shall turn to next.

Pup is widely regarded as the future captain of Australia and in this game he showed us that he is moving in the right direction. Poor Ganguly, after a dream run in 2007, 2008 seemed to have started well with two crisp half-centuries. And he was looking good for more when fate intervened to send him into the record books (and the pavilion) for being one of the rare batsmen to be “not out” twice to the same ball – except that the scorecard (and the umpire) record otherwise. It was a good ball for sure, Ganguly nicked the ball all right and Clarke did dive forward athletically to take the catch – except that Pup took the ball on the half volley and then touched it on the ground while completing the tumble. Of course, he stood up and claimed the catch – after all, Ganguly was an important wicket for the Aussies. And Pup’s captain confirmed it, using the newly agreed principle that the on-field captain decides the legitimacy of catches when the umpires are in doubt. Of course, Pup had already demonstrated his commitment the previous day when he stood his ground after playing the ball straight to the slip fielder (note: it wasn’t a front-foot bat and pad affair but a clean edge of a back foot drive). In the post-match interview, Andrew Symonds said, “Pup is comfortably one of the luckiest blokes I know.” A pity the umpire did not know it before.

Andrew Symonds’ contribution to the victory was more than just the revelation on Pup. He seems to have found his metier in the test match arena too. Apart from making a few runs, he contributed massively to the Australian victory with his bowling, more so with his appealing. He made it so clear to the umpires that the Aussies were a victimised lot that Steve Bucknor gave Dravid out in a new form of dismissal – pad before bat.

Symonds was ably supported in the Dravid dismissal by Adam Gilchrist. Gilly has cultivated an image of honesty and sportsmanship, someone who plays the game in its true spirit. He walks when he nicks the ball and is known to appeal only when he knows the ball has touched the bat. But even he knows what comes first when it comes to a question of team glory versus individual integrity. Sample his appeal against Dravid – the ball closer to the silly point fielder than to Dravid’s bat. May be when the team gets together to thank the Lord, Gilly will slip in a quick confession to clear his conscience.

The rest of the team did contribute to the victory, but these four clearly demonstrated a level of commitment rarely seen before in the game. Oh wait a minute, quite a few from Steve Waugh’s team (including Tugga himself) might qualify. And some of Ian Chappell’s ugly Australians (what an unfair tag for such a great bunch of winners!) as well.

The Aussie juggernaut seems relentless and ruthless. And with such a total domination strategy, it’s hard to see them lose their grip on the game. May be this is what is called Total Cricket.

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