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Aura of arrogance

Do you need to be an 'ugly Aussie' to be competitive?

Cricket commentary
MIND GAME

FOURTH UMPIRE

April 29, 2006: It is Steve Waugh who says interesting things these days. The latest one is about the ‘unhealthy’ trend of Aussie players becoming friendly with Pommies (English players) and using even their nicknames when referring to them in press.

Waugh thinks familiarity will breed complacency and take away the competitive edge from the game. In short, it will make it for easier for opponents to beat them. The aura of arrogance, he feels, contributes to the Aussies’ invincibility. Is it possible to come at each other hard on the field and share a beer after the match is over? Easier said than done. Because, it is far from a mere game but everything. Career, money, survival, patriotism, what not?

Take an Indo-Pak match. When a Shahid Afridi or Javed Miandad before him showed aggression, it also endeared the player to his countrymen. For one, it was a reassurance that the player concerned was doing everything at his command to beat the opponents. Two of the players who were close to Pakistani counterparts were Mohammed Azharuddin and Ajay Jadeja and you know with what kind of disastrous results. Of course, former players talk about how they were friendly off the field, but this kind of friendship was more in the mind than anywhere else. Of course, players keep in touch and nurture their friendship after they retire from the game. A Wasim Akram is so comfortable when he is in the midst of Ravi Shastri and Sunil Gavaskar in the commentary box. However, it created a controversy when he tried to teach young Irfan Pathan a trade secret or two before an Indo-Pak series. Nobody believes in ‘fair advantage’ at times like that.

Coming back to Waugh, it was he who led the team when it was famous for its sledging ways, even though he himself never overindulged in it. He used to allow his players to have a go at the batsmen from the close-in cordon. After the ICC and the Australian Cricket Board took a harsh view of the practice, they stopped the abuse. But Waugh naturally can’t stomach it when his former colleagues are deviating far too much from his kind of cricket, his kind of philosophy. 

But then, coaches like John Buchanan and Greg Chappell want their wards to be well rounded individuals rather than remote-operated robots. A Mathew Hayden, therefore, meditates on the pitch a day before the match and who can tell him not to do it, that it is an Indian pratice that kills killer instinct, as long as he gets the boundaries? 

Even in this age, there are friendships in cricket. Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara are known to be thick as thieves. When Lara came to India recently on a private visit (read commercial concerns), he called on his friend. When India went to Pakistan in 2004-2005 after a long time for the friendship series, a lot of cricketers from the rival teams were found to share jokes. After all, the ones who are intelligent know that they are doing a job after all. If acting tough is part of it, so be it but no need to take it to absurd levels.

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