The Ashes: When Australia bat for fair cricket…
India and Australia were playing a Test series where Mohammad Kaif edged a delivery from bowler which was caught by Adam Gilchrist and he immediately appealed. The umpire wasn’t convinced and the flabbergasted wicketkeeper batsman looked at Kaif and said, “Whole world watching mate,” which was clearly audible from the stumps microphone.
For a second, one would have thought, “Hello? An Australian talking about fair cricket?” But then not to forget, the words came from a rare Australian, someone who didn’t hesitate in walking back to the pavilion in the semi-final of a World Cup match. Gilly swept a ball off Aravinda de Silva which went in the air and was caught, the umpire rejected the appeal, but dejected players soon broke into a celebration as Gilchrist willingly headed towards the pavilion. We all love Gilchrist for that, as he was a rare Australian when it came to playing fair cricket.
But then, not all Australians have played fair cricket like Gilchrist. On several occasions, just because Australia was a dominant force in world cricket, they thought they could turn decisions in their favour by being unfair. We saw several instances like these under the captaincy of Ricky Ponting and it is funny to see Michael Clarke and Darren Lehmann currently batting for ‘fair cricket’ policy.
Currently, the war between Australian media and Stuart Broad is something which makes the situation even funnier. Just because the pacer didn’t walk after edging a delivery off Ashton Agar in the Ashes series earlier this year, he has been boycotted and the Australian papers haven’t been using his name. Broad, who once again ripped apart the Australian batting line-up in the first Test, is mere a ‘medium-pacer’ throughout England’s stay in Australia in the ongoing series.
But the point is, how can Australians talk about playing ‘fair’ cricket? The team that has a history of turning matches in their favour through unfair cricket, how can it accuse England of playing unfair cricket? Stuart Broad didn’t cheat but gave Australia a taste of their own medicine.
Australians skippers led from the front when it came to justifying an act of unfair cricket. The history goes down to a cricket match in 1981 where New Zealand needed six runs to win off the last ball and the then Australian skipper Gregg Chappell asked the bowler and his brother – Trevor Chappell - to bowl underarm. The decision was heavily criticised and the incident is still remembered as disgraceful my many cricket experts and fans even thought Chappell thought there was nothing wrong about his decision.
The Australians were at the zenith of their game for over two decades. They were probably best at everything they did on the field. They had some maverick pacers, batsmen who could bat the entire day, fielders who could fly every now and then and despite all these praiseworthy traits, Australians were also best at something else – playing unfair cricket.
In one of the ODIs, when a short ball from Glenn McGrath clipped Tendulkar’s shoulders and went to the fielder at slips, the entire Australian camp appealed and Tendulkar was given out. It was only when the replays were shown that the umpire realized about the blunder and reinstated Tendulkar. Australian skipper Ricky Ponting was the most upset man on the field as he knew he won’t get to dismiss Tendulkar in that fashion and he argued regarding it with both the umpire and even the batting legend.
Australia took unfair play to a different level in the second Test in 2008 played at Sydney Cricket Ground between India and Australia. The Ponting-led side was one win short of equalizing Steve Waugh’s record of 16 consecutive wins in Tests. And they made sure they used every unfair move, to achieve the feat. They finally did achieve it, and expectedly, didn’t miss out on any way which could stop their surge.
Prior to the series, there was an agreement between the two skippers that the fielder will give an honest opinion about whether he took a clean catch or not, and his word would be final. To remind, it was an agreement made between two skippers – Ponting and Anil Kumble. Australia made the most of this agreement as both Ponting and Clarke appealed for catches which weren’t clean, as the ball touched the ground as these two tumbled to complete the catch.
On the final day of the same Test match, Rahul Dravid was looking rock solid at the crease before he was given caught behind off Andrew Symonds when the bat was safely hidden behind the pads - a decision which still torments the Indian fans when viewed on youtube. Aussies had managed to dismiss one of the set batsmen.
Next in their radar was Ganguly who edged one to Clarke at the skip cordon. The umpire, didn’t even consult the square-leg umpire about the catch, rather followed Ponting’s directions as the Australian skipper raised his finger to suffice that the left-hander was out.
Australia had managed to emulate Steve Waugh’s captaincy record, and a tarnished Test match which wasn’t played in the spirit of the game didn’t bother the Aussies who had won the Test.
When Australia toured England earlier this year, they were a very inexperienced squad. England had the most in-form players and thus when Broad played cricket the way Australia used to, it was criticised by Clarke and his coach. Clarke and even Brad Haddin didn’t hesitate in trying their best to be unfair even then. Both these batsmen had edged twice in the tournament, but they rather wanted the third umpire to decide, being hopeful that the hotspot might miss out on the faint edge.
As Australian cricket witnessed a transition phase, there was a slight decline in their on-field sledging. Australia not only lacked match-winners, but also cricketers who mastered the art. But as the Clarke-led side lead 1-0 in the ongoing series, we could see more sledging from the hosts if they win, and more demands for ‘fair cricket’ if England manage to give them a taste of their own medicine, once again.