“I congratulate India on their win in the Tri-series finals. They deserved to win.”
– Australian cricket team’s captain, Ricky Ponting after their 2008 tri-series finals loss
This statement and others like it, which flow glibly out of Cricket Australia (CA) sanctioned / censored media relations department via players’ mouths, make an honest attempt to convince you that Australia are sporting and gracious in cricket. I wonder what Ricky Ponting might have said had he not been monitored closely by CA or had he not felt the need to present this facade. His words might have been more reflective of his team’s actions on the field during their duels with India over a period of two and a half months in ’07-’08, which were anything but sporting. What’s more – this is just reflective of their overall attitude towards playing cricket and winning at all costs. Mind you, I am not even remotely suggesting that other teams are any better in this regard.
Take close catching agreement, so vociferously pushed forward by Ricky Ponting for example. India and Australia were playing for the Border – Gavaskar trophy in ’07-’08 and this was probably the first time in a Test Series that both captains, Ricky Ponting and Anil Kumble, agreed to take the fielders’ word in close catches rather than go to the umpires. But India’s captain Kumble was forced to scrap the agreement after the 2nd test match at Sydney, an acrimonious affair for several reasons, because of at least two catches controversially claimed. Rather than admit to these mistakes in the face of rather damning video evidence, the thing that was most appalling was how Ricky Ponting was adamant that there is no reason to doubt his integrity and honesty. That definitely didn’t enhance Australia’s reputation as a sporting team in cricket.
Playing Australia in Australia has got to be the toughest assignment in cricket. The visiting teams not only have to play the best cricket team in the world (best team even after all the retirements), but they also have to contend with hostile media and administrators who will try anything in their power to ensure the visitors have a tough time of it off the field, hoping that the visiting team’s on-field performance will be adversely affected by it. Australian team doesn’t fail too often to take advantage of this arrangement with the media and strives to put pressure on their opponents by targeting their ‘weak links’ off the field.
Over the years, teams visiting Australia believe that close decisions by umpires always seem to go against them at crucial times in a game. While there is no reason to believe that this is intentional on the part of the umpires, this can at least be partly attributed to a dominant team having things go its way.
Finally, there is the sledging or gamesmanship or mental disintegration, whatever you might want to call it. Australia believes that sledging has a rightful place in cricket. They mastered the (dark?) ‘art’ like no other team and to the amazement of many a cricket fan outside Australia, their players seem to go scot-free even when their actions are blatantly reprehensible. Glenn McGrath who shot off his mouth for years doesn’t have nearly as many complaints filed against him by officials for his behavior, as say, a Harbhajan Singh, who is equally egregious. Interestingly, there is a suggestion by other teams that Australia love to give lip but absolutely detest it if those other teams stand up to them and give back some flak.
In conclusion, while it is commendable that Australia play hard to win at all costs, it is worth noting that some of this mentality comes at the price of sportsmanship and graciousness on and off the field.