Cricket writer Rohit Brijnath reflects on the ups and downs of Indian cricket after its successes in Australia.
Writing on cricket in the early 1990s could be a depressingly easy business. All you did, so went the joke, was alter the scores, change a few names and amend the dateline. The storyline mostly stayed the same - India was average.
Adoring crowds welcome India's cricketers home
And there is nothing worse in sport than average. It is tedious, it is uninspiring, and part of our affection for Sachin Tendulkar then was because he, almost single-handedly, fought against this average-ness, a hero amidst the humdrum.
This staggering ability to be unexceptional was not a cricketing malaise but some wider lack of nerve. There were exceptions in Indian sport, but the rule was meekness.
Leander Paes' gravitational pull at this time was not because he was overburdened with tennis gifts, but because in the Davis Cup he was simply prepared to contest every match till its last point. When he howled in desire, something locked up in us was released.
The current Indian cricket team has howled too, occasionally rudely, but in a cricketing sense it has thrilled, its spirit has become contagious, because it has the powerful scent of self-belief.
These fellows wear the insolent bravery of youth and a cloak of effrontery, though at times they needed to clutch at the experienced hand of Tendulkar. Australian cricket is somewhat a faded photocopy of itself, but beating them at home required from the Indians substantial commitment to the cause and each other and they found it. Opportunity knocked and was tackled to the ground by the Indians.
Indian cricket teams have owned this belief before, but never held onto it, because their commitment to excellence, and each other, was fickle.
Far to go
Greatness is an ability to repeat, but they have not shown the discipline for it yet. This, then, is Dhoni's test.
He has conquered Australia, but like Australia, he must eventually own the world - in every form. In the past decade, Australia has twice won 16 Tests in a row, and also once won seven in a row, another time six in a row.
India's best in that period has been three Test wins in a row. However, the first time that was achieved it included a win against Zimbabwe, the second included two against Bangladesh. This is how far India has to go.
The captain, who has a cowboy's insouciance about him that is agreeable (though Praveen Kumar's immovable face after a wicket in an overreacting series brought the biggest smile), has many jobs ahead, for eventually he will become Test captain.
He must ensure Ishant Sharma, who is in need of muscle, is not overplayed. He must remind his energetic army that history doesn't remember bank balances, only wins. He must keep faith in his own interesting instinct.
And he must be careful with his words. While his statements (he could have run a single faster than Rohit Sharma even with cramp; Munaf Patel was better than Sreesanth in a particular situation because he didn't think) appear absent of malice, when his team loses they may not be as understanding.
Adventure and ideas
It is a fine time for Indian cricket, and the game at large should be celebrating both the one-day team's rise, and the IPL, for both signify change in a sport that has stagnated.
Captain Dhoni has many tasks ahead of him
Sport is about adventure, and where Dhoni's team, and the Twenty20 league will go, is enticing. Cricket, lacking energy, needs options beyond nation versus nation.
Sport is about ideas, and the IPL is an intriguing one. It does not demand everyone's approval but it is certainly not deserving of endless lectures on greed from the West.
There is a sense that some nations are miffed at the idea of India's stewardship of cricket, yet themselves are absent of any interesting ideas. Equally, though, Indian officials, who wear an unseemly braggadocio, must figure out that sport essentially is about heart not chequebooks.
If cricket has gained this summer, it has also lost. One of the distinguishing features of most sports is their particular etiquette. Golf has its own code, so does tennis, and part of it is a certain civility. Cricket's customs have changed with time, but even in a more competitive era, mutual respect has its place.
But India-Australia cricket, almost gleefully antagonistic, has become plain rude. It mocks the game. Between the "mad boy" and "maaki" and "obnoxious weed" it was kindergarten stuff from grown men.
As Peter Hanlon wrote superbly of both teams in The Age, it was a case of "But Miss, he hit me first". If men are to paid such enormous sums, the least we can expect them is to be role models.
On the morning of the second one-day final, renowned Indian cricket observer Harsha Bhogle called the behaviour of the teams deplorable and the writing (from both sides) mostly forgettable.
Sport has brought no one closer this time, and that itself is a sign that perhaps the IPL's time has come
In a way, the second was more troubling than the first. Cricket is crying out for independent voices (and certainly for the well-crafted cricket piece).
Commentators who romance clichés seem not to have heard the one about "without fear or favour" and some writers seem to be crafting nationalistic speeches rather than objective match reports.
Hostility bounds out of sentences and bias drips from paragraphs. The job of the journalist is not to mend fences or cool emotions, but neither is it to incite.
At the end of the second final, an Indian television reporter more or less told Harbhajan Singh, now you can say whatever you want. Next he will be handing players a flag.
Some of the Indian writing was unworthy, unabashed, chest-beating jingoism; some of the Australian writing was worse, a one-eyed, arrogant, player-baiting, character-bashing orgy.
An Australian journalist wrote an article on racism in cricket, and then, just for good measure, threw in a few paragraphs on the troubles that Indian tennis player Sania Mirza was having in her country. What exactly this had to do with cricket, or India as a nation, was uncertain.
Fine cricket was played these past months and yet great nations have learnt little from each other this tour. Sport has brought no one closer this time, and that itself is a sign that perhaps the IPL's time has come. After all, an Australian and an Indian high-fiving is a sight that cannot come too soon.
Here is a selection of your comments
Thank you for bringing some much needed balance into the pathetic media coverage of the India-Australia series. What a breath of fresh air.
Nishanth Balaji, USA
The world should be ready to face the emperors of world cricket - India.
Zororo Nhawu, Zimbabwe
It is true that cricket or any other game that are being played now at the international level has not brought nations closer. They have rather created rifts between the countries.
Dhoni has done well with his team as combination of young strength (I Sharma, R Sharma and Kumar) and vast experience (Sachin, Harbhajan, and Pathan).
Sachi, Sri Lanka
Valuable article, Mr Brijnath, though it's ironic that even your own words are confirmation of your concerns. It may be a little more obvious to a more or less objective observer such as myself (a mostly nonpartisan American cricket enthusiast, though I do cheer for India against Australia), but even you on such a topic could not restrain yourself from having India come out on top against the Aussies ("India's writing was Bad, but Australia's was Worse," with an example about Sania Mirza that had obviously rankled and that you just could not resist mentioning). You've obviously learned journalism's Lesson One in how to skewer your opponents at the end of an ostensibly objective piece of writing. Your prose is lovely, though; I may use it as a model for my students. I do appreciate your overall point; this quaint courtesy of cricket is one of the things that drew me to it. This season I felt as if I might as well have been watching American baseball.
Wayne, Maine, USA
This article is the first one written by an Indian journalist that I have read which makes me think. Sad to say Indian media, particularly those reporting on sport (esp cricket) is sensationalist. They are not people who are concerned with problems and their solutions. In fact, their writing smacks of complete lack of knowledge of the game. The general trend is endless and quite mindless praise for the team and some players when the team is on a (quite rare) winning streak and mindlessly shelling them when they are not. The fact remains that that the Indian team always had and still has technical and fitness related problems, chiefly in the field. These can only be solved by practice and handwork, an ethic that is seemingly alien to Indian cricket. The problem of running between the wickets has been solved, temporarily, by youth. However, this is not a long-term solution as the team cannot be given a new face every 3-4 years, or it will always be "a young side with a lot of potential". A shining example of this is Australia's progress in this aspect of the game. Successful young players are overwhelmed by media attention (eg. Irfan Pathan). They are under the influence of an extremely opinionated media. It is important that they are constantly counselled so as to keep their heads on their shoulders. It is nice to read an article which makes sense. I hope this article reaches the Indian mainstream media.
Aditya Srinath, Singapore
Very balanced overview of this hard fought series. Will surely help calm nerves and think about how to continue the performance on the part of Indian team.
There was a time when Australia was winning all the matches it played, and the sledging it indulged in was condoned by the media as a part of winning. Cricket has lost long ago when no Australian player was ever disciplined for this. Don't blame the recent India Australia series for that. India has only given back what it received. This article has been written a bit too late.
Prasad T, UK
My family was thrilled at India's two wins in the final. It was amazing. But I agree with the writer, that ICC, CA and BCCI should help restore civility in cricket. Millions of middle class families throughout the world watch cricket because gentlemen like Bradman, Tendulkar and Dravid have played the game with great dignity. They want their children to grow up likewise. Each country cricket board should appoint representatives to restore the Bradman-Tendulkar statesmanship back to cricket. Cricket is enjoying great financial gains, but its unique status as the world's most civilized sport should not be compromised.
Ranji George, USA
The notion that the Indian Cricket team has 'conquered Australia' after winning the ODI Tri Series seems a little presumptuous, as the Test Series result was a little different. And the fact that England won the previous year's series should add some perspective. Still, 'winners are grinners' and, as after the 2005 Ashes loss, it is hoped that Australia will re-examine its performance and renew accordingly. The record of India when favourite is not convincing, which always adds to the unpredictability of sport. Any team that dominates a sport for some time will always generate strong emotions from its foes, and much of the criticisms concerning arrogance I feel emanates from this typically human reaction.
Much of the antagonism concerning racism stems from a couple of ongoing issues in Australia. One has been the struggle of indigenous sports men with our own football code, which for over 20 years generated all the debate that is currently swirling around cricket. So in a sense, the Australian sporting public have had these discussions - name-calling, taunting and worse - and find it odd that suddenly we're talking about it again. Many long held beliefs were found to be racist, in that they hurt and offended our fellow citizens - and all of a sudden we're debating the intent of calling someone a monkey? This was compounded by extensive coverage from within the ground of the previous ODIs in India where is was clear that the barracking against Symonds ( an obvious danger man ) was racist. This is the context into which the current tour took place.
Now the feeling is that, as India , as the financial power house, are basically doing as they please and it's payback time. The upcoming tour of India will be a real test for local officials and after their previous inaction, I fear the worst.
Tim Westcott, Australia
The fact is, test cricket is on the verge of being wiped out by people with commercial sensibilities. The cheap, garish, vulgar ostentation that one sees both on and off the cricket field is entirely out of tune with the spirit of this great game.
Prashant, New York,
Can we stop being apologetic about our behaviour, especially when the 'other' side has never understood the meaning of the 'spirit' of the game for over 40 years now . We should just let the Indian team be and not compare them with Australia . Australia won for a whole decade because at that time most of the teams were in decline . They would not have the same record if they were up against Lloyd's Windies.
What is all this fuss about? We have won just one series in Australia and can't really understand the big deal about all this. We should encourage the team no doubt but I think what happened in Delhi is crazy.
I believe that both Australian and Indian players need to be chastised for their behaviour and that cricketers should take a leaf out of Sachin Tendulkar's book on how to behave. Dhoni's team however, has done to Australia what the Aussies have been good at: for once they have been out-bullied but cricket has lost.
Mohammed Salim, New Zealand
While applauding the spirit of the current 'young' Indian Team, I disagree with Rohit Brijnath that pre-Dhoni India was 'average' and that 'the rule was meekness'. Apart from the towering individual greats who made India proud, we enjoyed great team success as well. Yes, we were never consistent. But then, no other country was, apart from Australia. Therefore, I don't see any 'meekness' in India's attitude over the years.....Dhoni's men are only following on!
Mina Anand, India
Can the author perhaps do some research on how many new jobs and net income will be created by the IPL, and write an article on that? How much tax is the IPL going to pay to the state and union governments? I am not taking anybody's side, but it would be a really interesting article from the point of view economics.
Vikram, Austin, USA
The author has been sleeping all these years when Australia was getting away with the taunts and insults to enrage rival players.
I would like to congratulate you on a truly wonderful article. It was fantastic to read a more impartial account of the events and i agree with everything that was said on your views of sensationalised and almost pathetic attempts at reporting. I also think india should take there success with a large pinch of salt, they are not world beaters just yet although i remain very optimistic.
Sandip Patel, England
Just for once Mr Brijnath stop being so negative about Team India. Yes we still have a lot of work to do - but a pat on the back is often much more motivational than a school teacher lecture.
Jas, United Kingdom
Yes,I agree completely with Rohit. Also, it was completely unnecessary for "that" Indian reporter to interview Harbhajan Singh amidst all the euphoria of their celebrations. Anyway, there were going to be a thousand interviews done before they went off air. He was virtually panting...and I think sport is as much about respecting players' privacy at such times...as it is about running after them asking for interviews to be done
As always, Rohits' articles are well written, particularly about Dhoni. Coming from the same city as his, I can not believe the near meteoric rise of Dhoni. This is exactly why he should hold his horses while speaking and not try to lose his position by opening his mouth too much. It is such a rare sight that a state that has possibly never won a domestic tournament, has a national captain. So, my advice to him would be to keep quiet and hold onto the job as long as you can! You don't win too many friends when speaking against them, that too publicly. Learning a little bit of politics (our state has contributed much to the nation in that field) does not harm.
Very well written article. As a common man, I feel that too much of hype is there on this victory in Australia. India have a long way to go - as the author pointed out "Australia have won 3 world cups and have won 16 tests in a row". India has just won one world cup and were literally kicked out of the last world cup(pathetically couldn't even enter the second round). India has a long way to go and has to prove itself on the world stage - Perhaps Dhoni's men should focus on winning the next world cup or the next series rather than basking in the glory of victory against the Australians. And politicians, it is pathetic to see BCCI threatening the ICC (money power). But be aware such things wont last long, no matter how much money BCCI has, the Indian team has to perform and prove they can also be world champions (I frankly feel this wont happen in the near future).
Satish Baskaran, India
Don't forget India's main goal this summer was to finally win a test series in Australia, this was their last chance with their great players and they failed to achieve it.
I was shocked by the nationalism that crept in through the series-- and how it infected both the Australian and Indian sports TV channels that were covering the series. They weren't professional either. Thanks for making me feel I wasn't imagining it! Part of the beauty of the Taylor-Waugh leadership (and to some extent the Tendulkar-Ganguly-Dravid captaincy) was that they revelled in the victories and losses against each other, and hence the quality of cricket was stellar. But from the Twenty20 World Cup downwards, players in the Indian side (like Sreesanth) and Ricky Ponting seemed to play a different game. They did not want to lose to the other at any cost. In Ponting's case, being captain means the sentiment peters down to the rank and file. Brett Lee was such a standout in the team because he enjoyed the company of the opposition - regardless of the result. May his tribe increase! Still, I will never feel like watching these two teams play the other again! Their behaviour was deplorable.
Kunal Talgeri, India
This series left a very bad taste in the our mouth.
Namitanshu Vatsa, India
Let me confess - I am an Indian cricket fan but feel ashamed at how the recent wins are being flashed in the media as a 'tamasha' and theatre. If this is how Australia were to celebrate, that would be everyday. Don't you think?
Living in Australia for the past nineteen years and admiring the way, cricket is administered here, I have been and am still an Australian supporter. Yet, I am glad to see some real competition coming up. With all the retirements and lack of good spin bowlers in the pipeline, Australian cricket is in for very big challenges in the future, especially against India.
This euphoria is ephemeral. Let India lose the next game and it will all come crashing down. We make national heroes out of our cricketers because we simply have no other choice . The author says that "India Must now conquer the world" What world? A handful of Commonwealth nations? In most of these countries have teams that consistently perform in other sports. England has always been a soccer nation, with active involvement in F1, Aussies have been steadily upping their game in athletics and soccer . South Africa, NZ, Australia again have great rugby teams. What is our status in these sports? Zilch. So our jingoism associated with cricket is a compensation for our pathetic state in these sports.