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April 12, 2000


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It used to be a game

Avinash Subramanium

For those who liked Sujata's article, here's more along the same lines. (The way Indian cricket seems to be run, the more we drum these thoughts in, the better.) Maybe someone is listening. Reading. Absorbing. Maybe we will see some changes. Then again, maybe not. But we can't stop trying, can we? (So what if some of the team members have.)

Come next week, the South Africans will be preparing to take on the Aussies in a mini-series at home. And they will be dressed in green, hoping to exert some extra pressure on the best team in the world.

Now you might wonder why on earth I'm making a point about the colour of their clothing? I mean, dressed in green hoping to put some extra pressure on the Aussies? How? What? Where? When? What's so special about being dressed in green? Haven't the South Africans always worn green? Isn't that the colour of their outfits?

Okay, let me restate that. Every South African who comes to the ground will be dressed in green. Not just the players, but also every one of the thousands who will be queuing up to cheer their heroes. So when the Aussies look up, they'll see green. When the Aussies look around, they'll see green. When the people cheer, it will be a sea of green cheering. When someone boos, thousands in green will also boo. Wherever the Aussies look, they will see green. Now, is that special enough?

And the objective of this seemingly ridiculous exercise is…nothing much, just a bit of intimidation, extra pressure and doing everything within one's power, and the laws of the game, to win. Not that any of it will make much sense to the people who take the decisions around here. Because we're from a world that still thinks cricket is just a game. That people play for the fun of it. And that winning is not everything. (Money is?)

Sorry people, it used to be a game. And, as usual, we're being left behind. Remember hockey? (I'm not surprised you don't.)

No, it's not a joke. It's true. Like Sujata, I heard it on TV. And, like you, I couldn't believe it the first time I heard Tony saying it.

Quite frankly, I couldn't comprehend what he was getting at. But, apparently, the SA board has requested every spectator who comes to the ground to be dressed in the national colours. And Tony had no qualms admitting this was being done to put as much pressure as possible on the Aussies. (Boy, have things moved on.)

Did we think of anything even remotely as innovative? Did anyone think of distributing cool tri-colour caps to every spectator who came to cheer the team? (I did. But I had no way of finding/funding somebody to do it.) Did anyone think of giving every spectator a flag to wave in the face of the South Africans? Did we do anything to exert any extra pressure? Why can't every cricket day be like Republic Day? Am I getting a bit carried away? Fine. Leave it be. Why get all shrill about it? How does it matter if we're a nation of losers? We could have done it but…we didn't. Who's got the time, or the mind, to worry about thinking up interesting little external tactics like this? (We'd rather leave it to Ganesha and the pitches.) And anyway we have a hard enough time exerting any kind of pressure even on the ground.

And before someone says things like "How silly…" or "What'll you think of next…" let me tell you this. There's nothing silly about it. It's absolutely brilliant. It does wonders for the guys watching at home. It does wonders for the home team on the field. It does wonders for the game. It does wonders for TV. And these are also the kind of things we need to think of. Or else…well, the results speak for themselves.

Sure, it doesn't mean the opposition will come apart purely as a result of such tactics. The Aussies might still walk away with the booty. But at least someone is doing some thinking that's out of the box. Moreover, what tactics like this do is give the best team in the world just that little extra to think about. And give the home team yet another method to compete harder. Time to wake up you old fogeys. Time to realise it's, as one billboard in Sharjah said, "WAR!"

And speaking of billboards there was another one being flashed around by a Paki supporter during the SA-Pak final that made me want to put my hand through the TV screen and throttle every one of our players who laughed away their poor performance. The billboard read "Where is the wounded tiger now? Inzy would be more than willing to bandage it." And in case you're wondering what the wounded tiger bit was all about, it alluded to a TV promo that made the mistake of promising revenge from India by likening our team to a wounded tiger. Perhaps the promo should have said 'wounded, toothless and spineless tigers.' (Because, boy, am I still waiting for the first of the million revenges this team owes to every one of its fanatic supporters. To itself.)

Meanwhile, the fortnight gone by saw the best team in world cricket complete yet another sweep of Test wins in a series. (This time against the New Zealanders.) The thing to be noted though, is the contrasting ways the three teams they thrashed lost. Agreed, they all lost every Test match. And every one of the teams was beaten convincingly. And yet, not all the teams lost the same way.

For instance, the Pakis had their chances in the first and the third Test match. And with a little luck they could have won the third Test. They were certainly not humiliated. The Aussies actually had to fight hard to save a Test match. (But then, we can always explain that away by saying things like the Pakis play like warriors because they are non-vegetarians and it's in their blood. Believe me, it's a point of view a lot of Indians subscribe to.)

So, let's talk about the Indians. On second thoughts, I'd rather not. (We know how miserable that makes us feel.)

What's interesting though, is how the Black Caps - I really love the way they've elevated the NZ cap by giving it a strong sense of identity - went about their business. They tried all kinds of things to keep the Aussies on their toes. The coach, the media, the think-tank, everyone did everything within their power to put pressure on the Aussies from all sides. They learnt very soon that cricket is about a lot of external things too. So what if they couldn't quite match them on the field, they responded in kind to every mind-game the Aussies are known to play. Not surprisingly, they competed with a lot more confidence. And might well have managed a win in the third Test. If only they weren't up against the best team in the world that just refuses to lose. (They Aussies have elevated the game to such a level that losing is no longer an option.)

Only a fool will say Pakistan, India and New Zealand performed as badly as one and other against the Aussies. And the differences have less to do with talent than attit…hey man, forget it. This is all a waste of time. Fine, so let's forget it. And instead, enjoy the contest in store for us in South Africa. (I can't wait to see Steve Waugh and Hansie, sorry Shaun Pollock, go head to head in the tactical department.) God knows we hardly get much of it when the Indian team plays.

Avinash Subramanium

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