The relationship between Cricket and that of Australia is a special one. Endearing in its appeal to the magnanimous sport- hungry country and legendary in its surge for fetching great records for the nation, Cricket to Australia is akin to religion to the harmonious and pious Motherland called India. But at the heart of this intense and legendary relationship, lies a certain acrimony and sentimentality that often pains and subdues the grand emotions that one comes to experience from firebrand style of Aussie cricket.
Flamboyant and characterized by grit, several Aussie cricketers have gone on to etch their names against some of the checkered and most outstanding achievements in a game that is ceasing to become the gentleman’s sport; cricket’s otherwise lofty definition of defining itself.
Some Aussies let the sport down while others lifted it
But who are these culprits that have given a taint and a blotch of ill repute to an otherwise pleasing sport that for over a century up to the last decade and a half had been contested in the fairest and gentlemanly spirit? To the naysayers who prefer to prevail in oblivion, the Australians aren’t to be blamed at all. But, to the purists of the sport who often come to enchant themselves at the hope and expectancy of being swept away by those glorious cover drives and sublime fight backs into a game that seems lost, it is the Australians who are largely held responsible for tainting cricket’s unpolluted spirit.
No, not for the reasons of match-fixing. It was way back in 2005, when Mark Waugh, the elegant right handed former opening batsman and spin wizard Shane Warne were convicted and charged with multiple accounts of felony for passing out match information, pitch information to a coterie of cheap bookies who have done massive damage to the game. Waugh who had already closed in on his test retirement from that period finally drew curtains to an otherwise glorious career. Warne on the other hand, came back, rubbed the steins of dirt from an otherwise gloriously preserved and checkered Aussie baggy green by starring in as the sole factor in the 2005 Aussie triumph, where had it not been for his spin heroics with the cherry, Aussies would have surely gone on to be dismantled by the English in every sense of the word. It was largely a series of Warne’s heroics with his legendary leg spin with that of an entire English side.
But, one has got to admire the tremendous long list of achievements that Aussie cricketers have fetched for their national side, making an average Australian rub shoulders boldly with the now dominant Indian and New Zealand or perhaps, the still callous but legendary Proteas side for years. They have been the masters of sledging and it is no easy day for a batsman facing perhaps a Mitchell Johnson, Josh Hazlewood and Peter Siddle now as it was way difficult back in the era when only the Lara’s and Tendulkar’s managed to draw some pride against the lanky attack of a Glenn McGrath, Damien Fleming and Jason Gillespie.
In defense of the Australian way of playing cricket
Sledging, what many call a natural harmless tendency mastered by bowlers in order to extract an unwilling response from the batsman in front has seen some of its cheapest and yet utterly shallow responses by this great Australian team that for many years has been acknowledged world-over for its achievements with seasoned exploits with both bat and ball. But, if you are a true observer of their brand of cricket, whether it is correct or not, for none of us hold the character certificates of judging and ultimately, holding a solitary team down for perhaps demeaning world cricket for his ill fated mannerisms, you would understand that there is more that meets Aussie sledging that commonly greets the eye.
A vibrant and jovial country, known for its rigorous and hard fought approach attached to sports, especially to the aspect of winning, Australian cricketers who for one have lifted the grandeur of World Cricket with their brilliant exploits (winning ICC World Cup on 5 separate occasions) and have importantly produced ace cricketers, most of whom are now in the ICC Hall of Fame do not mean to base their cricket and its tough fabric on a meaningless act of verbal diarrhea. Nor do they ever seriously intend to blasphemously displease batsmen and other contestants with meaningless diatribes. Attacking, they certainly are and abuses, oh yes they hurl at their opponents but to think that an Aussie cricketer only believes in sledging would be to present oneself with a blurred view of an Aussie cricketer’s originality. While they have had not so peaceful players confronting quality batsmen on the pitch such as Matt Hayden, Michael Slater, the infamous Andrew Symonds and the commanders in chief of sledging: Ricky Ponting and Glenn McGrath who drew irrational inspiration from Steve Waugh, the legendary captain of grit, Australian cricket has also produced real gentlemanly gems.
The likes of Mark Taylor, Michael Kasprowics, Paul Rieffel, Adam Gilchrist and Mike Hussey have earned much respect for their congenial conduct in the game that ably complemented their epic achievements on the pitch. Fair in their treatment of their skilled opponents, reserving the right to differ from umpires and on some occasions with the opposing captain, but ever in a soft and purposeful manner, Gilchrist and Hussey in particular have been loved for their spotless character, remarkable commitment and that sheer audacity of walking out announcing their dismissal when even the umpires weren’t convinced.
Therefore, for its combined tapestry of blithe and stupendous achievements, Aussie cricket deserves as many banters it receives for foul play of the tongue as the standing ovations for its charming accomplishments, for which these determined men go an extra yard, every time in derailing their opponents’ plans.
The sadness with the departure of Michael Clarke and Shane Watson
At present, fresh after their mauling at the hands of the British in the recently concluded Ashes series, where their present set of cricketers seemed like a misfired bunch of missiles that though were blowing hits but way off their intended targets, Australia in the test match arena surely has got some thinking to do.
They are still passionate at hardening their steadfast approach to contesting in test cricket, something that is rapidly depreciating in both interest and quality in international cricket today, fans and believers in Australia have got to feel for a side that has been struck by back to back thunderous jolts in the form of the recent retirements of star batsman and former captain Michael Clarke and quality all-rounder Shane Watson. Both Clarke and Watson have announced their ouster from the international and test arena, respectively.
And, this blow couldn’t have come at a more damning yet crucial time in their cricket. Still regarded as a threatening one day international side and one that opponents take easy only at their own peril, recently a few months ago, both Watson and Clarke featured in the remarkable Australian triumph of the ICC World cup.
The Watson and Clarke Show at ICC World Cup 2015
Shane delivered with both bat and ball, against the likes of imposing opponents such as India and Pakistan, the latter being a stark indication of just why Watson is needed as Australia’s only skilled current all rounder, given his defiance of Wahab Riaz’s devastatingly good bowling spell, battling which he took his side over the ropes. In the game against an India that seemed more eager to win before the first bowl had been bowled in the match against arch rivals Aussies, Watson came down the order and pinch hit his way to take Australia to an imposing first inning total. Clarke, on the other hand, having led from the front all through the tournament of remarkable exploits for his team- played a captain’s conservative and watchful act by leading from the front in the final game against the Kiwis, where he held on to an end and announced his immediate retirement from ODI cricket after handing his beloved Australia their 5th World Cup crown.
We fans thought, as did cricket experts and pundits around the world, that the dynamic duo, both 34 years and few months still had plenty to offer in Test cricket. But instead, on the occurrence of a single series Ashes defeat, something which surely led team Australia to immense despair, both giants of its games announced their retirements.
Is their test cricket in a state of shock
Falling painfully shy in front of his pre Ashes announcement wherein Clarke promised he would focus his attention at helping his side defend their Ashes title, he did anything but apply himself out there when needed the most. A man of Michael Clarke’s reputation one who collected over 8900 test runs at a batting average of nearly 50, a mark of any great test batsman and one who top scored his way to a daunting unbeaten 329 in 2012, not too long ago against India failed to score a single test century in the most anticipated test series of 2015.
But, this isn’t before Clarke left the game with some checkered accomplishments. He to this day is the only 3rd batsman to have scored both a triple century and a double century in the same Test series. Only England’s Wally Hammond and the Australian great Sir Don have managed to claim such a scintillating height in the test level. Clarke also has to his credit 28 test hundreds out of which he scored 4 double hundreds in a single calendar year. If 2012 was known for Dravid the Wall’s retirement, another test giant known for his impregnable technique and grit, his contemporary but 8 year younger, Clarke attained monumental heights in 2012. Despite all this, Clarke’s announcement of retirement leaves one dazed and confused. He was still very much capable of turning things in Australia’s favor.
On the other hand, Shane Watson who once was compared to the likes of Jack Kallis, arguably the greatest cricket all rounder since Garfield Sobers too left a lot to be desired. He had the longevity in his career, having debuted like fellow compatriot Clarke in 2005 but never the consistency in those veins and muscled frame to go for the long kill. Scoring tremendously in limited over cricket where he holds a dynamite batting strike rate of 91 with a highest score of 185, achieved miserably less in the test arena. He was the only rarity in world cricket despite being the finest Australian all rounder who delivered amazing in-swingers and failed to pick them while batting. This was when his batting had the flair and charm of glazing past the most gifted bowlers. Collecting only 75 wickets from a painfully small number of tests, 59 till his last count, Watson couldn’t score a double hundred and collected 3500 runs. His batting average of 35 delivers meager satisfaction as compared to his overall capability.
While the likes of David Warner, the attacking opening batsman and Glenn Maxwell the big hitting batting off spinner are still around, the Australian playing eleven will surely now look up to a certain Steve Smith to guide them to greater heights. But, what Smith will do wonderfully well would be to learn from the likes of both past teammates, the hercules-like Shane Watson (still around for ODI, T20) and legendary batsman Michael Clarke that he should work harder on his fitness and focus on the grind and not on the records or glamour which did both giants of Aussie cricket in.