From the publishers of THE HINDU
Vol. 24 :: No. 52 :: Dec. 29, 2001 - Jan. 04, 2002
CRICKET - 2001
An Australian domination!TED CORBETT
WHEREVER you look, as 2001 draws to a close, you see Australian cricketing giants.
Whatever they achieved in the limited amount of world cricket at the end of the 19th century, however they stood in the middle of the 20th century, with great teams were under Don Bradman, there is no doubt that they have now reached a peak known only to the West Indians between the mid-70s to the mid-90s. But there is a difference.
When four quick bowlers and some of the most dominant batsmen who ever lived drove the Caribbean men to the top of the global rankings it was only as cricketers that those islands will be remembered. Coaching and administration were never more than middle-ranking, the grounds and pitches were often poor and forward thinking and planning did not exist.
As we enter the year 2002 there is no question - whether we like it or not - that Australia also leads the way in world administration, once the sole prerogative of England; only 10 years ago it was entirely in the hands of that old-hat secretariat at Lord's, known for the last 200 years as MCC. Aussies also have sole rights to the new thinking, to looking into the future and pressing forward. You can say, without fear of contradiction, that the game has a tomorrow which will be controlled from Melbourne and Sydney.
Both the top officials of ICC - the president Malcolm Gray and the chief executive Malcolm Speed - are Australians and it seems nowadays that every Press release, every statement, every letter and every casual conversation has an accent like Richie Benaud's. Do the Australians believe, after the demise of England, that they are right to lead the morale regeneration of cricket? Probably.
For almost the whole of the 20th century the tone of the game, its steadfast certainty of its quasi-religious aspect and its code of honour were determined in London, often on the basis of public school behaviour codes that were rarely understood outside the British Isles.
Now in a more commercial, more pragmatic, era the Australians have taken charge and while it is a drastic change it is not for the worse.
It probably reflects the times more closely than any coda designed by those who still think of cricket in terms of the prep school and the village green, or by the cabals led by men like Pelham Warner and Gubby Allen. Australia has put its hand firmly on the tiller, set the course and all we can ask is that they take full responsibility of whatever destination is achieved.
This tendency has to be watched and, happily, in the last 12 months two barricades have been placed in the way of a total Australian roller-coaster ride.
REUTERS & AP
By beating them 2-1 in that memorable Test series, India have shown that a talented and determined team can halt these Aussie heroes, particularly as their captain Steve Waugh is pleased to pick up a challenge and determined to play the game according to an almost Corinthian defiance of the 21st century's defence-first sporting conventions.
He is a courteous, sporting, old-fashioned man with several modern touches to his thinking and if he goes on long enough to be in charge of another Ashes series the game will unquestionably be the better for his presence.
Waugh has developed new characteristics since he became captain. He wants nothing to do with batting out the final afternoon to achieve a draw; he would sooner lose by two runs in the final over. As for maintaining the W. G. Grace tradition of thinking about putting the other side in when you win the toss but batting anyway; Waugh rejects the idea.
His fast bowlers are his strength and, lucky captain, he can regard Shane Warne, the greatest spinner in 200 years, as a back-up man. So he is as likely to whip the opposition in to bat and take his chance. Of course, he also knows that with Ricky Ponting and Adam Gilchrist his team can score runs more rapidly than any side on earth.
And, as he proved repeatedly in the series in England and India, he is determined that whatever else happens the man in the dollar seat or sitting on his stretch of hard concrete for a rupee or high among the toffs in the Lord's pavilion will get value for his money.
Oh, that there were more like him.
That very unconventional man Jagmohan Dalmiya, the president of the BCCI, has also demonstrated that Australian attempts to rule the world can be stopped in their tracks. We cannot know so early in his reign whether he will succeed - nor indeed can we always be sure of his motives or his future tactics - but firm government, such as ICC promise to provide, needs tough opposition. Dalmiya is obviously going to provide a headache for ICC come what may.
By the time Australia won the first Test against India the world decided that there was no hope for the home side no matter how great their reputation for being able to win Test on their own soil.
We forgot that India also has a history of producing great spin bowlers and in the next two Tests Harbhajan Singh suggested that one day he will be ranked alongside Bedi, Prasanna and Chandrasekhar.
That is why he is my new man of 2001 - rather than Shaun Pollock, the successful South African captain or Steve Waugh, or the whirlwind Adam Gilchrist - even though his tour of South Africa was not a happy one. To those who say he should have done better I will point out that he is still only 21, that two years ago he was remodelling his action and mention his 30 wickets against Australia when none of his team-mates captured more than three.
Great bowling, great figures, great determination. Of such qualities are cricketing giants made and it is with pleasure that we lead The Turbanator to the community of stars.
The greatest disappointment - apart from the fall of Pakistan and the failures of the young Test sides in Zimbabwe and Bangladesh - came in the British summer when the Ashes were handed to Australia without a fight.
True England won a Test but once again their success came when the series was finished and the extravagant praise given to Mark Butcher for his Headingley hundred only demonstrated that the English newspapermen had found so little to shout about.
I am not writing off Butcher's effort; it was the century of the series. But it did nothing to add to the stature of England's team which, for all the glory in Sri Lanka following the win in Pakistan, depends on too few.
The broad base of the county game is crumbling, there are as we discussed recently too few cricketers emerging who have Test class writ large over their every move and the appointment of Duncan Fletcher as national coach suggests that there is little talent in the backrooms either.
I am not putting down Fletcher who has got the best out of half a dozen players who looked set for the dustbin. But it is unthinkable that England, the mother of the game, should have to go beyond her own boundaries to find a coach.
We must hope England rise again. All that tradition, all that missionary work, all the law-giving, and selfless development in foreign parts have been reduced to nothing in the last few years.
Still, England's failures leave room for countries like India to take their share of the leadership and if nothing else 2001 showed that Australia must not be allowed to control cricket on their own.
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