Australia is one of the toughest, if not the toughest place to play cricket. Ask India, ask England or any sub-continent side, they will tell you the story. Australia’s in-your-face attitude too had been hot to handle for touring sides in the past.
It’s not just about the 11 men on the field. From the support staff to the Australian media, which is often seen as an extension of the cricket team, never misses out on an opportunity to have a go at opposition sides. “Mental disintegration” was a term made popular by former Australia captain Steve Waugh and his men. When you’re Down Under, it’s not a gentleman’s game.
When the ‘Adelaide 36ers’ were needled
However, in the lead up to the ongoing series against India, the build-up was drastically different. India are one of the most sought-after touring sides, considering the crowds that they manage to pull overseas. Australia had pinned their hopes of having a blockbuster start to the season with the full series against India, especially after Covid hit world cricket’s coffers badly. The limited-overs series was friendly, so much so that several former cricketers wanted a bit of spice.
A guarded approach from the Aussies turned aggressive right after the 1st Test. India were bundled out for 36, their lowest Test score in history and the newspaper headlines hinted about the shift in narrative.
“Adelaide 36ers,” screamed one headline. Former Australia cricketers, including Mark Waugh and Ricky Ponting, gave India “no hope” of bouncing back, especially after Virat Kohli’s departure on paternity leave and the injury to senior pacer Mohammed Shami.
Head coach Justin Langer did not hold back from speaking about putting pressure on stand-in captain Ajinkya Rahane. Australia were going for the kill but little did they know what was in store in Melbourne.
When India refrained from falling into the trap
Calm and composed Ajinkya Rahane leads India to memorable MCG win (AP Photo)
Team India galvanised as a group under Rahane in the Boxing Day Test. They were without some of their stars but the visitors took up the challenge and proved that they were more than just one particular individual. Cricket is a team game and India came up with a collective performance in the Boxing Day Test. There was a stand-in captain in Rahane but new leaders emerged and India fought back strongly to complete one of the “greatest comebacks in world cricket”.
During the course of the 4 days in Melbourne, Australia’s woes that were masked by an outstanding bowling spell by those 45 minutes in Adelaide were exposed. Their batting unit looked wafer-thin in the absence of their enforcer-in-chief, David Warner. Steve Smith’s form (or the lack of it) severely dented Australia’s batting prospects. The hosts, who produced some of the greatest Test batsmen, are yet to cross 200 in the ongoing series. The character that was on display during India’s 8-wicket win must have certainly been too hot to handle, this time for the hosts.
When mind games began to turn ugly
The narrative has once again changed after the 2nd Test. This time, it’s not about the absence of Kohli or Shami or Umesh Yadav. Once the superstar captain headed home, Australia have resorted to dirty mind games. The hosts have won only the ODI series. They lost the T20Is and might not have expected India to bounce back after the Adelaide horror. But the visitors are a confident bunch now.
5 India players are alleged to have breached the biosecure bubble that has been put in place by Cricket Australia in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Rohit Sharma, Rishabh Pant, Navdeep Saini, Shubman Gill and Prithvi Shaw were spotted dining at a Melbourne restaurant in a video shared by an Indian fan who claimed to have paid the bill for the cricket stars. While he initially claimed that he received a hug from Pant, the fan apologised for it, saying there was no contact between him and the players and adequate physical distancing was in place throughout the dinner.
There is no question of a bio-bubble breach as Cricket Australia rules allow players to dine out but limits the players to eating outdoors. The group of 5 India players had to move indoors after a brief spell of rain in the evening, according to sources.
Cricket Australia, understandably, wants to leave nothing to chance at a time when the New South Wales government has imposed certain restrictions to tackle the rising novel coronavirus cases in the hotspots near the northern beaches. The cricket board said in its statement that it will investigate if there was a bio-bubble breach while the 5 players have been placed in precautionary isolation.
However, the Indian team management seems to be clear on its stand. While India Today reported that Team India will refute allegations of bio-bubble breach, it came to light on Sunday that the 5 players in question will travel with the rest of the team. The Indian team management also believes that it’s “unfair” to blame the 5 cricketers for dining out when they played by the book.
The mind games are getting uglier
It’s ridiculous to see the Australian media paving way for unnecessary controversies. After the allegations of bio-bubble breach against the 5 players cropped up, a reputed newspaper, on Sunday, brought up names of other players, including Virat Kohli, slapping them up with baseless allegations of bubble breach. The newspaper has pointed fingers at Kohli and Hardik Pandya for visiting a baby store in December and a group of other India cricketers who had headed out for a dinner.
Why was nothing said back then? Cricket Australia did not raise any issues as they were certainly following the bio-bubble protocols? What’s the need to bring it up now? Is this responsible journalism especially at a time when the world is batting against the pandemic?
Bio-bubbles can be taxing. Ask elite athletes about it. Ever since the resumption of international cricket with the Test series between England and West Indies, the difficulties of being in a bio-bubble have been discussed and debated. Most of these India players have been on the road for close to 6 months. Yet, the way in which Indian stars have handled themselves has been admirable.
— Pragyan Ojha (@pragyanojha) January 3, 2021
At a time when top Australian stars are pulling out of their premier T20 tournament, citing bio-bubble burnouts, it’s shameful to see how certain Aussies have dealt with India’s reported stance on the Brisbane test.
According to a media report, India are not keen on entering another hard quarantine period in case it is enforced upon them in Brisbane, which will host the fourth and final Test, starting January 15. The visitors’ concerns emerge from the fact that the Queensland government has closed borders with Greater Sydney as New South Wales is ramping up social-distancing measures in the wake of new locally transmitted virus cases.
Reports have suggested that there might be restrictions imposed on the two teams despite India maintaining that they wanted to be treated like any other local as they had completed a 14-day hard quarantine after arriving in Australia in November
“Don’t come” comments distasteful
Yet, to see people in power making obnoxious statements is highly distasteful. On Sunday, Queensland Health Shadow Minister Ros Bates said: “If the Indians don’t want to play by the rules, don’t come.”
Queensland’s Shadow Sports Minister Tim Mander said, “If the Indian cricket team wants to spit the dummy and disregard quarantine guidelines in Brisbane for the fourth Test, then they shouldn’t come.”
Well, it’s difficult but it’s once again time for India to shut out the noise and focus on the task at hand.
“Australians are very good at playing mind games and I will let them do that,” Ajinkya Rahane had said before the MCG Test.
Well, Rahane and his men are hopefully not paying too much attention to all the noise. A big test in Sydney awaits and India will begin on the front foot.