Test cricket comes to the tranquil environs of the Dhauladhar Ranges here but riding on the acrimonious background of a few off-the-field incidents that have come to mar the spirit of the game in the ongoing India-Australia series.
Results in two of the three Tests thus far have raised hopes of a biting contest in the final encounter but much depends on the tactical acumen of the rival think tanks. The camps were busy preparing for the decider, if one may term it so.
Modern cricket demands professionalism and commitment of the highest grade. The emphasis, sometimes, can be overwhelmingly influenced by aggressive intent aimed at disturbing the concentration of the opponent. Some succumb. Those who don’t best illustrate the quality of doggedness in adverse circumstances.
Sledging in cricket is not new. The trend to constantly use it as a tool to target the best in the opposite camp is perhaps a legacy of the intense contests that came to attract the attention during the 1970s. Of course, cricket, since its inception, has seen some incredible finishes that became fascinating mainly due to the desire to fight and win. Players with a tough mental attitude were the ones who emerged unscathed.
Australia has employed pressure tactics, better known as sledging, because it suited the team’s profile. The difference between friendly banter and sledging was thin since it depended on the one at the receiving end.
India and Australia have had a series of incident-filled combats. The most striking being the 1981 series when Sunil Gavaskar nearly forfeited the Melbourne Test following a distasteful remark by Dennis Lillee. It is another matter that better sense prevailed, India continued, and went on to win the match in dramatic conditions. Gavaskar was to return four years later to win the World Championship of Cricket and acknowledge wicketkeeper Sadanand Viswanath’s chirping as a significant contribution to unsettle the opponents.
Lillee portrayed the Australian aggression along with Jeff Thompson by peppering the batsmen with unrelenting missiles, verbal and off the pitch. His clash with Javed Miandad is part of cricket folklore—Lillee taking evasive action with the Pakistani charging with his bat raised. Miandad, however had an effective response that won him a legion of fans. In one fiercely-contested match, Miandad reportedly made it a point to send the helmet back to the dressing room when Lillee came to bowl and asked for it when the spinners joined the attack. It was Miandad’s way of showing in what esteem he held Lillee’s speed.
For someone like Gavaskar and Mohinder Amarnath, it hardly mattered what the close-in fielders said. In fact, sledging would evoke a determined response from them. In effect, a big innings to drive home his point.
In recent times, incidents of sledging, especially the current series, have become the focal point of the competition because the target is the captain of the Indian team. The squad has rallied around Virat Kohli, who loves such intense attention from the opposition. He is only reliving the times when Sourav Ganguly encouraged his players to play tough.
Ganguly epitomised aggression on the field by backing his players and taking the lead role sometimes in sledging too. “Come on guys, Australian tail has begun,” he would greet Steve Waugh’s arrival at the crease. But never did the two captains cross the line of decency. Their demeanour was a key factor in aggression in the middle not going out of hands.
An India-Australia fixture holds a place of pride in international cricket. That it has deteriorated into a slanging match between the players has taken away the sheen off some glorious cricket at Pune, Bengaluru and Ranchi. It is Dharamshala’s turn to continue the trend, and, certainly not by way of sledging.
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