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Stirring a sleeping kangaroo

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Australia will not be subdued by sound or fury, writes Peter Roebuck

India has fallen into a trap. Determined to stand up for themselves against an abrasive opponent, the team’s most volatile players embarked on a confrontational course. Emboldened by recent successes, desperate to flex their muscles, the youngsters tried to mix it with the mighty. Unfortunately they went about it in the wrong way, relying on their hearts, ignoring their heads. Meanwhile the Australians roll along, with scarcely a blow landed upon them.

Australians are reared in backyard cricket. They love to taunt and tease, like to play a noisy game. It is seldom personal. At stumps players mingle to compare barbs, searching for the most amusing. A lexicon of words has emerged to describe various types of arguments. As far as the Australians are concerned, cricket is a working man’s game, hard but fair, and full of pies, beer and the language of the dockyard.

Graeme Smith also tried to bandy words with the Australians and suffered the consequences. After his first match against them, he talked about their sledging, stuff usually left on the field. Ever since, the South African captain has been ineffective against the Australians.

Rather than fighting the battle on their terms, he’d have been better advised to use his brain. It is not the furnace Australians fear, but the fridge.

Too sharp

Sourav Ganguly knew how to get under antipodean skin. Certainly he turned himself into a target but he went about it with a cheeky humour that irritated his opponents beyond measure. Realising that the Australians hunt as a pack, he turned his team into an equally nationalistic force. And he was too sharp to say anything provocative. He wanted to unsettle the Australians, not unite them.

Since coming home as feted champions, these Indians have stirred a sleeping kangaroo. S. Sreesanth and Harbhajan Singh forgot how badly they bowled in the T20 final and how much work needed to be done. Instead they started to bang the gong.

India was much more disciplined in its T20 triumph. Doubtless it helped that the touring party was guided by a thoughtful management team. Why change anything? Or did the words camouflage insecurity?

A mistake

Nor did the youngsters attempt to hide their intentions, informing an agog public that they intended to meet fire with fire. Even the management started to mention names. It was a mistake. Apart from anything else they were playing the ODI champion. Was it not time to show respect and to say that their next task was to try to challenge the Australians in the fifty over game?

Sreesanth and Harbhajan need to think again about how to handle success and how to play against the Australians, and could start by observing the widespread affection shown down under towards proven champions like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Anil Kumble. Has any of them ever displayed anything except unshakeable resolve?

High praise

Although he may not realise it, Sreesanth is popular down under. Australians like the passion he puts into his bowling, the fire that blazes in his belly. “He has a crack,” has been the constant refrain. From an Australian cricketer this is high praise. It’s the lame ducks they cannot abide. Harbhajan is regarded as immature but spirited and the Australians can take him or leave him. He must show that he is a proper cricketer and not just a crowd-pleaser.

Australia will not be subdued by sound or fury. India must play strong cricket for 100 overs. It’s not so much that the conduct is bothersome. It does not work, and on that account alone ought to be rejected.

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