Mark Keohane, writing for the Cape Times and IOL Sport
This was the week in international sport when nice guys won. Cue the youthful Indian cricket team who stunned the cricketing world in going to Brisbane and beating Australia in the most thrilling of Test matches to secure a series win.
The Indian starting XI were missing the core of their Test team because of injuries and unavailability. They’d been in Australia for more than two months, operating in a Covid bubble and given very little chance of upstaging an arrogant Australian team, who once again showed the ugly side of a ‘win at all cost’ mentality.
‘Young India’ will forever be written into folklore because of the achievement in winning and also because of the manner in which India triumphed. They did so with resolve, with a refusal to go quietly because of inexperience and naivety, and they did so because they played Test cricket as hard as it has ever been played, but also as fairly as it could be played.
Not so Australia.
They were loud, ugly and consistently pushing the envelope when it came to what constitutes playing within the spirit of the game.
The on-field verbal exchange between India’s Ravi Ashwin and Australian captain Tim Paine in the third of four Tests turned nasty when Paine insulted and abused Ashwin. Paine, as has always been the Australian cricketing way, showed he could give it but couldn’t take it. He was quick with a sledge but not as quick-witted when there was a response to the sledge.
India, without the inspirational Virat Kohli for most of the series, had bravely defied Australia’s bowlers to draw the third Test in Sydney. Paine had warned the Indians that it would all end in heartache at Queensland’s Gabba ground where the fourth Test was to be played.
‘See you at the Gabba’, was Paine’s response to India’s heroics in Sydney.
Well, India did see them at the Gabba, raised them and beat them.
Ashwin, one of the heroes in Sydney, did not play in Brisbane, but it did not stop him from posting a thank you to all those who supported India, ‘Live from the Gabba’. It was a tongue-in-cheek mockery of Paine and the Australians, but it was clever, quirky and without malice, which are words that could never describe the Australian approach.
Australia’s unrelenting ugliness on the cricket field has traditionally been applauded as the only way to play the game at the highest level and be successful. Maybe there was a time when this was so, but the Indian team over the past few months and the New Zealand Black Caps over the past few years have shown that calm and class can triumph over crassness.
Black Caps captain Kaine Williamson is currently ranked the best batsman in the world, New Zealand’s South African born and raised fast bowler Neil Wagner is ranked among the best bowlers and the Black Caps are the No 1 ranked Test team on the planet.
They have also earned a reputation for being among the nicest blokes in international cricket, one of the most popular sides among opposition supporters and an example that winning doesn’t have to come at all cost.
Mark Boucher’s Proteas are in Pakistan for the first team in more than a decade and this youthful South African combination could do worse than learn from the Kiwis and Indians on how to succeed.
India and New Zealand are the form teams in the world of cricket and also the most popular for the way they play the game. They have found the balance between grunt and grace, which in the professional sporting world is like finding the Holy Grail.