Australia gears up for scintillating summer, India is getting ready for winter and for the cricket fans- one of most riveting Test series featuring Virat’s men is all set to begin at the Adelaide Oval. Last week, I came across a promotional video that was created by Channel 9 to promote India’s tour Down Under in 1981.
The concept was to introduce the visiting Indian cricket team members to Australian cricket fans. Picture this – the promo begins with Sunil Gavaskar batting and a voice over stating ‘This is the mighty Gavaskar, in cricket world he is the biggest star, yet most Australian don’t know who they are’.
Followed by visuals of G Vishwanath with lyrics in the background, ‘He stands 5 foot on ground but at the crease he is giant, spectacular & defiant’.
The video continues– ‘Vengsarkar, Kirmani, Kapil Dev and another name we can’t remember’ while highlighting Rogger Binny’s name on the manual scoreboard.
The host broadcaster campaign ends with this message ‘but they will be house hold name once they get onto our nerves’ with a chorus ‘Common Aussies, Common Aussies’. While cricket is synonymous to Australian summer, it was still not the top sport in Australia back then. This promo in 80s also reflected state of Indian cricket & players & lack of popularity that they needed introductions.
37 years on, the narrative is far different. Indian cricket is one of the most powerful brand in world cricket, attracting the crowds & sponsor alike. Captain of this team is currently the best batsmen in world cricket. Including the Indian cricket team captain who has been the focus in Australia for different reasons over the years, cricket fans Down Under have seen 7 members from this squad play. For Australia, even as they continue their fight to be country’s most followed sport, this by far is the biggest & most challenging summer for the hosts following the ball tampering scandal.
A Test series in Australia is always gruelling, add 4 Test matches to it, overseas playing conditions, aggressive Australian fans who create hostile environment at the ground for the visiting teams and being on the road away from home for months. While technique remains one of the most crucial factors when it comes to countering overseas playing conditions, mental quotient is equally or more important to challenge the opponent on their home turf.
It’s ironical that a team which introduced ‘mental disintegration’ technique to Indian cricket & fans is coming into a high profile home series more vulnerable and weaker unlike any other Australian outfit. Even though India faces its own dismal record overseas as a challenge, they go into Adelaide Test led by a captain who has mastered the art of training his mind and using that as performance booster to beat the opponent as a batsmen and captain based on the previous Australian tour learnings.
The riveting rivalry between the two countries following the Monkeygate scandal has made India, Australia Tests as one of the most sought after series in the calendar. If anything the stakes are even higher this time, Kohli chases history and Tim Paine leads the team in their first ever Test at home since the ball tampering saga.
No Australian captain would have had it this tough & Paine’s comments ahead of the series reflect the mood in the dressing room, ‘There has been so much talk in the last 10 months that everyone is sick of it’. While the Australian squad might be ready to move on, it will be interesting to see how the fans who had questioned and slammed Australian cricket culture respond as the summer gets underway.
As for Kohli, he is extremely sharp & completely understands the uncertainty that the Australian team faces to get their game back on track. As a captain and batsman he is ruthless, mentally shrewd & will do everything within the spirit of the game to ensure the hosts feel pressurised further. Just like what the Australians have been doing over the years to their opponents.
Covering a cricket series in Australia is on the bucket list for any cricket journalist, it is no different for cricketers. A Test tour in Australia, irrespective of the results provides a complete experience and contributes immensely in making a player mentally stronger & tougher. 6 Indian players including Jasprit Bumrah are set to tick that off their bucket list and live that dream of experiencing Australian Test summer for the very first time. The freedom to move around, walk across the city and do things they cannot do in India without getting mobbed adds to this experience. It is not surprising that we often see Indian players walk to the ground from their hotel, walk to the malls, super markets, restaurants and coffee shops across Australia.
In a very long time, India enter a Test series overseas with high chance of a series win if not as favourites. While Indian batsmen will be challenged by the experienced Australian bowling line up, what works for India will be their bowlers who have been their biggest asset in the recent past as they are up against a weaker opposition batting line with top two Australian batsmen serving a ban.
For most cricket fans in India, a series in Australia means waking up early, catching rest of the play in the gym or at work and evening conversations will revolve around the day’s play. For those who can travel, experience Boxing Day Test against Australia at the MCG & New Year’s Test at the SCG always makes it to the bucket list. Apart from the conditions, chances are India could feel at home with Indians across Australia cheering their team just as we witnessed during Cricket World Cup in 2015.
Even though the Australian cricket fans have strongly opposed cricket team’s attitude and behaviour since last 10 months, it provides them a huge opportunity to back the boys and help the team move forward. After all, Australian cricket fans’ uncanny knack of getting under the skin of the opponents has been their biggest strength in the past.
The Indian team will look at this series as their best chance to script history & win their first ever Test series in Australia. Virat Kohli will aim to make this summer his own just like the way he loves- score more, win more and compete harder. He and his team face tough conditions and their dismal overseas record but they also face a chance to scale a new high by doing what no other Indian cricket team and captain has achieved.
And for the Australians, they will look at this series as a journey towards regaining respect of their fans. A journey that goes beyond winning and losing. A journey that will be extremely crucial to get the focus back on the players and their performances. A journey that could provide a new meaning to the ‘win at any cost’ culture.
Our thanks to Harini Rana #WomanInSport who has followed Indian cricket and knows it well. Views mentioned in blog are personal and you can find her at @HariniRana on Twitter and Instagram