October 18, 2007

Win, not whine

While I was writing my previous post, Close ranks, I was reminded of something that happened four years ago, when India's cricketers last toured Australia. I was reminded because there have been shades of similar attitudes on display in recent weeks.

On that tour, of course, India won a famous victory at Adelaide on the back of some wondrous batting by Rahul Dravid, and in spite of a double-century from Ricky Ponting. Days after the match ended, the writer Anil Dharker had an essay in the Times of India. In it, he bemoaned the apparently poor behaviour of the Australian team on various counts ... Well, read on, because what he wrote left me so bewildered that I wrote a response that the Times carried on December 28 2003, and here it is:

Win, not whine

Remember when Ricky Ponting completed his double century in Adelaide? He blew a kiss at his wife. I can't imagine a more tender and delightful gesture than that; and it came from arguably the best performer in a team full of superb cricketers. It astounds me that anyone would pretend that that cricketing husband wasn't enjoying his batting, that his captain was killing the joy in his team's cricket.

Yet Anil Dharker ("The not-so-pleasant side of Steve Waugh", Dec 24) does just that and more. Waugh doesn't enjoy the game, his "human gestures" are only PR, his team is insolent and arrogant, cocky and badly-behaved ... so many allegations crammed into 700 words! All about a man who spends his own time and money working with destitute kids in Calcutta, who has publicly declared that he's looking forward to more of that after retiring from the game. This is just PR?

But even if you leave aside the kids and stick to cricket ... In a strange way, Rahul Dravid's masterpiece in the famous Adelaide victory was the perfect answer to Dharker's dilemmas. For one thing, it was Dravid whom Michael Slater once screamed at in a Test, an incident Dharker mentions. For a second, I have never heard Dravid himself complaining about that incident. Instead he responded in the most telling way: by batting displays that have lifted India to stirring victories, turned him into India's most valuable player. For a third, he showed that you win not by whining about the other guy's arrogance or slights, but by performing. Simple.

And when you learn to win, as India did so artfully in Adelaide, it doesn't matter if somebody calls the other guy arrogant and badly-behaved. Because you played hard, he played hard, and you came out on top. To me, Dravid has always embodied this spirit, and is now putting it into his batting more and more. That is why he led India to victory.

That is also why Dravid took no note of the Slater incident, leaving journalists to do so. Because he knows that when highly motivated sportsmen square off, when they compete hard in as intense an arena as a Test, there will be tense, raw moments. It happens in every sport, to every player at every level. To lump all that under a sign that reads "bad behaviour" is to show no understanding of what competitive sport is.

Sure, there will be ugly moments too. But the Aussies have no monopoly on those. Remember the Ranji trophy match a few years ago, when a player went after an opponent with a stump?

The real arrogance, it seems to me, is in the pretence that Australia's team succeeds because it is filled with supercilious, grim-faced brats. Again, that pretence shows no understanding of what sport is.

Because if Australia's cricketers did not fundamentally enjoy the game, they could never have displayed such sustained excellence, won so long and handsomely. (You try doing something you hate, do it better than everyone else, and keep it up for several years). Because no true sportsman ever underestimates his opponent. Australia's success is founded on respect for opponents and knowing what they must do to beat them. Anything less and they would have lost. (In his columns for Outlook, Ponting writes repeatedly of his team's great respect for the mettle of Laxman and Dravid).

Waugh's team has been winning for three reasons. One, they came up with a simple formula that nobody could counter: score fast and heavy, knock the other guys over. Two, they found the players to execute that formula to perfection: Hayden, Langer, Ponting, Martyn, Waugh, Gilchrist, Warne, McGrath, Gillespie, Lee and even Bichel have all played their parts. Three, they have a tough, inspirational leader who commands the team's respect.

India won in Adelaide because they found the formula, the players and the leader to stand up to this Australian juggernaut. They won because they believed in themselves, enough to play and compete hard.

They would not have won if they had whined on about Waugh's "not-so-pleasant side", about Australian "arrogance" and "bad behaviour."

And when we -- who so enjoy watching Dravid bat, who were so thrilled by the Adelaide win -- when we sit around complaining about these things, when we sell ourselves these myths, we only accomplish this: We belittle the talents of Dravid, Laxman and Agarkar. We tarnish that victory.

India beat a champion side in the best way: on the cricket field, by playing sparkling cricket themselves. Let's leave it there and savour the delights the rest of this contest brings.


Anonymous said...

A bit confused. I am slow on the uptake.

Who are you asking to win and not whine?

Is it India or is it Australia or is it Anil Dharker?

Patrix said...

I had missed this article. Well written and spot on. Strange it is still applicable against the very same opponents, eh?

Dilip D'Souza said...

Who are you asking to win and not whine?

Actually, anyone who wants to win.