Will this be the dawn of a new age in world cricket?

March 5th, 2008 - 3:39 pm ICT by admin  

(Commentary)
By Michael Jeh
For all those in the neutral corner, India’s victory in the cricket will be a day of rejoicing. That in itself is a backhanded compliment to Australia - almost everyone loves to see the underdog triumph and the champions beaten. That is a natural human trait. Beneath that lies a story that is much more sinister and brings to an end a summer of cricket that has been riveting and revolting in the same breath. It is indeed sad that the controversies and bad blood between the teams has led to a series that became more interesting because it polarised people. Without delving into the morality of the issues and re-hashing old themes, the last few weeks have a poetic sense of justice attached to them. India’s youth, with a guiding hand from the elder genius of Sachin Tendulkar, have bearded the lion in its own den, refused to back down in the face of aggression and bullying and have shown the cricketing world that sometimes, schoolyard bullies can indeed be stared down and conquered.

Tellingly, what it does show us is that the Australian method - the merciless pursuit of victory at all costs - is no longer the guaranteed wand of invincibility. Young India, typified by the abrasive Harbhajan and the fearless leadership of Mahendra Singh Dhoni, has shown the rest of the world that cultural cringe is no longer India’s crutch.

Do not for one moment underestimate the significance of this moment for it might mark the passing of an age. The young lion is beginning to sense its growing dominance and power and is now ready to dethrone the resident King and take over the Kingdom. The timing may not be right just yet, but the seeds of discontent have been sown and the other beasts on the savanna are watching with interest. Will this be the dawn of a new age with a new ruling power?

On the cricketing front, the lessons of the 2005 Ashes Tour have been repeated again and the wounds have been re-opened for all to see. The swinging ball and an aggressive opponent who is prepared to play the Australians at their own game must surely form the blueprint for how to beat this champion team. And a champion team they are. This loss should not mark their greatness and their role in raising the on-field skills of the game to new heights that others must strive to reach if they are to consistently compete with Australia.

Unlike England, India needs to follow up this watershed victory on foreign soil with a repeat dose in India before any credible judge can start taking their claims of world dominance seriously. Australia’s great legacy is their continued dominance for close on 20 years. India has a long way to go.

Off the field, it is now increasingly clear that India wields a stick that is dripping with dollars and can tame any beast. From players to administrators, it is obvious that the brinkmanship over the last few weeks was India’s way of flexing its muscle. It was the young lion’s roar in the middle of the night, warning the entire jungle that the balance of power was inexorably shifting, demanding respect.

Living in Australia, it has been fascinating to watch the power struggle unfold: a grudging admiration, a sense of resentment, a hint of nationalistic self-righteousness and a pragmatic admission that things will never be the same again.

India’s victory last night was not wholly unwelcome by those who have tired of Australia’s cruel leadership and for the first time since the West Indian reign in the 1970s and 80s, the country is genuinely split over their affection for a visiting team. Or at least, split by their distaste for the current Australian team. Unlike the West Indians, it is living proof that a champion team can be admired but not universally loved.

So rejoice, rejoice, rejoice — in the spoils of victory! The neutrals are still cheering for the new India, the triumphalist youth who have stolen the crown from under the nose of the old King. With victory comes responsibility though, and one can only hope that India will treat the spoils of war with the respect and benevolence that it deserves.

As the balance of power shifts from Melbourne to Mumbai, one can only hope that India can fully appreciate the intoxicating whiff of dominance and realise that it is a precious gift rather than a powerful stick. New India needs to realise that the neutrals will inevitably favour the underdog again unless they respect the game’s integrity and respect the gift of leadership. We watch with anticipation, with hope and with a slight sense of unease.

Let’s not get too carried away though. Any suggestion that Australia will give up its crown lightly is premature. They are still the undisputed champions and a single series victory is not the end of the world for them. They will strike back with venom and India needs to be prepared to counter that. In its proper context, the spoils of the summer are evenly shared, on and off the field. The shame and the moral high ground belong to both. The Kingdom has not yet been conceded.

But tonight, the lion feasts. We salute their courage.

(Michael Jeh is a former Oxford Blue, now living in Australia and working at Griffith University in Queensland. He can be contacted on m.jeh@griffith.edu.au)

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