The natter is missing, from the usual anticipation of the cabbies to the inquisitive men at the immigration counters, at the grounds, pubs and open cafes; it is an unusual Australian summer.
The nation is deep in mourning. It lay to rest Phillip Hughes in his hometown Macksville on Wednesday in a funeral service where eulogies flowed for Australia’s young batsman who was snatched away just when he was promising to reach his prime. Empathy has engulfed the nation, and public sentiment is still some distance from turning towards a contest.
The familiar template of Aussie aggression — pre-series declarations about inflicting chin music, grille-smashing threats, watch-out-for-our-pace-pack warnings, issuing of pre-series prediction like astrologers — stands muted, as a nation looks to first recover from shock.
When fast bowler Ryan Harris spoke on Tuesday, it was not we-will-sweep-the-series muscle flexing, nor was it about how his knee was holding up after surgery. The likelihood of Virat Kohli making his Test captaincy debut too didn’t interest him. Instead, Harris revealed after a training session that there was not a single bouncer in his last 60 deliveries. The theme of his interaction was almost about how not to bowl bouncers. He had contemplated retirement, and would have gone ahead but for his brother and father. Bereavement rather than combative rivalry between the two teams will lend perspective to the India-Australia series.
Cricket in all forms stand abandoned at the moment, be it Sheffield Shield, club or hit-and-giggle games across parks. Australia is in the eulogy mood as it has still not come to grips with the tragedy.
The huddle is all pervasive --- players have returned to their families, some like Sean Abbott seeking counselling and others comfort of being with their near and dear ones. The core group of Australia players is yet to lift their bats, still placed with their caps as tribute to dear Phil — Bruzzy for most.
Preparing for the first Test also means recovery from injury for skipper Michael Clarke. Cricket Australia CEO, James Sutherland, has opened a window for those who feel they are not ready to return to cricket so soon.
The debate swirls around the bouncer. In the land of Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson, moderation is evident. Whether there will be an unwritten pact between the teams on the rising ball, even that will be secondary to Australia.
An in-flight magazine featured India-Australia rivalry as ‘Battle and Ball’. Snippets on the last 30 years of contests featured Dean Jones being hospitalised for dehydration in the 1986 tied Test in Chennai, Ponting’s record century in the 2003 World Cup final win, Clarke’s debut ton in the 2004 Bangalore Test, and Sydney 2007-8 that exploded with the Monkeygate row. There is a line ‘There is nothing like a bit of friendly competition’.
But right now, it is hardly about aggression.