She stood outside the ground, waiting, her face wrinkled by age and the sun, her manner impatient as she scanned the countenances of those gone by. As a group of us walked out of the Sydney Cricket Ground earlier this week, she accosted us, stopping us. She’d seen us hanging out around the team and asked if we were from India . Receiving an affirmative, she immediately apologised. “I am so sorry,” she said, “I’m so sorry for the way our team behaved. I just wanted you to know that we don’t always want to win at all costs…. Just our cricket team does.”
It was a day when Cricket Australia chief James Sutherland came out in support of Ponting and his men, under fire from sections of the media and a largely hostile public. “They might have mouthed a word or two in the heat of the moment but they never overstepped the line,” he said of his team. “Test cricket is what is being played here. It’s not tiddlywinks.”
Sutherland wasn’t ready to finish. “The Australian cricket team plays the game tough, tough and uncompromising. It’s the way Australian cricket teams have played the game since 1877 under all sorts of different captains. That is the way Australians have expected their teams to play.”
Sutherland has probably missed the pulse of the nation on this one: This lady was 80-plus, but then, age hasn’t really mattered as Aussies, cutting across age, sex and ethnicity have indicated they do not want their team to win like this.
Hearing of and seeing some of the over-the-top reactions back in India is horrifying, especially because so many of those reactions are confusing the issue here.
Take this racism allegation against Harbhajan Singh - the team is backing Harbhajan and fighting this as one on two grounds: First, they do not want Harbhajan to be stamped as a racist for the rest of his life. Second, they feel that there was no way Mike Procter could have known “beyond reasonable doubt” that Harbhajan was guilty.
And that’s it! Their refusing to leave the team hotel in Sydney was never intended to be some flamboyant gesture that would shake the foundations of an outraged nation. Nor did they plan on sending out a message to Indians world over, one that said, “all Australians were cheats”.
Because no one in the team thinks that’s true. Just skim through the Aussie media and read some of the things written: There are extremists on either side but for the most, the Australian media has not been very supportive of its world champion team.
If this mess hadn’t come in the way, the most poignant image of Sydney — a Test that had quite a few — would have been that image of Sachin Tendulkar, graceful, dignified, arms raised, acknowledging the cheers of an adoring Sydney crowd.
It was an emotional, passionate moment. For the most, that is how Australians seem to be when it comes to their sport. Which is why the cricket team’s behaviour is aberrant, not the norm. So when we see the shows and the blogs back home denouncing the Aussies as a whole, hang on, let’s not confuse the issue. This is only about one team, not a country or a people as a whole. It’s just about sport, or the lack of sportsmanship.