One of the surprises a rookie Indian umpire got when he went to South Africa a year ago as part of an umpires’ exchange programme was the way its players handled aggression.
Anil Chaudhary, recently appointed to the ICC panel, recalls, “I was officiating in a domestic game. There was this batsman who went down writhing in pain after being hit by a delivery from a fast bowler. Before I could get to him, he got up and took fresh guard. Apart from a glare, there were only a few words exchanged. I looked at the other umpire, a local, and he said with a smile, ‘Welcome to South Africa’.
While the heat is on Down Under as Australia finally rediscover bite in their cricket and sledging, all eyes will be on the young India leaving on Sunday night for the month-long tour of South Africa. It is certainly not an easy place to play, especially Tests, on bouncy tracks against tearaway fast bowlers and a formidable opposition. But if India are unlikely to find one thing Australian, it could well be that ‘unbridled, untamed aggression’.
India’s relationship with Australia has been tumultuous with the ‘Monkeygate’ in 2008 easily the ugliest. Although India have had some bitter confrontations on the field in South Africa, especially between Allan Donald and Rahul Dravid in the mid-90s and S Sreesanth the batsman and paceman Andre Nel, they were more spur-of-the-moment outbursts. That is something the International Cricket Council (ICC) takes a more lenient view of than those where an entire team targets a player, and which can spiral out of control.
Former India opener, WV Raman, who has toured South Africa with India, can’t understand why a big deal is being made about a few words being exchanged in the middle. “This happens, this is a reality and nothing new,” he told HT. “Every team does it. If it doesn’t happen, the whole charm of playing will be lost.”
Former all-rounder Manoj Prabhakar draws a distinction between the aggression of Australia and South Africa players. “Yes, the South Africans are very aggressive, but they put all of that in their game,” he said. “They are men of good character. Mind you, this type of aggression can be unnerving too.” On the 1992 tour he went, an altercation took place between Peter Kirsten and Kapil Dev, after the home batsman was run out for backing up too far after being warned earlier, but it didn’t erupt into a major issue.
Home away from home
The South Africa fans too have played a role in keeping things cool. Wasim Jaffer, the opener on the 2006-07 tour who hit a century in the Cape Town Test, says, “Unlike in Australia, where the crowd joins in, the fans in Johannesburg and Durban (where India will play most of their cricket) include a large number of Indians. There could be an odd word or banter from their players to unnerve ours but it won’t be like the Brisbane Test. The sledging in Brisbane got a bit too much even by Aussie standards because they were coming off losses and were really desperate for a win.”
Despite recent friction between the two bodies, Cricket South Africa and the BCCI have shared a cordial relationship over the years. And the IPL also has brought players from both countries closer with AB de Villiers and Virat Kohli sharing the same dressing room like Ishant Sharma and Dale Steyn. But that bonhomie will be put to the test, and there are still some down there baying for blood. Mike Haysman, a former cricketer turned commentator recently tweeted a newspaper image with a comment warning the Indians.
Unsurprisingly, that image was of English batsmen hopping at the Gabba!