Australia’s “Love Café” duo serves a winning brew

  • Zampa and Stoinis add depth and their bromance could suggest a significant shift from the boorish serial champions of the past.
Coffee on their face, Marcus Stoinis and Adam Zampa strike a pose.(Instagram) PREMIUM
Coffee on their face, Marcus Stoinis and Adam Zampa strike a pose.(Instagram)
Published on Nov 13, 2021 05:39 PM IST
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By, Kolkata

During the unprecedented cultural purge triggered by the ball-tampering scandal in Cape Town, Cricket Australia (CA) was smart enough to substantiate its claims with a self-produced fly-on-the-wall web series of their men’s team travel through the subcontinent and UK for nearly 18 months. Striving for “elite honesty”, Australia urged its cricketers to show their vulnerable side, projecting them as a modest bunch far removed from the cheating, duplicitous avatar they were caught in. Justin Langer plays protagonist, elaborating on Steve Smith’s quirks and a starry-eyed Marnus Labuschagne following him everywhere, engaging with Tim Paine about not letting banter devolve into abuse and droning on about “making Australians proud of the Australian cricket team”. But guess who also played a pivotal role in the eight-episode moral recalibration of Australian men’s cricket? Adam Zampa and Marcus Stoinis and “The Love Café”.

If you have watched “The Test” you know the “The Love Café” is about two close friends besotted with manually grinding and brewing rare coffee beans. Interest in “The Love Café” has dipped after several cricketers like Andrew Tye, David Warner and Labuschagne bought apparatus to set up their own coffee clubs but Kane Richardson—who Mitchell Starc once described as the “third wheel” between Zampa and Stoinis—holds a grudge against “coffee snob” Zampa for never extending him an invite to their cafe. “To me it all tastes the same,” Richardson mocked Zampa’s fetish for buying the best and most expensive beans in an interview last year, adding a “quick trip” to Warner’s room does it for him otherwise “he tends to chew your ear off.” What Richardson leaves out in the interview—intentionally, of course—is that Zampa had also agreed to get a tattoo of a whisky glass on his left wrist as part of a deal with Richardson on his stag weekend. “I’ve always taken a couple of bottles of whisky on tour with me,” says Zampa in an interview to the BBC last year. “A few of the boys have started to do it too. We have a whisky club. At night people will bring different bottles. Some like Japanese. I like Scottish Highlands. Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc have started to enjoy it and a few other guys are starting to dabble.”

But wait. It’s not just about coffee or whisky clubs in bio-bubbles. It’s much deeper. For decades, Australia practised a frankly toxic idea of elite mateship that believed in crushing visiting teams’ morale long before a tour had started, threatening to break their “f*****g arms” while refusing to get off their moral perch. This, however, is a different Australia, led by a very unassuming Aaron Finch and stewarded by coffee connoisseurs, scotch-swirling vegans and a PETA campaigner in Zampa who still prefers film cameras to DSLRs. “I don’t really see myself as a cricketer,” says Zampa. “I see myself as quite a cultured person.”

“Too close, aren’t they?”

There is honesty, unabashed display of bromance— holding of hands, kissing, painting of nails and sharing spring rolls on the Allan Border Medal red carpet—stuff most Australians haven’t witnessed in a cricket team. So when the giant screen at Sharjah showed Zampa running his fingers through Stoinis’s hair during an ODI against Pakistan in 2019, Langer couldn’t mask his disapproval. “They are two of the rarest men I have ever met,” Langer later says in the “The Test” but Finch doesn’t beat around the bush. “They are a bit too close at times, aren’t they,” Finch asks.

Stoinis doesn’t shy away from the polite queries though. “Lucky the cameras weren’t on later because…”, he says, chuckling at a press conference after that Sharjah match. “It’s hard to explain, we love each other,” Zampa says in “The Test”. And when the same question is shot at them just before the 2019 Big Bash, Zampa plants a kiss on Stoinis’s cheeks. It was like watching Starsky and Hutch overdosing on bromance.

Maybe the change is finally happening. Maybe Australian cricketers are slowly becoming more real. And what’s the most remarkable thing about this turnaround? Watching those same guys step up to the main act. Because let’s face it, doing well in World Cups may be in their DNA but Australia didn’t have the right men for some time now for the final push. They were in dire need of a finisher and a wrist-spinner. Case in point is the one-sided 2019 World Cup semi-final against England where they were dismissed for 223 despite reaching 157 after the 35th over. Any good ODI side ought to have added at least a hundred runs more but Australia lacked depth. And they were practically outplayed within the 16th over when Steve Smith—who rarely bowls anyway—was carted around the ground for three sixes in a 21-run over. Nathan Lyon too conceded 49 runs in five overs, making that semi-final the last time he featured in white-ball cricket.

Getting their due

Enter Zampa with his quiver of leg-breaks and variations, including a very deceptive wrong’un. With more wickets (12) than any other spinner in the Super 12, a career-best haul (5/19 against Bangladesh) and the lowest economy (5.69) so far, you could say Zampa has finally arrived though he has been around for a really long time. He was Australia’s most successful bowler in the 2016 World T20. That 6/19 for Rising Pune Supergiants against Sunrisers Hyderabad in the 2016 IPL? That was Zampa too. “The great thing about Zamps is he’s super honest,” says Stoinis. “He took his five wickets the other night and he felt like he didn’t bowl well. That’s a quality of a good player, when you’re picking apart your own game and you understand exactly what you’re doing.”

It’s not easy to break into a limited overs league dominated by Shane Warne and Brad Hogg but Zampa came to the T20 World Cup getting purchase in South Africa, England, New Zealand, West Indies and Bangladesh. Yet doubts lingered. “I’ve always been underestimated,” Zampa tells cricket.com.au a day after finishing with 4-0-22-1 against Pakistan in the semi-final. “Even as a 15 or 16-year-old growing up in the country, there was always a city guy that’s better than me or there’s always been someone that turns their leg-spinner more than I do. Even after this tournament, there’ll be another series that comes up and I’ll be underestimated again.” And then he pauses. “I do thrive off that.”

Stoinis is another compelling story. In the fringes for long, he has seen more failure than success. His career was thought to be over when Stoinis didn’t bother the scorers in the 2019 World Cup semi-final. But he bounced back better and fitter, ending the 2019-20 Big Bash as top scorer (705 runs at an SR of 136.62) with a highest score of 147*, still the highest individual score in BBL’s history. “You definitely do draw on your past experiences,” Stoinis tells cricket.com.au. “I’ve played a lot of T20 cricket and I’ve sort of built that scar tissue. I’ve failed in situations and I’ve been told I can't finish a game; we’ve heard all these sorts of things before. I think you need to go through all sorts of stuff and build that scar tissue, go and stand in the middle in a pressure situation. It doesn’t mean it’s always going to work, but I think I’ve definitely noticed the way that I do think through that situation has grown over the past couple of years.”

Ricky Ponting noticed the same after Stoinis finished the IPL 2020 season with 352 runs at a strike rate of 148.52. “Having spent a fair bit of time with him over the past couple of years, what I saw from him at the IPL suggests to me that he’s five times better player than he was 12 months ago,” Ponting told cricket.com.au. A hamstring injury this IPL scuppered chances of improving on last year’s show but Stoinis hasn’t let that dent his confidence. “There’s no doubt I was feeling the pressure a little bit,” said Matthew Wade after winning the semi-final with a 17-ball 41. “And Stoinis was saying, ‘we’ll get these, we’ll get these’. In the back of my mind I was thinking, ‘I hope you do because I don’t think I’ll strike one here at the moment’. But while he’s around I’m confident we can chase any total.” It happened, against Stoinis’s Melbourne Stars teammate Haris Rauf, who he picked for a six and four in the 17th over to bring down the equation to 37 from 18 before Wade took over.

Australia will hope there is more to come from Stoinis and Zampa. That will make this post-Cape Town story one for the ages.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Somshuvra Laha is a sports journalist with over 11 years' experience writing on cricket, football and other sports. He has covered the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup, the 2016 ICC World Twenty20, cricket tours of South Africa, West Indies and Bangladesh and the 2010 Commonwealth Games for Hindustan Times.

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