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Game?s played hard here, without frills

Watching the last Test from Cricket Australia's private suite number 301, Australia's PM John Howard looked at the scoreboard and shook his head in disappointment. Perhaps it was incomprehensible to him that Australia could concede 700 in a Test innings and fail to dislodge not just Tendulkar but even Parthiv Patel.

india Updated: Jan 13, 2004 02:20 IST

Watching the last Test from Cricket Australia's private suite number 301, Australia's PM John Howard looked at the scoreboard and shook his head in disappointment. Perhaps it was incomprehensible to him that Australia could concede 700 in a Test innings and fail to dislodge not just Tendulkar but even Parthiv Patel.

But such is his love for cricket that PM Howard thoroughly enjoyed Sachin's huge double, heaped generous praise on Dravid's discipline and confessed his favourite was ‘that man Laksman’.

As sport is such a powerful national adhesive, it is not unusual for PMs to witness key events. Yet, there was a disarming simplicity and ordinariness about the Australian PM which was really pleasing.

He was not accompanied by an army of officials or security staff, there was no commotion, no disturbance, no inconvenience to anyone. He was almost like any other guest -- and even made his own coffee!

Remarkably, his hosts, Cricket Australia (CA), made no apparent fuss either. At lunch, when their CEO made a brief speech, his initial references were to acknowledge overseas guests, the Indian High Commissioner and other cricketing stars! For us, people from India, the absence of ceremony surrounding the PM of a country was amazing. Contrast this with what happens at the DDCA where every other person in the clubhouse seeks/demands/receives special handling.

But then Australia is different from India and so is its cricket. The game is played hard, it is competitive to the core, professional and pragmatic but minus all frills.

This no-fuss practicality is evident in small things, like the team arriving at the ground in a mini bus driven by Buchanan, players carrying their kitbags to the dressing room, Gilchrist feeding his child breakfast in the hotel lobby, Ponting grabbing dinner at a snack bar, Steve Waugh standing in an airport queue to check in his luggage.

Aussie cricketers are stars and public figures but there is no faltu shosha, no blind adulation.

This practical attitude is visible in more substantial things as well. Take for instance the clarity of vision behind their Cricket Centre of Excellence (COE), the earlier Academy. CA sees it as a finishing school for 26 chosen youngsters, a supply line for feeding its vibrant first class structure where, besides direct cricket skills, players are provided inputs to handle the media, cope with commercial demands and assisted in personality development.

The COE is a research centre for enhancing performance, a lab to test the latest advances in sports sciences and also a marketing institution to export cricket technology to cricket's second and third world.

As a one-stop shop it widens the cricket net and going beyond players/umpires/ curators/coaches, recognises the growing role of managers, administrators and sports lawyers in the current context.

India's 705, the highest score ever by a visiting side, caused Australian eyebrows to rise and heads, including that of the Hon'ble PM, to shake. Some other team, tomorrow, may make a 1000, but the system is so sturdy it will keep throwing up genuine quality.

First Published: Jan 13, 2004 01:23 IST