On Matters That Matter

The man who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small stones

The Australian Coverage Was An Embarrassment

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Some publications and cricket writers in Australia have a tendency to pounce on a visiting team if they have an indifferent start to their campaign or lose the first match badly. The press takes no time in writing them off as spoilers of a summer entertainment that is considered a natural right of the Australian public that enjoys healthy competition. Apart from a few brilliant writers like Gideon Haigh, respected the world over and those like Greg Baum and Peter Roebuck who give every visiting side its due; a lot of the Australian media sometimes forgets the essential thing while writing about visitors: the context. The West Indies have been the latest sufferers after their capitulation inside three days at the Woolloongabba, Brisbane.

The coverage accorded the West Indies after their defeat inside three days at the Gabba even by the expected low standards was harsh. It is a different matter that West Indies picked themselves up and the next match was a draw and the loss at Perth was close and could have easily gone the other way. Australia made 520 batting first and when the West Indies came out it was a Gayle thunderstorm and not the Fremantle Doctor that struck the WACA.

Gayle was the first wicket to fall having made 102 in 72 balls out of the total of 136 runs for the first wicket; he struck nine fours and six sixes in the counterattack. The team could only manage 312 and that gave Australia a lead of 208 going into the second innings. The West Indies blew the Aussies apart for 150 in the second innings and in their chase of 359 runs just fell short by 36 runs.

During India’s 2003-04 tour of Australia, Steve Waugh’s farewell series, the two words that India heard in the lead up to the first Test at the Gabba were ‘chin music.’ The Gabba is an Australian fortress where the last time Australia lost was in 1988 against the West Indies and for India in Brisbane what could one say in a preview. “Playing an Indian team softened by early defeat at Brisbane—as seems inevitable—will be the perfect platform to greater things. Steve Waugh’s retirement at the end of this series might symbolise, to the sentimental, the end of an era—but by no means will that bring an end to Australia’s dominance in world cricket,” wrote Amit Varma of Wisden Cricinfo India. Seldom have series results been predicted before even a ball is bowled but such was Australia’s domination in home conditions that it is the Indian team that should be hailed for their performance rather than admonishing the writer for getting his series preview wrong. It was a 1-1 draw and Steve Waugh’s farewell series was saved more by Steve Bucknor and Billy Bowden in the second innings in Sydney than by their batsmen. It has been written about and the Cricinfo coverage can be accessed to see the merit in this assertion.

Veteran writer and commentator on Caribbean cricket Tony Cozier said that no one is more painfully aware of the rapid disintegration of West Indies cricket than West Indians themselves. The proof has been before our eyes for at least a decade now, at our once-filled grounds, on our television screens, in our newspapers.

“For all that, the abuse and scorn heaped on the team in the Australian press following its defeat in the first Test in Brisbane last week—by an innings and in three days—was undeserved. Comparisons with Australia’s similar decline in the 1980s, when their overall win-lost ratio in 92 Tests was 18-36 (5-16 against West Indies), were conveniently ignored.

Instead, we had this supercilious comment from Malcolm Conn, the long-serving writer for the Australian: ‘Have the West Indies really sent their full-strength team to Australia? Surely the real team must be still on strike, because if this is the best the combined might of the Caribbean can muster, then Test cricket is in terminal decline.’

He was in the Caribbean with the Australian team in 1984 when West Indies did not lose a single second innings wicket in the five Tests, winning the series 3-0 on the way to six successive victories. As I recall, no one suggested then that Test cricket was in terminal decline because of it.

Nor was there any consideration by the West Indies board that the series ‘should be cancelled and all tickets refunded’, the line Ben Dorries came up with in the Brisbane Courier-Mail after the Brisbane match. And, as bad as the Aussies were back then, they were not chided that their Test cricket had become ‘a complete and utter joke’, another of Dorries’ pearls.

Fortunately there are those of substance and influence with a more sympathetic, and realistic, take on West Indies cricket, men such as Greg Chappell. “I’m hopeful that some of the work that’s being done to help West Indian cricket become strong again is successful because I think they’re a very important member of the cricket family,” Chappell said.”

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