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An Indian making the most of life in sports-crazed Melbourne

Far Pavilions

Australia & Cricket –An Indian view

Monday, March 21, 2005

With a population of 20 million -about the same as that of Mumbai and Chennai together, Australia claimed 49 medals in the 2004 Olympics -the 4th highest tally behind USA, China and Russia. The medals came in a wide array of events including swimming, cycling, hockey, basketball, softball, tennis, rowing and athletics. If kabaddi were to get enlisted in the next Olympics, you can be certain that the antipodes would set up an academy and the professional support structure to notch up a medal in that event.

And yet, the sport that evokes passions and following like no other in Melbourne is a very local sport that goes by the name 'footy' – short for Australian Rules Football. A stunned outsider watching a game of footy described the mayhem in the name of sport as a “mixture of rugby, soccer and a bar room brawl”. Only a handful of teams play this game outside of Melbourne. Nevertheless, footy matches regularly fill up the capacious Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) with ease and undoubtedly plays a big hand in the financial viability of cricket in that hallowed ground.

Given the wide range of sports being followed, and the unending stream of success they produce, it is a wonder that cricket continues to prosper in Australia. If anything cricket clearly continues to be Australia's sole claimant for the status of a national sport. There is a set cricket structure for children right from the age of 5 which is accessible to every child. The innumerable cricket clubs across the country welcome new members and play local league matches over Saturdays. Support infrastructure is boosted by state associations which facilitate umpiring classes and multiple coaching classes across the suburbs.

Unlike in India, the first class cricket league is well followed by the locals. The one day league of ING cup is telecast over a free to air channel and has a following that makes you fondly wish for Ranji trophy to showcase its importance as smartly. Consider this -a
frustrated Brett Lee after months of carrying the drinks in test cricket was so keen to join his state team –New South Wales (NSW) for the 4 day Pura cup final, that he considered chartering a flight from Christchurch to Brisbane through friends. The dominance of the national team in world cricket evokes debates in Australia on how the sport is becoming boring. The hubris of some of the current Australian cricket heroes irks many a local. The Australian cricket team can never garner as ardent a local following as the Indian cricket team. Yet, cricket evokes the collective pride of Australia. Don Bradman continues to be the most revered entity among their legion of sporting legends.

Bill Bryson in his entertaining travel book on Australia –“Down Under” concludes his typically American views of Australians playing cricket thus: “…the mystery of cricket is not that Australians play it well, but that they play it at all. It has always seemed to me a game much too restrained for the rough-and-tumble Australian temperament. Australians prefer games in which brawny men in scanty clothing bloody each other’s noses. I am quite certain that if the rest of the world vanished overnight and the development of cricket was left in Australian hands, within a generation the players would be wearing shorts and using the bats to hit each other…And the thing is, it would be a much better game for it.”

Maybe so, but right now, nothing will stop Australia from doing what they do well -enjoy and play good cricket at all levels.

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