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The Impact of an India-Australia Brand

2 October 2010.

As part of the deal whereby they secured an interest in the Champions League, the Australians promised to visit these shores once a year. Accordingly, Ricky Ponting has brought his team along for this curious little series.

India and Australia need to take care not to turn an epic into a soap opera. Even flying to the moon cannot sustain a hundred trips. Over the last fifteen or so years clashes between these titans have scaled heights seldom attained in any sport let alone a supposedly mild game of bat and ball. Adopting the jargon favoured by economists, all the more reason to protect the brand.

Hardly a day has gone by without a display or brilliance or testiness from one of the combatants. Repeatedly, great players have reached deep into themselves to construct a memorable innings or a devastating burst. Hundreds and hat-tricks, thrills and tight finishes, uproar and agitation have decorated and occasionally damaged the game. Seldom has cricket been as compelling.

Of course it has helped that the teams were evenly matched and strongly motivated. Australians always play a hard and attacking game. It’s in the blood, terrain and history of a remote and raw nation. India had built a spiky, modern and intelligent team determined to prove itself the equal of anyone.

Rajiv Gandhi International Cricket Stadium

Rajiv Gandhi International Cricket Stadium, Hyderabad.
Jms1241 [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

Sports as an expression

Sporting fields give nations an opportunity to express themselves. Australia is driven by its status as a dumping ground, India needed to escape its caricature. Certainly it also helped that both outfits contained several players of undisputed greatness. India’s batting order counts amongst the best and longest lasting the game has known.

Combining supreme skill with a deft touch, blending boldness and restraint and never showing the slightest sign of timidity, the order proved efficient and entertaining. Australia’s batting was not far behind and its attack included two of the true giants of the genre in Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath. Exchanges between these practitioners were compulsory viewing for all followers of the game. Except in the Punjab, the grounds were packed and the television audience was huge.

For an unconscionable time the Australians did not deign to visit India with any regularity. It took the appointment of enlightened captains and India’s emergence as the financial hub of the game to bring about change. Eventually the outdated talk about rats and bellies and dodgy umpires ceased and Westerners started playing the bowling on its merits.

Honouring the deal

As part of the deal whereby they secured an interest in the Champions League, the Australians promised to visit these shores once a year. Accordingly, Ricky Ponting has brought his team along for this curious little series.

Originally the teams were supposed to play 7 ODIs, but mercifully that idea was abandoned. Unfortunately 3 ODIs were retained leaving time for only two Tests. It is an unsatisfactory outcome.

Muhammad Ali and Joe Frasier did not fight upon a whim. Nor did they bother with 10 round contests. Usain Bolt and Tyson Gay do not race in a park or upon a trifle. Tension builds whenever they meet; the marketeers have a field day. It is not sensible to suburbanise champions. Every sport relies on them to sustain the tradition and attract fresh customers presented with umpteen alternatives.

Accordingly India and Australia need to think again lest the appetite be sated. Already warning signs can be detected. Considering the calibre of the combatants and the host nation’s position in the rankings, the current series has not created the unmistakable tingle of expectation. Admittedly it is early in the season and the Commonwealth games are upon us.

Moreover, the first contest has been given to Mohali, hardly a stronghold. Still, it is India and Australia. It ought to sell itself. Instead the ground has been empty and the atmosphere has been a little flat. It is possible to have too much of a good thing.

This article was written for The Hindu.
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