Clayton Murzello: Hunger more important than anger

By  Clayton Murzello | Posted  29-Dec-2016

Instead of focusing on getting Virat Kohli ruffled, Steve Smith should be craving to break Australia’s 12-year winless streak in India

 Australia’s captain Steven Smith celebrates his century during the first day-night cricket Test against Pakistan in Brisbane on December 15. Pic/AFP
Australia’s captain Steven Smith celebrates his century during the first day-night cricket Test against Pakistan in Brisbane on December 15. Pic/AFP

The Australian cricket team have missed many a trick this year in Test and one-day cricket. Now their captain Steve Smith is set to attempt another trick — to make his India counterpart Virat Kohli “angry” when the two teams meet for a Test series on Indian soil next year.

“I guess for us as a team it’s trying to get him out of the strong emotional state and try and make him, I guess, a little bit angry and ruffle his feathers and things like that. I think if you can get him in that state then the Indian team can possibly be a little bit vulnerable,” Smith said on ABC Grandstand a few days ago.

Apart from the fact that Smith has not witnessed many fruitful days on a cricket pitch in 2016, he is either unaware or doesn’t believe in a cricketing truism prophesised a lot in his own country — ‘upset good players and they’ll hurt you.’

Smith belongs to an era in Australian cricket which has not witnessed a Test series win in India since 2004-05. Their last win before that was in 1969-70. A captain in the right frame of mind should be looking, or at least talking, about breaking that jinx instead of playing right into the media’s hands by expressing his desire to upset the opposition captain.

When Steve Waugh spoke about mental disintegration in 2001, he did it at a time when Australia were the No 1 team in the world.

The problem with Australia is
that sometimes their top players and critics work hard to give the impression that Australians are the only cricketers in the world blessed with mental toughness. Preachers are som­e­times boring, but here, the preaching is distasteful.

The mental game comes into play more in overseas conditions where you have to get out of your comfort zone and also try and be stronger than the host team’s psyche. While there is no shame in tripping overseas, there is no need to ridicule teams who get run over in Australian conditions.

The Australians must have a good look at themselves when it comes to playing spin. Ashley Mallett, the off-spinner, who was one of the reasons why Australia could beat India in 1969-70 (the other reason being they had quality batsmen who could get runs against top-class spinners) reckons that the only player in their current team who can play spin bowling is captain Smith. The rest are awful, according to the straight-talking Mallett. That it is 12 years since Australia won a Test match in India is shocking considering all the trumpeting they indulge in.

But cheerleaders of the Australian team often quietly dilute this fact and wake up with gusto when a sub-continental team struggles on bou­ncy pitches. For them, struggling on turning tracks is less of a failure than floundering on fast tracks.

For too long now performances on quick wickets have been used as the chief barometer to judge cricketing ability. It’s warped, it’s wrong, it’s disrespectful. It’s a great contest when the ball turns, just like it is when the ball comes at a quicker pace.

Sure, India have yet to win a Test series in Australia ever since they first visited Australia for a Test series in 1947-48. It’s something which should have happened considering the quality of players this country has produced. However, the Indians have provided Australian crowds memorable performances in almost every series there and their big players were never embarrassing. Sachin Tendulkar has been the biggest Indian star to tour Australia over the years. Over five Test trips and 20 Tests, he scored 1809 runs at 53.20 with six three-figure scores.

In contrast, Ricky Ponting, the Tendulkar of Australian batting in recent years, scored 662 runs in 14 Tests in his six tours to India and ended up with a feeble in-India average of 26.48 with only one century. This is not to chip at Ponting’s greatness, but these statistics are seldom brought up in Australia. And let’s not forget the batting deeds of Rahul Dravid (41.64), VVS Laxman (44.14) and more recently Kohli (62.00) on Australian pitches.

If Smith believes Kohli’s great run can be stopped by upsetting him, he’s wandering in fields of false optimism. Now that he has lit the first flame in a possible war of words, he must back it up through his bowling pack because only good bowling can break Kohli.

New Zealand lost 0-3 in India; England 0-4 and India's form and class inevitably give rise to visions of a 0-4 rout for Australia.

The India-Australia rivalry over the years gave birth to the Border-Gavaskar Trophy which the two great cricket nations have fought for since 1996. The rivalry blossomed through hard-earned runs and wickets and the needle which came with it was never primary. If this is lost on Smith then he should demand a refund on his cricketing education.

mid-day’s group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello. Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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