“We are faced with Australian batting, bowling, fielding, captaincy - and `Australianism’. ‘Australianism’ means single-minded determination to win - to win within the laws, but if necessary, to the last limit within them. It means that where the ‘impossible’ is within the realm of what the human body can do, there are Australians who believe that they can do it - and who have succeeded often enough to make us wonder if anything is impossible to them. It means they have never lost a match - particularly a Test match - until the last run is scored or their last wicket has fallen.”
The above extract is from John Arlott’s essay on ‘Australianism’ written in 1949. In the years to come, Australia continued to play cricket in much the same way. It didn’t matter who was leading the side or what their form was like. To play Australia was to be pushed to the limit... to the last limit by an opponent that wanted to win; it was a drive; it was an instinct; it was what inspired Virat Kohli; it was what sparked Sourav Ganguly; it was what defined Australia.
But now ‘Australianism’ finds itself surrounded in a haze unlike any it has seen in the past. And while it may still be possible to teach a new generation how to play cricket differently, how easy will it be to do the same to the veterans and perhaps more importantly, in transition, what will its impact be on their cricket.
The mental make-up of an athlete is vital for success. In times of strife, this is what the athletes can count on. One hones the mentality to a point where it becomes second nature; a natural response to a given situation. So when one is asked to abandon that approach – regardless of whether it is right or wrong – it takes time to find an alternative and even more time to find an alternative that is effective.
During the recent T20I series between India and Australia, Robin Uthappa couldn’t help himself when he said: “The Australians are trying to play like the Kiwis.”
Now, this wasn’t meant to demean the Kiwis or the manner in which they play. Rather it was more a reflection on how this Australian team just didn’t look like an ‘Australian’ team. After the recent cultural review, many might say this is a good thing but how much of this is forced... how much time are they spending thinking about what the line is and what it isn’t... how worried are they about public backlash if they do cross the line.
To Australian skipper Tim Paine, this line is a simple one. The team has come out with a so-called Players’ Pact, urging Australians to “compete with us, smile with us, fight with us, dream with us”. It is an idea that probably sounds a lot like ‘Elite Honesty’ but one will have to see how genuine it is and whether it serves its purpose.
Paine has also pledged to shake opponents’ hands before each match in a bid to change the culture within the side.
“I just think it’s a bit of a no brainer, just a show of sportsmanship,” said Paine when asked about the handshake idea. “It doesn’t mean we’ll be the nicest team in the world to play against by any stretch of the imagination. We’ll still be really competitive and fired up out on the ground, but I think you do need to have that bit of respect between the two sides.”
The idea has been not been met with a very favourable response from players such as Shane Warne and Michael Vaughan. Former skipper Michael Clarke last week even said this team was “not going to win s**t” if it was preoccupied with being liked instead of respected.
Indeed, it might not be amiss to say that Virat Kohli might be the most ‘Australian’ cricketer on the field. The Indian skipper has had a love-hate relationship with the Aussies. They’ve got on his nerves, they’ve ticked him off and he didn’t even want to be friends with any of them. But early in his career he wasn’t shy of saying that he wanted to play his cricket like the Australians.
There is so much an Australian would love in Kohli – the brash attitude, the never-say-die approach, the belief that the winner takes it all and last but not the least, the aggression. He will not take a backward step. All things quintessentially Aussie to most cricket watchers but perhaps not any more.
The Australian team has already faced a barrage of questions on how they will play their cricket and they have responded by saying that they will be aggressive but it is still unlike any build-up India have had to a tour of Australia where not only do the players and media roast, the crowd also seems more than happy to play an abrasive 12th man.
And all of that makes this series even more intriguing.
If and when Kohli does get going, how will they respond? Can Australia abandon their tried and tested methods successfully or will they revert back to type in the heat of battle? Will that break their resolve?
And if someone does break the pact, then what?