G Whiz!

The joys of seeing a Boxing Day Test at the MCG for the first time



PONTING IS NOT GOD

Ponting argues with Aleem Dar. The captain is respected in his country, but not venerated like Sachin.With the match going nowhere for Australia, I spent more time looking at the 84,435 spectators. I was curious to see how Aussie spectators would react when Ponting came in to bat. I was hoping to see the sort of ovation that Tendulkar receives anywhere in India (indeed anywhere in the world) when he comes out to bat with that customary gaze skywards. Sadly, the Ponting ovation was much less effervescent, although he did much better than Michael Clarke who was soon to follow him.

I wondered why; after all, Ponting has five Boxing Day Test centuries at Melbourne. I eventually concluded that while Australian fans think very, very highly of Ponting’s batting, he is not a cricketing God. Ponting is respected, but not venerated.

‘IF YOU THROW, YOU GO!’

As wickets kept falling in a heap – most batsmen were caught by the wicket-keeper or in the slips – I could see that the Australian fan was deeply disappointed by his team’s performance. But I didn’t hear a single profanity uttered even after Australia failed to reach 100. I tried to imagine how Eden Gardens might have reacted if India had been dismissed below 100; at the very least every cricketer would’ve been called suvvar-er bachcha (son of a pig).

This isn’t to say that the MCG cricket fan is inert. Late in the afternoon, when Strauss and Cook effortlessly compiled a century partnership, and many litres of beer lined the walls of the belly, disgruntled fans decided that it was more fun to throw paper rockets on the field than see Hilfenhaus being smacked for another boundary.

The MCG police immediately got tough. The giant screens warned: “If you throw, you go!” When a tipsy fan continued to throw his paper rocket in spite of the warning, he was arrested, photographed and ejected instantly. The photo ensures a life ban from entering the MCG. But the fan still exited smartly and to a tumultuous applause.

HAPPY POMS

The “Poms”, many of them with t-shirts announcing their allegiance to the Barmy Army, were a happy and excited lot. A group of Poms sitting next to us decided to chant “Jimmy, Jimmy!” as Anderson ran in to bowl. Sadly the chant lacked both the music and the magic.

It’s much better in India. I remember Hyderabad’s Ranji Trophy matches at the Fateh Maidan back in the 1960s. A hunk of a guy would unleash an earth-shattering screech “Jai …simhaaaa!”, and the rest of the stadium would respond with an infinitely long “ooo …ooo”. The stylish Jaisimha (has Indian cricket seen a greater stylist?) would acknowledge by raising his raised collar even higher.

The Poms playing in the middle were an equally happy and energetic lot, celebrating joyously after every fallen wicket. I was impressed that England bowled their full 15 overs every hour even though Anderson and Tremlett bowled with such long run-ups. The secret was to reduce between-overs time. The wicket-keeper Matt Prior sprinted like an agile antelope between wickets over after over; I’ve never seen our milk-drinking Dhoni show such alacrity.

YES TO DRS!

But England didn’t get everything right. In particular, Strauss got his umpire decision referral system (DRS) referrals completely wrong. England used up both their referrals before lunch on the first morning.

It’s a pity we don’t love DRS in India because it really adds to the match excitement. I saw 80,000+ people enjoy the drama of watch the replay on the giant screen, and roar in approval when English appeals were rejected. It was compelling viewing, and would, therefore, also be compelling television.

Why doesn’t India want it? My best guess is that DRS doesn’t favour our batting-rich cricket team. And I’ve never understood why we need to stop after two unfavourable verdicts. But then I suppose ICC can’t help being silly.

LUNCHTIME

Unlike some Indian grounds, the MCG has no safety nets between players and spectators. It was good that we carried delicious bacon and eggs sandwiches for lunch, because the MCG got even more animated during the lunch break. Dozens of kids, aged 9-12, descended on the green oval and had a whale of a time playing their T2 or T5 brand of 30-minute cricket. It reminded me of Mumbai’s Azad Maidan.

I wonder why we shoo kids away from the ground in India instead of letting them play. Security issues? But won’t our kids love to briefly play on the same ground on which Tendulkar is playing?

TV stations too didn’t miss the opportunity. A strikingly attractive lady was called in to talk sweetly and smile brightly. Andrew told me she was Lee Furlong, the famous TV personality, but he forgot to tell me that she was also Shane Watson’s wife.

We also saw Victoria batting greats Dean Jones and Bill Lawry being driven around the MCG in an open car. To my surprise ‘Professor Deano’ got the higher billing; wouldn’t most of us rate Lawry to be the greater cricket person?

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