Monday, March 21, 2011

Grow up, Chappell

(A version of this blog appeared on Dawn here.)

Here’s to Australia bitterness because without it this victory probably wouldn’t taste as sweet. As it happened, Ian Chappell’s cantankerous ramblings endowed this triumph with a wholesomely saccharine flavor it may otherwise have been devoid of.

There is no doubting that this Australian side does not stack up to those who have dominated this tournament for the last decade. Hence, this victory was in danger of losing some of its rightful appeal. However, Chappell reminded us that it’s not just a team we overcame. It’s a sickeningly superior attitude that has defined all contests with the Australians. And it is this sanctimonious arrogance that we prevailed against.

Anyone, partial or neutral, listening to the match commentary must have jerked their head in disbelief at some of the fairly provocative comments emanating from Chappell’s pie-hole. During our first innings Chappell expressed his philosophical reservations against the signature Shahid Afridi pose. Apparently, Chappell detects an element of selfishness in Afridi’s gesture and fears that it detracts from the achievements of the team.

You know what else Chappell had problems with? Team huddles, of course. This excuse for recreational mingling was considered by Chappell as a waste of time which is why, during his reign as captain, he would simply write notes on scraps of paper and expect his team-mates to pass it around, always maintaining arms-length distance from one another.

Finally, Chappell also chose to invoke some righteous imagery when he opined that Ricky Ponting would be looking to set the record straight in light of the cloud of scandal circling over the Sydney test match. In Chappell’s eyes, Ponting was the living embodiment of an Arthurian knight riding through the sinister countryside and drawing his fiery Sword of Morality and Shield of Integrity against the depraved humanity which populates his lands. Today, that Sword would be raised against the villainous Pakistanis who had dared sully the name of Australian cricket.

Chappell’s comments were utterly preposterous, bordering on maniacally defensive and senselessly bitter.

Afridi’s gesture is emblematic of a broader team ethos. It serves as a rally cry for his charges channeling and facilitating their ascendancy. Afridi is no dummy, despite what his shot selection on the day might suggest. He is fundamentally aware of his aura within the team. They view him as a talisman and when they sense his exhilaration, when they see his energy, it infects them in turn. Afridi’s celebration is not posturing or preening. It is mobilizing and empowering.

Besides, give Shahid a break. So what if he strikes a pose? At least his arms and legs outstretched in an “X” looks cool. Which is more than I can say for a ridiculous, ballerina inspired jump by Brett Lee. What the hell was that about? I thought only cartoon cats jump in the air sideways and click their heels. In the annals of gayness, that could only be topped by a white guy trying to sing a hindi song alongside an aging Indian pop-star attempting to be hip and relevant. Oh wait.

I fail to see how a huddle during the break is a time-wasting exercise. Is Chappell upset that the Pakistan team isn’t constructively utilizing all of the forty five minutes they are given between innings? Is our mid-innings assembly somehow threatening to disrupt the space-time continuum through a peculiar quirk of physics only Chappell is privy to? Team huddles are a historical feature of the game and characterized the conquering Australian side under Steve Waugh. However, in Chappell’s defense, his aversion to the huddle can be traced back to his days in the Australian team post-1977, when all his team-mates ever spoke about in a huddle was how little Ian got his ass handed to him by Ian Botham. Twice, mind you.

As for Ponting the Crusader, following this incident Aleem Dar may have serious misgivings about Chappell cloaking Ponting in the garb of nobility, particularly given the settled understanding in all corners, including his own homeland, that Ponting is a first-class jerk.

Furthermore, Chappell has no right to attempt to appropriate for the Australians alone the indignity suffered by the match-fixing saga. It is an affront to sportsmanship felt by all Pakistanis everywhere. We are keenly aware of the disgrace our players have brought upon the game and it is our hope to one day come to terms with this ordeal and feel genuinely proud of a team which is worthy of honorably representing our nation. Chappell’s implicit attempt to paint Australians as the only victims of that tragedy is symptomatic of the self-indulgent imperiousness which typifies Australian cricket.

It is this conceit which has helped elevate a league victory into a defining triumph.

Look, there is no arguing that qualitatively this is not the Australia of 1999, 2003 and 2007. The Aussies are no longer the superpower of our sport and, in a sense, this victory may not carry the meaning it would have a couple of years back. However, I for one feel that this holds true more for other teams and less so for Pakistan.

The challenges a team like Pakistan faces in every game is hardly limited to the 11 players in the opposing team. More often than not, they are also locked in a continuous struggle against their fragile psyches and the demons of their past. It is this emotional baggage that Pakistan contends with in every game in addition to the more tangible challenges on the field. And it is these hang-ups which elevate a game which should have been a cakewalk for a more composed side into a feat of astronomical proportions for our batsmen.

For all intents and purposes, Pakistan were not playing the Australian side as it currently stands with a miserably out-out-form middle order and a one-dimensional attack. In our minds, we were confronting the ‘notion’ of Australia which has haunted us and the cricketing world for the past decade. And we conquered that perception which still manifests itself in the attitudes of Chappell, Ponting and, more viscerally, in Brad Haddin's outburst.

So when Umar Akmal accepted his man-of-the-match award, it was telling that he referenced the Sydney test match, a specter that has haunted Pakistan for almost two years. He admitted his own complicity in that crime and perhaps this was his apology for the trauma inflicted upon the nation as a consequence of his team’s past actions.

It is this humility which will allow us to come to terms with the pain of the last 12 months. It is this humility which runs in perfect opposition to the arrogance of the Australians.

Fittingly, it is this humility which silenced Ian Chappell and the Australian machine.