India’s stunning test triumph


India’s first ever series win in Australia is a new high point for Indian cricket. The celebrations would have been even greater had the fourth test in Sydney not been a draw because the last day was washed out. India had forced a follow-on, the first in 30 years for Australia playing at home. Had the Australians managed the 323 runs needed to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, it would have been an epic achievement, but there was far more chance that the Indian team, enthused by their success, could have skittled out the Australians to claim a triumph on the field.

Tim Paine, captain of the once all-conquering Australian team was generous in defeat, admitting that, by and large, his men had been outplayed by a better Indian team. Sports-mad Australian cricket fans may be less generous. They are not used to being bested and take hard every international loss, whatever the sport.

India’s win owed much to captain Virat Kohli, for whom 2018 was a spectacular season which saw him bring his run total to 6,508 in 75 test matches. He is without doubt the world’s leading batsman. And his performance in the Twenty20 games, both in the India Premier League and the International Cricket Council games is no less stunning. This surely gives the lie to cricketing purists, not least in England, who warned that the faster, more action-packed Twenty20 one-day games would wreck the five-day test matches with their more subtle and enthralling strategies.

A far more legitimate concern is the amount of time professional players must now give to the game. Burnout by cricketers who have played too much is more common; so too is injury, especially to fast bowlers with their explosive actions. And there is a further important issue which has yet to be addressed. This is the impact of seriously big money on the professional game. Forty-one years ago, Kerry Packer’s breakaway World Series offered large rewards to players prepared to break ranks with the world body, the then International Cricket Conference. The India Premier League was the logical development of Packer’s innovation, paying top dollar to hire the best players from any country to produce a stunning, fast-moving sporting spectacle that is watched around the world.

But as with football, big money, not simply in terms of the fabulous sums paid for TV broadcasting rights, brings an added imperative to the game which can lead to corruption and cheating. Gambling syndicates, generally spawned by organized crime, in India and elsewhere, have suborned players to underperform and throw matches. Such cheats and the fraudsters behind them deserve the severest punishment.

However, there is another form of cheating, which is driven by an overwhelming desire to win at any cost. Steve Smith and David Warner the former Australian captain and vice-captain along with bowler Cameron Bancroft are currently suspended because of Bancroft’s sandpapering the ball during last year’s Australian tour of South Africa. Angry fans mutter that their absence from the tests against India contributed to Australia’s defeat. But although there was widespread outrage at Bancroft’s behavior, which Smith and Warner knew about, all cricket lovers must accept that the drive to win, at virtually any cost, was clearly responsible. To stamp out such cheating, players should perhaps be banned for life.