ICC World XI vs Australia - National pride the differentiator
By H Natarajan
That top players do not necessarily constitute a top team is a sporting truism. It’s a point that Ricky Ponting’s Australian side hammered home in style.
The 1971-72 World XI was qualitatively far superior to the ICC World XI of 2005 that lost all the three One-Day Internationals and the one-off Super Series Test. The 1971-72 side had the likes of Sunil Gavaskar, Zaheer Abbas, Rohan Kanhai, Clive Lloyd, Tony Greig besides the great Gary Sobers. Yet a World XI line-up that had a galaxy of greats was all out for 59 in 14.1 over at Perth. Dennis Lillee took 8 for 29 in 7.1 overs, including six wickets in 15 balls. The World XI actually lost 11 wickets in that session of play – Lillee packing off Farokh Engineer a second time in a matter of few overs!
It was national pride that fuelled Australia’s charge against the ICC World XI and it was the absence of national pride that was primary cause of failure of the ICC assemblage – that was the biggest differentiator. The Ashes means everything to Australia. When that was lost, it hurt their national pride. The team sought quick retribution. Pride for the Aussies generated from the national crest – the Kangaroo and Ostrich - on their shirts and caps. The motley Worlds had no comparable passion to perk them up.
Mathew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist, whose failures hurt Australia’s Ashes expedition in Ole Blighty, led the batting assault. Hayden hit 111 and 77 while Gilchrist went ballistic in scoring 94. The presence of Freddie Flintoff and Steve Harmison only raised the Aussie intensity.
Hayden’s hundred will go down in the record books as a Test century for Australia; getting a century for the World XI players did not have a similar aura. The body language of the World XI players mirrored their low intensity levels. There were other problems, too. Brian Lara, Jacques Kallis, Steve Smith had all not played top class cricket for a quite while. Rahul Dravid’s mind was probably back home on matters of greater importance while Inzamam-ul-Haq looked blissfully bored. If the selection of Mark Boucher over Kumar Sangakarra and the omission of Anil Kumble were inexplicable, then the choice of Smith as captain was a shocker. No wonder the fare dished out was as fresh as last week’s upma.
The absence of National pride apart, the World XI lacked the kind of romance the sides in 1970 and 1971-72 had on offer for the connoisseurs of the game. The 1970 England vs Rest of the World matches gave cricket fans to feast on the talents of two of the greatest left-handers in the game – Gary Sobers and Graeme Pollock – batting at either ends. It had the sublime magic of South Africans like Barry Richards, Eddie Barlow, Mike Procter, Peter Pollock, whose talents annihilated Bill Lawry’s Australia 4-0. The series presented a rare opportunity to watch these supremely gifted men who, the world knew, were victims of their nation’s apartheid policy. The opportunity of watching a Sachin Tendulkar-Brian Lara jugalbandi may have got the crowd, but that element too was missing in the current World XI.
If the Ashes evoke high level of interest it’s because of the past history of the two nations. Ian Botham’s quip before the 1992 World Cup in Australia sums up how generations have viewed the old enemy. Botham famously said: “It would be lovely to beat the Australian in Melbourne in front of 1,00,000 convicts,” a dig with reference to Australia used as a penal colony in the 17th and 18th centuries to ship out convicts.
The intensity levels are even higher in Indo-Pak clashes – be it hockey or cricket. Hospitality ceases and hostilities begin once the contest gets under way. It’s then war minus shooting. Careers are made or marred, depending on the outcome of the gladiatorial contests. There is nothing in the World (XI) or in the universe that can match this parade of national pride.
The Pakistan team that lost to India in the 1996 World Cup quarter-final at Bangalore had to sneak back into the country. I was witness to the national outrage that followed after the loss to India. Wasim Akram was reduced to pleading in front of the media that he did not fake an injury to pull-out of the needle game. He was asked to swear upon the Quran in his defense! No, this was not a court room. It was a press conference that had degenerated into a public trial of one of the greatest sons of Pakistan cricket.
Will anybody remember or even care in Pakistan how many runs Inzamam-ul-Haq scored in Sydney?
Does anybody recall anything of the Africa vs Asia encounters played just couple of months back? Nobody cares. It’s as simple as that. These are matches conceived, hyped and executed to rake in the moolah. Something like Sobers’s epic 254 and the immortal attributes of Sir Don Bradman to that innings may help people remember the innings, but how many such displays do we get in a series?
One recalls with pride as an Indian Tiger Pataudi's innings of 75 and 85 in the 1967-68 Melbourne Test. With an injured leg adding to his visual handicap, he single-handedly defied Graham McKenzie on a Melbourne green top. The efforts are remembered because it came in a national cause. One also remembers Eknath Solkar’s 18* in the 1974 Lord’s Test. How many innings of 18 does one otherwise remember? Solkar’s figures remain etched in memory because the fighting effort came in a total of 42 all out.
Anil Kumble risked permanent injury when he came out to bowl with a fractured jaw wrapped in a cloth bandage in the 2003 Antigua Test. Would Kumble have done that playing for the World XI? Certainly not. Neither would have any of the World XI players kissed the ICC logo had they got a hundred.
Does the Leander Paes-Nenad Zimonjic or Mahesh Bhupathi with Martin Damn pairing have the same appeal as when the Indians teamed up together? It won’t, simply because there is a dilution of national interest. Playing for the country stirs up special adrenalin. Paes’s Davis Cup epics, in contrast to his singles performances on the pro circuit, bears testimony to that.
The ICC has done a hasty revision by aborting plans to make matches against Rest of the World a quadrennial affair. It should go a step further and strip the official status accorded to the matches. The ICC has done it in the past, downgrading the 1970 England vs Rest of the World matches.
Will that happen again? Unlikely, given the commercial implications.