The Indian cricket team has been locked down in a wide-ranging training camp, in preparation for the upcoming home series against South Africa.
The bilateral series promises to be a gruelling encounter lasting two months and comprising three T20Is, five ODIs and four Test matches.
Both teams are on top form in the fifty-over format, having reached the semi-finals of the World Cup in March this year.
The series marks the return of crowd favourite and short-form captain MS Dhoni who went off the radar for nearly three months, thanks to India’s reduced commitment in limited-over games. India was also concentrating on the recently concluded Test series against Sri Lanka, where a young team led by newly appointed captain Virat Kohli established an important milestone for India, winning a Test match after 10 attempts.
Whilst India has enjoyed success in ODIs in recent years, its biggest weakness in Test matches has traditionally been attributed to lacklustre fast bowling, deficient of the zest and the energetic punch pace bowling requires.
The team’s inability to take 20 wickets had known to be perennially difficult.
The seamers had been critiqued by media and former players and commentators including Sunil Gavaskar and Sanjay Manjrekar who called for pacers such as Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Shami to learn the art of aggressive pace bowling from the likes of Australian and South African bowlers.
With the introduction of an attacking captain Kohli, expectations were high of an aggressive approach, particularly in the bowling department.
This slant also received the backing of Ravi Shastri, Director of ‘Team India.’
The change was welcomed, and Dhoni had in fact been criticised for the lack of it.
When it came to the crunch, Kohli delivered, ably supported by speedster Sharma, who displayed the kind of hostility previously unseen in bowlers from the subcontinental teams, with the exception of Pakistan.
In the final test, Sharma was in a different zone.
He seemed to have found his elements, only seen once before during his debut years.
There was a bit of tension in the match, much like there is in any encounter involving the Australians.
In the end, there were no audible expletives, no physical contact and no finger pointing. There was however, a bit of banter and some awkward self-inflicted head slapping by Sharma. Awkward, but it seemed to have brought out the best from the bowler.
All of a sudden, those who condemned Sharma for missing aggression over the years, blamed him for having too much of it.
For me, this was more awkward.
There is no merit in condoning bad temperament.
However, there is an unjustified disparity in the way this received reviews and comments.
From an umpiring sense, upholding the spirit of the game remains the top priority in Cricket. Conversely, a bit of banter, some on-field aggression, heated temperament and occasional animated behaviour is very much a part of the modern-day game.
To deny this would be a tall tale.
If one examines the recent past of Australian and South African dominance, a common pattern can be observed with successful pacers like Brett Lee, Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell Stark and Shaun Tait.
Even debutant Josh Hazelwood was seen giving a mouthful to veteran Sachin Tendulkar.
Besides a bit of commentator feedback, and the much-required docking of match fees, no one complained about the so-called bad behaviour.
I remember that even the so-called well-behaved lot like Glenn McGrath once spat on West Indies opening batsman Adrian Griffith. Naturally, he copped a fine and moved on.
Indian media and commentators do not seem to have forgiven Sharma for his performance in Sri Lanka. Had India not won that last match, they would have been criticised him saying that he lacked persistence.
I believe that Sharma is an unfortunate bloke who is facing the wrath of a stereo-type expectation that Team India is nice and gentlemanly.
Cricket is a Gentleman’s Game but being aggressive on the field does not make a player less gentlemanly.
Steve Waugh was a good example of this trait.
Sourav Ganguly, who defied the Indian dressing room norm with some public display if aggression, also faced severe criticism initially.
Only when his records re-wrote the almanac he suddenly became a hero.
Shifting the paradigm is always difficult and meets resistance.
When India’s pitches shifted away from being spin friendly people were critical too.
It is high-time we embraced the change in our approach to the game and keep at pace with which others operate.
Of course, common sense and limits to behaviour must be in place but the same rules should apply to all.
In the forthcoming series, one wonders how Dale Steyn’s aggression would be compared to that of Sharma, should he be brave enough to exercise it.
- Virat Kohli: A milestone for India
- Ishant Sharma: Aggression of the Aggressor