The Indian subcontinent has transformed from a cricketing afterthought in Australia to a financial powerhouse increasingly important to players and officials Down Under, a history of Cricket Australia (CA) shows. The book, ‘Inside Story’, by Gideon Haigh and David Frith examines the archives of Cricket Australia, formerly the Australian Cricket Board, to present a warts-and-all account of the game’s history. The official record charts the change in attitude in the often tempestuous relationship between Australia and the subcontinent.
Until the 1950s, the book says, Australian cricket administrators manifested little interest in the cricket world beyond the ‘Anglosphere’—England, New Zealand and apartheid-era South Africa. “Australia and the subcontinent have little in common beyond cricket,” the book says. “Their cricket relations, consequently, have been fertile ground for mutual incomprehension, since the days when India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka were alien places to tour and dealing with local officialdom was a game of cat and mouse.”
On a roll: A freeze-frame moment during an India-Australia One-day International held in Chandigarh on 8 October.
One flashpoint came in Perth in 1981, when Australian paceman Dennis Lillee kicked Javed Miandad as he ran a single, prompting the Pakistan captain to raise his bat above his head as if to strike Lillee. Described by ‘Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack’ as “one of the most undignified incidents in Test history”, the records show some board members believed Lillee’s suspension for two one-day internationals was far too lenient. The book says Sri Lankan sensibilities were offended when Australian umpires called Muttiah Muralitharan for throwing—bowling improperly—in 1996 and 1999, a controversy the board tried to stay away from. “No Sri Lankan regarded (Australian umpires) as impartial arbiters of fairness: they saw Australians victimising one of their countrymen,” the book says.
Relations with India, meanwhile, were almost non-existent. The records reveal that in 1970, Australian captain Bill Lawry told the board after a gruelling Indian tour that all subcontinental trips should be discontinued without cast-iron assurances about accommodation and security. Former chairman Denis Rogers said he was embarrassed, after taking the position in 1995, at the lack of cricket played between the countries—with Australia only touring India twice in the preceding 26 years. “We’d done them wrong, only played when it suited us...one year we’d booked them for the World Series (one-dayers) then paid them to go away when the West Indies had become available,” he said.
Such offhand treatment would be unthinkable now, when, the authors say, the subcontinent occupies more and more of Cricket Australia’s management time and strategic thought. “India, by dint of revenue, population and ardour, (is) increasingly the most lucrative of cricket destinations,” they say. “Touring there, by the same token, (has) retained its exoticism and eccentricity.” Recent developments not covered in the book have confirmed the increasing links between cricket’s strongest team and its most powerful regional grouping.
Australia this year altered its traditional Test schedule to accommodate India’s visit beginning on 26 December. The ‘Sydney Morning Herald’ described the move as “a further sign that the once immovable southern season is increasingly having to be shaped around the desires of the powerful India-led subcontinental bloc”. CA chairman James Sutherland was also reluctant to condemn Indian officials’ tardy response to claims of crowd racism during a recent one-day series, noting 70% of world cricket revenue comes from India. Australian stars are also lining up to play in India’s new Twenty20 competition next year.