In the wake of Homework-gate and the carefully scripted corporate-speak that came hard on its heels, the Australian cricket team has one last chance to salvage some respect from its farcical tour of India.
I’m at Feroz Shah Kotla Grounds, New Delhi, for the fourth test match.
Admission is only available for the entire five days, so I’ve paid 1,000 rupees ($17.68) for tickets to the south platinum hill – ‘platinum’, presumably because the couple of thousand uncovered seats have been draped with grubby white sheets. Opposite, a giant poster of Sachin Tendulkar adorns the red and yellow major grandstand, which resembles a multistoreyed carpark that has collapsed in the middle like a dud sponge cake.
Yesterday’s crowd, for the first day’s play, was noticeably smaller than when I came to the Bangalore test in 2004, but I’m told it’s all T-twenty now, with the punters saving their money to see the Delhi Daredevils in the IPL. How attendance figures might be further affected if Tendulkar weren’t playing is anybody’s guess, but the prospect remains hypothetical. Edward VIII and Benedict XVI got out of their gigs more easily than the demigod with a willow will be allowed to leave his.
A dozen or so fellow Australian tragics have made the journey – we are easily identifiable because we’re the only blokes wearing shorts. Blue denim on young guys and sweaty black polyester on older is the prevailing fashion. Noticeable is the absence of cotton lunghis, unless you count the little fellow selling bhel puri for 40 rupees a bowl.
The black and white, manually operated scoreboard displays Australia’s XI. Nobody wants to put the boot in, but really, with MJ Clarke returning to the shire with his crook back, this is close to the weakest test side I can recall since GN Yallop’s mob were served up on a platter to J M B Brearley’s Poms back in the seventies.
The Indians, leading 3–0 in the series, swaggered on to the field, every inch believing in themselves as gods in their homeland – the longhaired, preening Ishant Sharma the worst of them. Tosser.
Australia are 2/94, when the players go to lunch. In the circumstances, given the collapses that have preceded this innings, it’s not bad, but there was a nagging feeling that, whatever we got, the Indians would better it by 200. Incredibly, during the break, coach Mickey Arthur has some of the boys out doing fielding drills. Not a sight to inspire confidence.
The Australians bat as if they are fearful of causing offence to their hosts by beating the tripe out of them. Warner goes after facing one ball. He trudges back to the pavilion, clearly wishing that he is headed to the departure lounge at Delhi Airport. With his every step, the ever-present braminy kites swoop a little lower, closer, sensing more carrion to feed on. Cowan, patient and faux laconic, is restrained, watching and waiting, waiting, waiting for the ball that will get him out. Hughes slashes fours without ever convincing.
Watson, captaining the side, enters the fray with all the imperium of Dudley Doright.
One wonders what SK Warne, as a member of teams that included giants such as Waugh, Gilchrist and McGrath, would make of the plight of the Baggy Green. He is on the balcony of the nobs’ stand, tweeting and smoking. The mob rubbernecks him, crying Warnie! Warnie! The blond bombshell waves to them regally.
The loudest roar, however, is for Sachin Tendulkar. He is hardly ever seen in the field, being positioned in spots rarely visited by the ball. But late in the day, MS Dhoni moves him to the boundary at deep square-leg. The crowd in the bleachers race to the fence, drawn to him like tin shards to a magnet. Wanting to be near him, to be seen by him, they roar ecstatically. It is phenomenal.
At the time of writing, thanks to a rearguard action by our tail-enders and a five-wicket haul to N Lyon, the good guys have surprised us all by making a fight of it.
Who knows what tomorrow will bring, but it was worth being here to witness the crowd’s response to Tendulkar’s dismissal, plumb LBW. You could have heard a pin drop.
A god with feet of clay after all.