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Friday, November 10, 2006

Australians " totally uncivilised"

The Australian team, notably Messrs Ponting and Martyn, have been described by Sharad Powar, the head of the BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) as "totally uncivilised" for their behaviour at the Champions trophy presentation.

I know from personal experience that Indian people set great store by ceremonial protocol: at most functions there is a hierarchy of guests, with the chief guest, in this instance Mr Powar, being the most important. Ceremonies with each guest, beginning with the least important, being acknowledged, and usually invited to speak. Nothing should disturb this. In my only appearance at such a ceremony (not, alas, related to any performance on a cricket field) I was speaking when the power failed. The show nevertheless went on: fortunately I was speaking off the cuff and was able to finish quickly and allow the next speaker their turn (half way through which the lights came back on).

Acording to Cricinfo Cricket Australia is trying to hose the matter down, though to my mind CEO James Sutherland's comments seem a bit bland for an Indian audience, however well they may go down in Australia:

James Sutherland, Cricket Australia CEO had said yesterday that the relations between both boards were absolutely fine. "It's unfortunate that there has been an interpretation of disrespect from that. I know that no disrespect was intended by the Australian players; I have spoken to Ricky about it. Perhaps sometimes these things can happen between different cultures."

For a sample of Indian opinion see these pieces from Hindustan Times , Times of India and The Hindu. Here's an extract from the latter:

We respect the way Australia runs its cricket and we respect the way Australia plays its cricket, which is probably why half the Australian team strides around on Indian television hawking stuff. (We certainly don't respect our board president getting pushed around).

But in Australia, respect for Indian cricket is grudging, if at all. The talking-down, slightly supercilious tone that some use (which we got for years from the English and still do in some places) bothers me.

Culture shock

It bothers me also that this is what you often read about India in Australian sports pages. Chaotic. Noisy. Dirty. Cracked pavements. Delhi-belly. Yawn. It's true, but it's also all so 1980s about a country that's changing every day. It's intriguing, too, that culture shock only occurs going from West to East.

Presumably this shock explains why few write about how well Australia's players are treated in India.

I'm not being precious, I'm just plain bored. And wondering, is there nothing in pulsating, economically powerful, rapidly changing, complex India, which is interesting (and I'm not talking about elephants on the street and the maharajas).

India may not be big news in Australia but it is elsewhere in the world, and by resorting to lazy stereotypes some cricket writers, who are the primary messengers, are not being entirely accurate messengers. Writers in Australia such as Peter Roebuck, Greg Baum and Chloe Saltau, and former cricketers like Ian Chappell, do a fine, thoughtful job, but I find them lonely voices. After all, if anyone wants to know about India, all they have to do is ask: we love talking.

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