Winning nasty: Aussies on verge of history

AUSTRALIA’S cricket side will tonight begin its quest to ensure they go down as the greatest ever — statistically anyway.

Should they overcome India in the third of a three Test series at Perth’s

WACA ground, it will be an all-time record 17th win on the bounce.

While they probably deserve the accolade, both for their own merits and the lack thereof of any other Test nation today, it wouldn’t be Australia unless it was achieved acrimoniously.

Just like the joint-holders of the current record, Steve Waugh’s XI (1999 to 2001), their talent is matched by their ability to draw controversy out of any situation. But this series against India has marked a new waterline in the tempestuous nature of high level, high intensity cricket.

There have been allegations of racism against Indian bowler Harbhajan Singh (he’s starting a three Test ban for allegedly calling Andrew Symonds a “monkey”), threats by the tourists to pull out of the tour and the removal of below par umpire Steve Bucknor to appease an enraged India, victims of some desperately poor calls which led to their thrilling final over defeat in Sydney a week and a half ago.

Only yesterday, Australia’s Brad Hogg, who had been accused of making offensive remarks to opposing captain Anil Kumble and Mahendra Singh Dhoni, saw the case against him dropped by the Indians in a significant move to defuse some of the tension. Or was it a clever method of gaining the moral high ground? The rivalry between these two sides goes back to the last time a winning run of this nature was put together.

Almost seven years ago, India put a stop to Waugh’s ‘Invincibles’ in the second match of a classic series in the sub-continent. Ironically Harbhajan was the main man on that occasion too — but for all the right reasons.

With the temperature and the dust rising, he grabbed India’s first ever test hat-trick to send the teeming Kolkata stands wild with joy. Ricky Ponting and Adam Gilchrist were first, followed ironically by the king of spin, Shane Warne.

What was most significant was that an obstinate Warne refused to walk. He was even reluctant to budge when the third umpire confirmed the dismissal. The bad blood between the two sides has dominated the decade ever since.

If their dominance of the game wasn’t so all-encompassing, a lot more focus would be put on the sheer lack of sportsmanship that the Aussies have wallowed in for nearly 30 years. A 1981 incident against New Zealand, in which a flagrant disregard of cricket etiquette denied the Kiwis a result at the last ball, caused a fully-fledged international incident.

Their bullying tactics at the crease goes beyond sledging.

They just had, and indeed have, a knack of infusing great cricket with a poisonous atmosphere.

So it was a blow to see the most public spat over rival banter — that alleged racist jibe — go in favour, as it were, of the Australians, the long time proponents of the type of abuse which consistently flirted with the line. As the Guardian’s Marina Hyde succinctly put it: “being invited to take a lecture on bigotry from Australia (could be) the first great sporting upset of the year.”

With the tourists threatening to abandon the tour and take their bat and pads home with them, ICC chief executive Malcolm Speed justified the accession to the Indian Cricket Board’s demand that Bucknor, whose effigy was being burned in the streets of Kolkata and Mumbai, be removed:

“We could have turned what is already an international incident into an international crisis. What we have elected to do is to take one of the issues out of play.”

The temperature gauge will be through the roof tonight and for the next couple of days at least. So much is at stake for both sides and it all revolves around pride, both potential and wounded.

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