March 12: Forget the fireworks and shimmering dancers of the opening ceremony. The games have begun.
Mind games, that is.
No surprise that it’s the “ugly” Australians firing the opening shots — but should the Indians be flattered at being targeted first'
The Men in Blue are paper tigers abroad, Ricky Ponting went out of his way to remind journalists last night. “India are a dangerous side and has improved noticeably…. But we are also not forgetting their negatives as bad travellers.”
A sign that the man who single-handedly knocked Team India out of the last World Cup final fears to leave all the talking to his bat this time'
Some might suggest, though, that Ponting is not the baiter but the baited.
|A performer spites fire at the World Cup opening ceremony in Jamaica. (Reuters)
The Australian’s remarks came at a news conference where he ripped into Sunil Gavaskar for saying the world champions had been “awesome” over the last decade but “awful in the way they have sometimes behaved on the field”.
If the Indian great, writing for a publication, was looking to rile Ponting, he couldn’t ask for more.
The Aussie skipper not only told “Mr Perfect” Gavaskar to lay off being “high and mighty”, but took potshots at India’s recent Test record.
“We all know the way he (Gavaskar) played his cricket, don’t we' If he is talking about us, what about the way India have played their cricket over the last few years' For him to go on about behaviour — not too many captains have dragged their teams off the field either,” Ponting bristled.
After falling to a contentious lbw in the 1981 Melbourne Test, Gavaskar had almost dragged opening partner Chetan Chauhan out of the ground.
Citing India’s three wins out of 12 Tests last year, Ponting said: “I know who I would rather be going to watch. Have a look at how many Test matches they have won.”
He kept flitting from one of his twin targets to the other. “He has been a big part of that (Indian cricket); he has been a selector and on the coaching committee. They might want to start to look at the way they play their own cricket rather than looking at us.”
Such comments have been known to boomerang by spurring opponents. But might Ponting have been inspired by one Sourav Ganguly’s eyeball-to-eyeball with Ian Chappell during Australia’s 2001 India tour'
When, writing for a newspaper, ex-captain Chappell described him as arrogant and unpopular among his teammates, the Indian had replied with a written rejoinder.
Steely captaincy or not, India scripted a magic turnaround to win the Test series. During the ODIs, Sourav got under rival Steve Waugh’s skin by repeatedly keeping him waiting for the toss.
If Ponting has such subtle ploys, he hid them up his sleeve. He dismissed Gavaskar’s charge of Australian unpopularity by suggesting this was a result of dominating other teams for a long period.
Ponting claimed his team’s behaviour had been “reasonable” in recent times. “I have probably been reported more than anybody since I became captain. It’s something we pay a lot of attention to.
“I don’t mind if ‘Mr Perfect’ comes out and goes on about our team…. But for some of these guys that have done it all themselves, it’s pretty high and mighty for them to say that.”
In 1981, though, it was Gavaskar who had the last laugh. He was surely not playing mind games, but after the near-walkout, a couple of umpiring decisions favoured the Indians, helping them pull off a remarkable upset.