From the sidelines

Seen, heard and overheard at the cricket

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Rubbing salt in it: Cape Town wounds live on

A former Australian coach and a respected commentator were overheard discussing Cameron Bancroft and Steve Smith’s controversial decisions to give further interviews about their involvements in the Cape Town ball-tampering scandal. The interviews were aired during the first day of the Boxing Day Test and were an unwanted distraction on the biggest day in the Australian cricket calendar.

During lunch on Day 4 at the SCG Test, the commentator was heard to say to the ex-coach, “Can you believe those two? Mind-numbingly stupid.”, while the ex-coach replied, shaking his head, “Mate, no idea”. There may have been some more colourful language used, but this much was clear: the entire Australian cricket fraternity is astounded at the interviews, and the wounds from the events in Cape Town 10 months ago still remain well and truly open.

The exchange between the pair also proved that the Indian bowlers have left a serious impression on the hosts, with one of the pair remarking “They’re getting so much out of the pitches, they’ve been much better than our lot”.

Is it still banter?

Aakash Chopra has never been the most popular of commentators. Unflinchingly parochial and at times almost argumentative, Chopra’s style has not washed too well with local audiences or his fellow commentators during his time with Channel 7, with the ex-Indian Test opener regularly clashing with the likes of Michael Slater and Damien Fleming on air (although admittedly it does not take much to get under Slater’s skin).

The banter spilled into the lunch room during the SCG Test, when Fleming walked past Chopra and said “Do you ever stop talking mate?” He then gestured to Chopra and said, “He never shuts up!” Chopra retorted with “I’m paid to give my opinion”. We’re sure it was all in good humour, but there was certainly a little bit of bite in this banter.

As an aside, we think James Brayshaw missed the mark with his on-air comments that Chopra must not know where his wages were coming from, given Chopra’s notoriously pro-India stance. After all, while an Australian broadcaster may be paying Chopra’s wages, India is the reason cricket has any money at all.

A struggle for relevance

Mitchell Johnson was a fearsome fast bowler in his prime, but for much of his career, he was pilloried for his wayward bowling.

Things have not changed much in Johnson’s retirement, with the former Australian quick struggling to make his mark in the world of cricket journalism. Penning a piece for Fox Sports Australia, Johnson heavily criticised Virat Kohli, arguing in his very first line that the Indian captain did not make eye contact with Tim Paine when shaking hands after the second Test match in Perth. The claim was demonstrably false – a simple review of the video made it clear that Kohli had in fact made eye contact.

In a private exchange on Instagram, Johnson first denied his mistake, stating “That’s your opinion, your Indian captain is childish”, before apparently reviewing the video and commenting “Okay maybe there was or wasn’t eye contact but I am still entitled to me [sic] view and opinion”.

Johnson’s recent run of social media warfare even led one current Indian player to remark in confidence, “Mitch has lost it”. We don’t think so, but we think Mitch is definitely still hurting after the “childish” Kohli hit Johnson to all corners of the MCG in 2014.

Yadav’s new toy

Fresh from taking 5 wickets in his first Test on Australian soil, Kuldeep Yadav had earned a hard-fought break when rain intervened on Day 4 of the SCG Test match.

Yet even the darkening Sydney skies could not keep the young spinner off the SCG soil, with Yadav spotted having a grand play with Fox Cricket’s “rover” vehicle as if it were Christmas morning, while his teammates relaxed in the dressing room away from the cold, the rain, and the hordes of Indian fans crowding the front of the away dressing rooms in the Members Pavilion. Yadav’s smile was a dead giveaway for his friends and family: his next birthday present simply has to be a high-powered remote-controlled vehicle.

Although Yadav was not required with the bat in his only appearance in the series, he still managed to hit a four – by driving the rover straight into the boundary rope. Oops.

Kasper the Friendly Bowler

Former Aussie player Michael Kasprowicz claims quite proudly that he has contributed significantly to India’s GDH – ‘Gross Domestic Happiness’. Talking at a sideline event during the Border Gavaskar Trophy, he explained that TV snippets of Sachin Tendulkar smashing him relentlessly to the boundaries continue to this day to give India much cause for happiness.

 Vegan Virat

So you think Virat was less pugnacious this time around? Word has it that wifey Anushka must take credit – she’s converted him to a vegan, apparently. And Virat himself is all for this new love for ‘clean living’, claiming it helps him recover faster on game days.

 Pakistan’s hand in India’s win

Sanjiv Dubey, a Level 3 coach and founder of the Western Sydney based cricket academy Sports Foundation Australia, has been doing his bit for the visiting Indian cricket team, helping at practice sessions. Last month he had organised for four of his wards – high school kids and up and comers in NSW’s pathway program – to test their mettle against India’s greats.

This month, he did the same with some Pakistani players he is currently training. Harris Rauf, Salman Irshad and Abbas Baloch, players from Pakistan Super League’s Lahore Qalander team, bowled to Indian batsmen at the nets at SCG. Top-level teams like to practice with what they might expect on match day, and so Harris and Salman – who bowl consistently above 145 kms per hour – were no doubt very welcome at the nets. To emulate Mitchell Starc, Sanjiv chose left-arm fast bowler Abbas Baloch.

 Fundraisers galore

The bidding on McGrath Foundation’s Pink Test items continues as we go to press. Virat Kohli’s pink baggy has attracted the highest bids by far of all the items donated by the players, at just under $4000. Looks like there are many fans out there who want to own a bit of cricketing history. Nathan Lyon comes in next at the $2000 mark, followed by Pat Cummins, Peter Handscomb and Rishabh Pant.

Meanwhile, the Chappell Foundation has also been the recipient of a Kohli gift – a set of his pink gloves and a shirt, both autographed, made personally to Greg Chappell (GC). Will raise a tidy sum at their forthcoming charity annual dinner on 20 March, you can be sure.

Both Ravi Shastri and Virat Kohli were seen raptly listening to GC when he dropped by to say hello to them, on their Dressing Room balcony. GC was actually there to visit former cricketers of Sydney’s Indo Australian Cricket Club (IACC) who were having an annual reunion in the Members stand, five rows away from the Indian Dressing Room.

Iconic Indian Broadcaster Harsha Bhogle also did his bit for the Chappell Foundation. In Melbourne, on Boxing Day, despite his hectic schedule, Harsha fronted up for an event hosted by the Swami Army which will be donating a tidy sum of money to help The Chappell Foundation ameliorate youth homelessness in Australia. Harsha was mobbed by the 100-odd Indians who attended the event and patiently interacted with them for a couple of hours. A true rock-star!

 A selectors’ soiree

Talking of GC, he was seen deep in conversation with MSK Prasad, his India counterpart (ie chief selector for the Indian cricket team). Were they sharing trade secrets, tips maybe? Appears GC was passing on a bit of gyan – not about cricket, but about the Three Sisters at the Blue Mountains. And MSK came away fascinated that the stone siblings had Indian-sounding names: Meehni, Wimlah and Gunnedoo. Later, MSK confirmed that sporting facial hair does not give cricketers bonus points for selection to the team. (If you’re an old-timer, you might recall MSK’s last visit to Oz in 1999: he opened the batting in Sydney alongside VVS Laxman).

Special place for the little fans

Looks like Kohli’s love for his youngest fans is going to see many more of them flock to the grounds. Both at the MCG and the SCG, Kohli went out of his way to give a gift to his littlest fans. Read the story here.

A little party never killed nobody

The stewards in the Members area at the SCG have come in for strong criticism due to their lack of good sense. They are there to make sure the players sitting in their dressing rooms are not disturbed, but it seems that after the wash-out for most of Day 4 and seemingly ongoing for Day 5, the players were more than keen to sign autographs and take selfies with their gathered fans. The stewards thought otherwise and their rude behaviour towards fans and some of the players was noticed by those gathered there.

But no one could have stopped the celebrations – not even the stewards. The warm welcome given by the Bharat Army to the winning team at their hotel lobby has probably now been seen a million times. There’s an interesting tidbit there, revealed by Rajul Sharma, the Bharat Army’s Australia Country Head, to broadcaster Ekta Sharma on Indian Link Radio. “A similar reception had been organised by the Bharat Army in Melbourne, following the MCG win. Captain Virat Kohli was warm and gracious, but had refused to dance with us then. I’m holding on for Sydney, he had said with determination – I’ll dance with you at Sydney.”