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October 2008
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John Stern: The real deal

October 10th, 2008 by John Stern in Australia in India, International

It might have been the moment when even the most old-school, reactionary Pom, still clinging to our delusions of grandeur like a comfort blanket, finally had to admit – the Ashes ain’t it no more. The rest of the cricket-loving world has known this for years but in Blighty we’re world class at navel-gazing conservatism better than most. We fill our Test grounds most of time, for heaven’s sake, and people care about the domestic game (well, those who can figure it out).

And in Wisden Cricketer Towers, we’ve just completed our November issue, packed full of county season post-mortems and celebrations. This is now English cricket’s one small bit of down-time, save for the contrived chatter about the Stanford series. So when a colleague rewound the Sky+ and urged closer inspection of Ricky Ponting’s hundred celebration on day one of the Bangalore Test, the rupee dropped, with a clang. This was enormous, even bigger than I’d thought. “F***, yeah,” Ponting yelled, or some such. Of course, this was a personal crusade for Ponting, to conquer the sub-continent where he had failed so often.

But this wasn’t just about him, it was about magnitude. India v Australia is the most important Test series in the world. Frankly, it has been for a few years but now there is simply no doubt or question about it. When the Aussies are out of ear shot of the Poms, they’re happy to say it publicly. When they’re on the Ashes radar, they dutifully say the right things so as not to offend Pommie sensibilities. In the next issue of The Wisden Cricketer (on sale next Friday), we have a feature about the future of Test cricket in which an Indian board PR man basically says that if you have an almighty row (eg Harbhajan-Symonds), that whips up interest and everybody’s happy. It’s hard to disagree with him though whether the Indian board should be quite so brazenly trying to turn their Test series into a cricketing version of a Ricky Hatton fight is another matter.

But that is only part of the story. The cricket has been outstandingly and consistently competitive for four series now, unlike the Ashes which has been competitive in one of the last ten rubbers.Yet there is still more to this contest. This is a battle of the cricket superpowers: Australia have the quality and professionalism, India the money, the power and the fans. In reality, off the field, these two nations are, if not best buddies, then commercial allies, much to England’s frustration who feel they were shafted by the Aussies over the Twenty20 Champions League fiasco.

The Australians drew up the rules for the Champions League and it was Lalit Modi and James Sutherland who hatched the IPL between them. Australians were, broadly speaking, the most influential players in the IPL and without them the tournament would have been a flop. India versus Australia is where cricket is at in every conceivable way: the best and worst, the class and the crass, money and tradition. It’s the whole deal.

John Stern is editor of The Wisden Cricketer

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