A little masterstroke of diplomacy, but a dumb idea
With the relationship between Australia and India increasingly testy, Julia Gillard wants to send a signal that our countries are still close, and that Australians respect Indians.
Her solution? Bestow an honorary award on Sachin Tendulkar, the second best batsman after our own Don Bradman ever to play the game of cricket.
Leaving aside the obvious argument that such awards should go to those who toil diligently for this country, rather than those who make our bowlers toil for wickets, Tendulkar doesn’t deserve this because the last time he set foot in Australia he was belligerent and disrespectful.
Let’s go back eight months. Seems like years, but no, it was just eight months ago when Tendulkar played his last match at the SCG, at the end of a summer during which both he and his team acted and played like they didn’t really want to be here.
In that One Day match at the SCG, Tendulkar was controversially run-out for 14. The Indian “Little Master” claimed he was impeded by Brett Lee. The umpire disagreed, as did the Bangalore-based website cricinfo.com, which tends to be mostly pro-Tendulkar .
As Tendulkar trudged off the ground, the SCG crowd rose to applaud him. He ignored us. We clapped louder and yet more warmly. He skulked off without so much as doff of the cap or the barest raising of his bat.
By not saluting the fans that night, Tendulkar committed an etiquette faux pas the equivalent of failing to curtsey to the Queen.
And now, for all you readers in India, here’s the bit where I entertain the possibility that we Australians may have been partly to blame for Tendulkar’s dark mood.
A former Australian Test cricketer of the 2000s who I am not at liberty to name, told me that Australian fans hurled racist epithets at Indian players over the summer, particularly at the Adelaide Test.
If this is true, then the Indian team should probably be commended for hanging tough and completing the summer’s commitments without a complaint. The last thing anyone wanted was a repeat of the acrimonious Summer of Symonds.
All the same, Tendulkar should have turned up in a better frame of mind and acknowledged the crowd in his last visit as a player to the SCG. It is, after all, the hallowed ground where he made his name in this country.
The MCG is the spiritual home of Australian sport, but overseas players love playing in the city of Sydney, and they especially love its cricket ground with those graceful Victorian pavilions standing defiant amid the brutalist concrete stands.
To extend that architectural metaphor, elegant cricketers seem to flourish in Sydney against tough local opposition, but only if they’re really top drawer. The teenage Tendulkar was clearly that from the moment he stroked 148 runs on the SCG in 1992. In 2004, he fared even better, hitting 241 not out.
He nearly ruined Steve Waugh’s farewell series with that knock, yet Australians still marked both his arrival and his departure from the crease with rapturous applause. The place is special for him. So could he manage one last act of grace and humbleness to thank the loyal SCG fans? Nope, he walked off in a great big huff.
It’s probably a little harsh to hang a bloke for being in a bad mood for a few moments, even if those moments were a mirror to an entire summer.
But you have to say, Tendulkar just doesn’t seem to have the sort of mutual love affair with Australia that you associate with Brian Lara, the last visiting cricketer to receive an honorary OAM.
Then there’s that point again about what we actually expect from our OAM recipients. As a guide, here is the first of many examples on the official government website, in the goverment’s own words:
“Glenn Sargeant OAM was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia in 2004 for his compassion, leadership, service to education and youth through the Plumpton High School Young Mothers Program in Sydney, New South Wales.”
By that measure, Tendulkar could score a million runs here and he still wouldn’t qualify. The guy belongs in the Indian middle order, not the Order of Australia.
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