Cricket: Tough guys show soft side

Cricket: Tough guys show soft side

Cricket showed its softer side at the Adelaide Oval and you had to be here to see it.

David Warner, a thick-set, chunky, broad- shouldered batsman, is built like a boxer. He likes to attack the ball, whether with bat in hand or in the field where his extraordinary speed can take you aback.

He is not averse to drinking potent cocktails and throwing an odd punch after they have taken effect and, when he was at the IPL, wasn't considered the most likeable person. At the Adelaide Oval he produced a gem and when he got to 63 not out, looked heavenwards and likely to break down any minute. When he got to a century, his eyes were moist and he was lost in an emotional embrace with his captain.

The captain himself was not always taken kindly to by the average joe watching Australian cricket. They thought he was privileged, a bit posh, not country boy enough and, unlike other Aussie captains, didn't quite acquire iconic status, always seemed to have to try harder to prove he was one of the boys. And he didn't mind telling Jimmy Anderson last year to get ready for a "##**+ per cent@ broken arm". But it was the man he called his "little brother" who had died on a cricket ground and his public grieving and admirable demeanour won him many admirers. Why, he only had to get up from his chair in the pavilion and the crowd got to its feet. The ovation wasn't as much for Clarke the player as for Clarke the caring friend. It was on his shoulder that the boxer-like Warner buried himself.

Two tough Aussie cricketers, normally accompanied by a swagger, grieved openly on a cricket ground. You didn't think you would ever see an Aussie cricketer expose his softer side. But they did and it was that kind of day.

The cricketers simply had to play for it was the only way they could drive away the gloom. Sachin Tendulkar came to play for his country three days after the death of his father, the person who meant the most to him, because his family told him that it was the only way to overcome his sadness. They pushed him onto a plane and back to a cricket ground because nothing gave him greater joy. Only joy can bury grief and that was what Australia's cricketers were at the Adelaide Oval for. That, and to win a match of course, but predominantly that.

They succeeded on a day painted for cricket. And they took a substantial crowd with them through this emotional roller-coaster. It was a side to Australia I had never seen.

Something else happened. Varun Aaron, faster than any other Indian bowler, bowled a bouncer. It was one of those that had felled Phillip Hughes in an extremely rare occurrence. It led to calls, in some quarters only, for the ball to be outlawed but, of course, that could never be.

But I was curious to see how the people would react when another was bowled. And I wanted to see what the batsman would do. The batsman swayed out, got to his feet like it has happened in cricket a million times before. But the crowd clapped. They clapped an Indian bowler bowling a bouncer at one of their own so soon after a fatal accident.

Maybe they wanted to move on too, remind themselves that bouncers are bowled all the time, are an integral part of the game and indeed have provided them with a lot of thrills in the past.

Maybe it was their way of accepting the bouncer back into the game. Maybe it was cathartic. Instead of booing they clapped.

In that instant, the game had moved on. In time the players will too. Steven Smith, a mighty fine young cricketer, was moved at 63, then buckled down to getting runs for Australia. Clarke couldn't.

His decision to play was emotional, he had to because of what the game meant to him and his mates. But muscles don't do emotion, they don't understand grief and his expression as he trudged back was of resignation. He was a tired man.

It was a day like few others. It was a day on which cricket had to set cricketers free again.

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