“In Australia, we don’t brag about how much money we make or what car you drive. Heck, people don’t even ask what job you do. Do you know what people ask the most?”
“What?” Ish said.
“What do you play, that’s what they ask”.
The fictional Australian cricketer Fred Li, from Chetan Bhagat’s best-seller, “The 3 mistakes of my life” describes here, the Australian mindset. All I can say is, the book may have been fiction, but not the Aussie attitude.
Australia was 10th in the overall medals tally at the 2012 London Olympics. The last time they were placed that “low” in the standings was way back in Seoul, 1988. Sadly, the Aussie “low” is an unimaginable, stratospheric dream for India. At least for another 3 decades. Without drifting further from what the article wants to say, let us find out why Australia is the greatest sporting nation in the world.
Talking about their long list of Olympic medals, what makes Australia’s exploits in the grandest stage of them all even more special, is the multitude of events in which they excel. Every other event would have an Aussie name and probably, an Aussie finalist. This variety, in which excellence is encouraged, even in seemingly obscure sports, is the reason why the Aussies are a force to be reckoned with, no matter what the sport is. But if the writer were to analyse and dissect the Aussie dominance in each of these disciplines, only a book of epic proportions would suffice. This article merely points out and highlights the mark of the Aussie stamp in the more popular sporting disciplines. Their exploits in the Olympic events are something that we’ll discuss on a later day. Yes, the Aussies Rule. Not just in Aussie rules.
WARNING: This article may use the word “Domination” excessively. Don’t blame the writer. Blame the Aussies.
We begin with their unofficial national game, cricket. Right from the moment Charles Bannerman faced the first ball in Test Cricket, till date, Australia have dominated the game like no other nation. Historically, statistically, performance-wise and time-wise, Australia is the best cricketing nation in the world. The baggy green and the canary yellow have repeatedly outclassed and outplayed all other teams, in Tests as well as ODIs. Victories and legends are many in number in Australian cricket, right from 19th century’s Fred Spofforth to 21st century’s Ricky Ponting. The most successful nation in Test Cricket, the Aussies have won an unprecedented 4 ODI World Cups also. Excellence in T20 cricket is only a matter of time. The Aussie team has epitomized resilience, determination and a “never-say-die” attitude that some teams, especially from the sub-continent, lack. To put things in a nutshell, Australia is the best cricketing nation. And yes, I haven’t mentioned Sir Don’s name. But then, do I need to? Haven’t we run out of superlatives to describe him?
Tennis – Along with France, Britain and USA, Australia holds one of the annual Grand Slams of the game. But unlike their European counterparts, and more like their American counterparts, the Aussies have enjoyed sustained periods of success. Roy Emerson, Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall, Pat Cash, John Newcombe, Pat Rafter and more recently, Lleyton Hewitt, form a long list of Aussie greats in Men’s tennis. Women are not too behind either, with the likes of Evonne Goolagong and Margaret Court coming first to my mind. The most dominant nation in the sport after the United States.
Hockey maybe India’s unofficial national game, but for the Aussies, it is national pride. If you take away the Indian hockey teams of yesteryears, no other country has dominated the game more. Winning an Olympic medal as late as in Tokyo 1964, the Kookaburras have improved rapidly and have formed a trio-poly of sorts with the Germans and the Dutch. Except for the 1973 and 1975 events, they have been on the medals tally every single time in the World Cup too. The greats include John McBryde and Jamie Dwyer among others. Yes, the Kookaburras are flying really high.
Australia, along with Brazil has the highest number of Formula-1 season champions after Britain, with 3 apiece. In a sport which depends more on success than most sports due to a variety of reasons, Australia have managed to hold their own, even though their last winner, Alan Jones, won the championship more than 3 decades ago. And if one takes individual race victories into account, the Aussies are among the front-runners for pole position. The Aussie flag and the chequered flag have gone hand in hand regularly. With Mark Webber being one of the leading forces behind a very open scenario in the sport, the future of F-1 looks bright Down-Under. The legacies of Jack Brabham and Denny Hulme have not gone in vain. The same dominance has been extended to the two-wheelers too by the Aussies. The first name that comes to my mind is that of 5-time winner Michael Doohan. But Doohan is just one among their 6 champions, with Casey Stoner being the latest.
Rugby is another hugely popular sport in Australia, with the rivalry between the Wallabies and the All-Blacks being stuff of legend. Along with their third fierce rival, the Springboks of South Africa, the 2 neighbours have won the most number of Rugby World Cups – 2 each. The Hall of Famers, Reg Gasnier, Wally Lewis, Mick Cronin and others are national icons in their country. Another sport in which the Australians dominate is the aptly named Aussie Rules Football. And then, there are the Olympic events.
The Australians are catching up on other games that are widely popular. The best example of this is the popularity that football has enjoyed in the Outbacks over the last decade or so. Their induction into the Asian group, post the 2006 World Cup, has seen the team growing rapidly, due to the resulting exposure and competition. The Cahills, Kewells and Vidukas have become as popular as the Haydens, Gilchrists and McGraths. With the arrival of stars like Alessandro Del Piero in the domestic league, things look bright for the Aussies. Golf is also developing fast. Baseball and basketball are other games that have caught the public imagination gradually. Rapid strides are being made, especially in the former.
Australia did not win a single medal in the 1976 Montreal Games. Taking it as a national shame, the Government set up the Australian Institute of Sports. The AIS initiated and continues to develop the world’s most professional sports scholarship programme. No Aussie athlete was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Relentless hard work, grit, determination, commitment and a passion for the sport have been their hallmarks, just like any other sportsman from any part of the world. But very few countries have taken the pains to translate this effort into success. India is a case in point. By this, I do not mean the improvement of infrastructure and coaching alone. The attitude has to change. Not only of the government, but of every layman, of you and me. If India is to come anywhere near reaching the levels of excellence that Australia has reached, the bats and balls shouldn’t be shoved out of a kid’s room. They should be allowed to co-exist with the books and pens. When and how, is another question. If lack of inspiration hinders them, they need look no further than the wonder Down-Under. 36 years after Montreal, the Aussies are riding on wave after wave of sporting success. Given the bureaucracy in our land, how long do we need for a sporting renaissance? A 100 years?