Rajesh Ramaswamy starts a series in which he pairs two sets of cricketers from different nations who could easily be mistaken for brothers in the way they went about their business on the field of play. In Part One, he talks about Javed Miandad and Ricky Ponting and Arjuna Ranatunga and Sourav Ganguly.
It was a wise man who said that ‘Everything is relative.’ And it can’t get truer than in cricket, with an increasing number of siblings playing the game together, at the international level. While we in India have suffered the Amarnaths trying to take a family lease on the India cap despite being thwarted by an alleged ‘bunch of jokers’, the Pakistanis had the house-proud ‘Mohammed United’ to contend with. And New Zealand’s first family of cricket was either the Hadlees or Crowes, depending on the season and which side of the divide you were on. Throw in the Waughs, the Chappells, and the Ranatungas, and we could well have an all time great XI of brothers-in-arms.
The modern age is no different, despite smaller families and fewer playgrounds: this is the age of the Lees (Shane the Obscure and Brett the Rock star), the Akmals (three at last count, but there may be a few more keeping wicket on anonymous dustbowls), the McCullums (the tattooed thumper and the tricky tweaker), the Pathans (the confused all-rounder and the butcher with the bat), the Husseys (Mr Cricket and Mr Bits-‘n’-pieces), the Morkels (the Bouncer and the Blaster)... every one of them, an adornment to the game. But even as we celebrate this brotherhood of blood, there exists another set of soul-brothers, separated by genes, but bound by method and philosophy.
1. Ricky Ponting and Javed Miandad
The Aussie half of this pair may not have waved a bat threateningly at a hulking fast bowler, except, perhaps to send the ball over the midwicket fence, but there is more binding the two doughty warriors, than separating them. Both were relatively small men, but just put a piece of wood in their hands, and they’d suddenly seem much larger (much like JT Edson’s legendary Dusty Fog whose ‘piece of wood’ had a twin barrel attached) and impose the considerable bulk of their personalities on the enemy. Both were exemplary backfoot players, but were never known to take a backward step in a confrontation. Both were punters in different ways; with Ponting wearing that tag as a nickname, and Miandad living the label in everything he did.
Ponting was a child prodigy who had the ability to take on the faster men, and didn’t mind giving them a bit of lip, even if it meant he was in line for a succession of perfume balls. He famously gave an interview, on an early tour of the West Indies, that he didn’t think their fast men were of the same calibre as their predecessors.
A certain Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh may not have been too chuffed by this remark from a lad still wet behind the ears, and introduced him to the ‘perfume’ ball. But the lad didn’t flinch, and went on to play his part in the eventual dethroning of the Calypso Kings.
A decade and a half earlier, another great fast bowler, the terrifying Dennis Lillee, almost had his head knocked off by a young tyro who refused to step back after being bullied on the pitch. While it was an unedifying spectacle, what stood out was the refusal of the young Pakistani batsman to be cowed down by a physically aggressive fast bowler almost twice his size. The batsman’s name was Javed Miandad, and by the time he finished his career, every bowler in the world knew it and shuddered at the painful memories it brought back (many a sports psychiatrist’s bank balance has been buttressed by visits from a certain Chetan Sharma).
Miandad and Ponting were both early starters who became the premier batsmen of their teams, though they weren’t the prettiest or most celebrated till much later in their careers. While the ‘street-fighter’ Miandad had the ‘classical’ Zaheer Abbas to contend with, Ponting was the ‘mob enforcer’ to Mark Waugh’s ‘expressionist painter’. Yet both of them burst out of those moulds of comparison to become the Alpha Males of their packs.
An almost divine arrogance - and the consequent sense of entitlement - was another prime trait they shared; one that played a big part in creating the bristling aura that intimidated opposition bowlers. Not to mention, umpires, who were routinely cross-examined by their pressure-inducing theatrics... and opposing batsmen who were given tutorials on language and genetics whenever they fielded close to the bat.
Substitute the working class by-lanes of Newnham in Launceston with the mean gallis of Karachi and swap a Baggy Green cap for a peaked green one, and we can see two backstreet boys who made the world take notice of their talent by demanding an audience. The subsequent decades of scrapping and brawling to wrest their inheritance on the international stage, and the way they commanded the respect of their peers by leading from the front, would only reiterate the fact that these were actually brothers born to different parents.
2. Arjuna Ranatunga and Sourav Ganguly
One was called ‘Aiyya’ by his teammates, which was a respectful Sinhalese term for an elder brother. The other was simply ‘Dada’, a term of respect rather fondly bestowed by his ‘boys’, several of whom were older and more experienced than him.
Both were loved and respected by the teams they led, and were veritable icons back home. Perversely, they were the two most hated international cricketers in Australia, which was the big oompa-loompa of the cricketing world at that time. The very reasons that earned them the ire of the Aussie public and cricketing establishment, was the one that united their often fractious nations behind them. While the Aussies saw the former as a sneaky manipulator, the latter was derided as being too arrogant by half: a haughty Prince without a kingdom, almost!
Their respective teammates and fans, however, saw them as heroes who stood up to the class bully, and paid him back in his own coin. While neither image was the whole truth, owing as much to cultural divides as to a rabidly partisan media that fed the myths, the fact is that these urban legends contributed towards the creation of a set of heroes and villains whose every action was only seen through culturally jaundiced lenses.
As the lead actors in these plays, both Ranatunga and Ganguly had their ‘it’ moments that defined their public persona: the Lankan fans have a mental freeze-frame of their captain wagging his finger at umpire Ross Emerson. Ganguly’s legion of a billion fans are frozen in time in 2002, when their leader stripped to the waist and waved his shirt wildly on winning the NatWest Trophy at the spiritual headquarters of cricket.
Ranatunga’s finger-waving was less about being censorious and more a statement of intent at a figure of authority that’d abrogated his moral right - in his opinion - by playing as a 12th man for the opponents. Consequently his backing of his players, in the face of intense media-curated kangaroo trials, elevated him to a cult state in Lanka (and, dare I say, the rest of the under-privileged, under-represented cricketing world), even as it created a brown version of Guy Fawkes in Australia, with every report about him fanning the bonfires of public hatred.
Ganguly’s shirt-waving was less about being a spontaneous celebration, and was his way of cocking a snook at the establishment to see if it squealed. The squeal, amplified by a suitably bristling British media into a roar, subsided to a whimper when it was learnt that Ganguly was only repaying a favour: his former Lancastrian teammate, Andrew Flintoff, had done the same in India, on the Poms’ last visit. While, in retrospect, this may seem about as mature as something out of a Boy’s Hostel book of shenanigans, it just proved to the world that whatever went around could come around!
Both these gentlemen had something else in common: a rather ‘gentlemanly’ attitude towards fitness and breaking sweat on the field. They were both good fielders, as long as the ball was in their pin-code, but diving, bending, and getting their pristine whites dirty, were best left to the plebeians. They were smart runners between the stumps, stately lions rather than cheetahs, and had a habit of conserving energy and walking the runs, much to the annoyance of the opposition.
They were also much courted by the political parties in their land, with Ranatunga taking the lead, following in his father’s footsteps by becoming an MP. The Prince of Bengal has, however, swatted away rumours of a political career, though observers feel it’s a question of ‘when’ rather than ‘whether’, considering he may be a shoo-in for Chief Ministership of Bengal, if only he contested.
Today, even after their ‘use by’ date as international cricketers is over, Ranatuna and Ganguly continue to make good copy for the media, not just in Colombo and Kolkata, but down under, where they’re still the reigning villains, despite pretenders like Harbhajan Singh.
All said and done, Lord ‘Snooty’ and ‘Lard’ Ranatunga have proven, over time and space, to be soul-brothers, united in the way they could divide opinion, and instil a followership amongst their countrymen that shows no signs of abating.
(Rajesh Ramaswamy is a former fast bowler who believes he could have been the answer to India's long prayer for an 'express' paceman. He regularly clocked speeds hovering in the late 80's and occasionally let fly deliveries that touched the 90's. Unfortunately for him, the selectors were talking 'mph', while he was operating in the metric lane with 'kmph'. But he moved on from that massive disappointment which resulted from what he termed a 'miscommunication', and became a communications professional. After a long innings in advertising as a Creative Director, he co-founded a brand consulting firm called Contrabrand. He lives in Chennai and drives down to work in Bangalore... an arrangement that he finds less time consuming and stressful than getting from one end of Bangalore to the other)