“Cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war!” – William Shakespeare
My limited exposure to classical literature as opposed to mainstream fiction means the phrase “Dogs of War” conjures up images of a grizzled bunch of mercenaries sponsored by an American industrialist laying siege to the rudimentary military of an obscure African nation. The intent of the siege, to replace the despot leader with another who would sign over the mining rights to the mineral-rich expanse of the country. The magic of Forsyth’s writing is his ability to go into the nuts-and-bolts details of every operation that his characters undertake and so, the first half of the book is a ‘dummies guide to procurement for mercenaries’ with everything from combat jackets to rocket propelled grenade launchers.
The significance of ‘the Home advantage’ in sport has been such that many an encounter has been marketed with the classic setting showing the ‘Away’ team’s attempt at storming the citadel. So it was with Lambeau Field and the Green Bay Packers (until their near-perfect home record was vapourized over the last couple of seasons). So it is with teams going to Australia. A record of 22 wins out of 25 played over five years highlights the massive gulf between the world champions and the rest. It is for this reason that one can’t help but visualize the fourth day of the third test as an army launching an enthusiastic assault on the impregnable fortress that is the WACA.
Past campaigns by other teams saw half-hearted charges at the ramparts only to be either cut down by sharp-shooting snipers like Mcgrath and Lee. The first charge dismantled by the likes of Hayden and Ponting followed by Symonds and Gilchrist who line up opposition bowlers in the sights of their Howitzers before blowing them to smithereens. Jan 19 saw a spirited charge by a team that was light on heavy artillery that had, for three days dodged and weaved the pounding from the four heavy guns that were expected to anhialate the Indian ranks. Inspite of the additional ammo of a 413 run lead and 2 wickets, none expected it to be easy. It took sustained accuracy from Ishant Sharma to take out one of the big guns before some lucky ricochets got rid of Hussey and Symonds. Even then, the Aussies blazed away, going after a victory that every other team would not even consider. Clarke manned the guns supremely well, raking the Indian charge, putting doubts in their minds. Even with 5 wickets down, the writing was not on the wall, and it was only when Sehwag’s revolver shot that took out Gilchrist and Kumble took out Clarke, the defences were breached. With the Indians into the stronghold, Johnson and Clark put up some vicious hand-to-hand fighting that pushed the attackers back one more time temporarily causing confusion before being finally overwhelmed by the invaders. The WACA…conquered!
My ode to the stereotypical war movie sated, its worth considering that the margin of 72 runs after having been dominated for almost every session of play over four days shows how gritty an opponent, the world champions are, and you wonder the difference a certain healthy hamstring would have made, in the form of the massive Mathew Hayden. Another difference between champion teams and others might be evident in how they probably won’t be raking the umpires over the coals for two decisions that had their own telling impact on the day. In Melbourne, Roger Federer almost looked human in his five set marathon against J. Tipsarevic. Funny thing, sport.