“Not many countries can share such a passion and be so culturally different,” says Adam Gilchrist in the opening sequence of 2 Nations, 1 Obsession. This clash of culture and character between India and Australia — manifested mostly on the cricket field, but sometimes also straying into press conferences and courtrooms — is what the the documentary, now streaming on Discovery+, delves into.
Australian filmmaker Peter Dickson, in his interviews with the likes of Alan Border, Sunil Gavaskar, Adam Gilchrist, Ravi Shastri, Bishan Singh Bedi, some of the former cricketers who feature prominently, tries to draw out what is fundamentally different between India and Australia’s cricketers and how that is molded by how fundamentally different the two countries live, eat and breathe.
“What I had thought about India from afar was that it was a country with a warm heart – hard working people – very spiritual, and if anything a very passive and gentle type of culture. Australians are a warm-hearted people – hard working like India – but not anywhere near as spiritual and more of an aggressive type of culture. We work hard, play hard and celebrate hard,” Dickson told indianexpress.com
‘Freedom’ and ‘openness’ are some of the images used for Australia in the film. Murali Kartik contrasts how the ‘formal’ Indian players in the early 2000s, dressed up in suits and ties, were awed to see the Australians turning up at a social event in their flip-flops and t-shirts. “What a cool country!” exclaims Harsha Bhogle, recounting his surprised reaction to Alan Border calling the Australian Prime Minister by his first name.
The images used for India are the chaotic streets, “the sheer weight of humanity” on the sidewalks, where reckless motorbikes share space with cows and men riding camels, footage shot in the summer of 2018, when the film’s crew travelled across India.
“Once I finished the film after travelling to India and experienced the country a lot more, I realized I had underestimated the fight and aggression behind the exterior. I found a very resilient and ambitious people who are far more determined to succeed than I initially thought,” the director said.
Dickson said exploring the differences between the two cultures was part of his plan, but as he progressed with the players’ interviews, it became evident to him that this culture clash was the most powerful part of the narrative. “It was very front of mind for the players from both countries,” he said.
Snippets from a storied rivalry
India’s ‘cricket culture’, on the other hand, is seen to evolve from the 1950s, “when they thought they couldn’t win,” as Gavaskar says, to the ’70s and ’80s, when Australia deigned to tour India but were more challenged by the “putrid drain” running around their team hotel in Chennai and the heat than the strength of the opposition, to the 2000s, when India began “flexing their muscles” to get their way.
Border says he knew the Indian team as being “subservient” in his time. This defensive nature of the Indian team was capitalized on by Australia, says Greg Chappell. “India were very popular tourists because they were polite and they lost, which was a wonderful combination,” says Bhogle.
Some on-field feuds from the past are also re-fueled in the documentary. Gavaskar says the Border-Gavaskar Trophy should have been named the Gavaskar-Border Trophy because he is the older cricketer and because he was an opening batsman. “Alphabetical,” is the staunch defence from Border.
Speaking about Dean Jones’s double century in the tied Test of 1986, Kapil Dev says, “He loved to brag about it. Of course it was one of the finest innings and the conditions were very hard, but let us say that, not him.”. Whether Maninder Singh had got any bat to ball when he was given out off the last ball of the Test continues to be disputed in the film. “He did, man!” says Ravi Shastri, “There was no bat,” insists Greg Matthews.
From the tied Test of 1986, the documentary moves to the “magical fairytale” 2001 series, where Indian cricket turns a corner under Sourav Ganguly, to the clash of cultures between Ganguly and new head coach Chappell. “I didn’t realize a blunt retort wouldn’t be taken in the same way in the Indian dressing room as in Australia,” says Chappell.
At the same time, the narrative moves to how the Indian market begins to dominate cricket revenue. “Everybody behaves in the same way when they have power. I don’t think power is cultural, power is an aspect of the human spirit. I have power, I will behave differently with you. Because you need me more than I need you,” is how Bhogle explains the changed role of Indian cricket administration.
The narrative finally moves to when the clash of cultures comes to a head in the 2008 series with the ‘Monkeygate’ episode, when the action moves from the cricket field to a courtroom war between Harbhajan Singh and Andrew Symonds. “Whatever happened to ‘what happens on the stay on the field stays on the field’? Is it only applicable when Australians say something, and not when others say something to them?” says Gavaskar.
It is this clash of alien cultures which has made the India rivalry more and more relevant for Australian cricket in recent decades, said Dickson. “I can definitely see the India-Australia rivalry overtaking the Ashes rivalry in coming years. The reason I say that is we’ve all grown up watching the England rivalry. It seems to us that only in the last 30-40 years has the India rivalry really started to be front of mind for us,” he said.