After spending more than a month in Australia, I can say this with absolute conviction about the Aussies – if there is something that turns them on more than outdoors and sport, it is food.
Sport and food and beverages are the biggest pitch for tourism authorities of any state or city you visit here. There are hundreds of speciality restaurants, and all of them are bustling at dinner time. But a more telling indicator is that programmes like My Kitchen Rules, and MasterChef Australia have consistently garnered the highest TV rating year after year.
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Just to prove my point, Friday’s match between Australia and Pakistan, despite featuring a gripping battle between Shane Watson and Wahab Riaz, fared poorly compared to MKR ratings earlier in the week – appx 919,000 households watched the cricket against 1,602,000 for MKR’s Wednesday episode.
— #MKR (@mykitchenrules) March 23, 2015
AFL Grand Final last year between Hawthorns and Sydney Swans managed to knock out MKR as the No1 TV programme of 2014, but the cooking shows have ruled the roost for four straight years before that. In fact, MasterChef Australia finale in 2010 was the third most watched TV show in the history of Australian television.
At 6 million homes, the wedding of Prince Williams and Kate remains the most watched programme of all time in Australia, but then there was no escaping that event as it was televised live on all major networks.
MasterChef Australia 2010 finale (4.03m) is sandwiched between the 2005 Australian Open tennis final between local hero Lleyton Hewitt and Marat Safin in 2005 (4.04m) and the 2003 Rugby World Cup final (4.01m) that the Wallabies lost to a last-minute Jonny Wilkinson drop goal.
But moving back to the actual restaurants, unlike other countries, where there is a tendency to alter the taste of foreign dishes to local palates, Australians have remained very true to the original recipe.
The one reason for this must be the fact that it is a very cosmopolitan country, and the majority of clientele an eating joint attracts would be from their own nationality.
I wanted to relate two of my restaurant experiences that were the genesis of this diary.
In Perth, I walked into a superb little Indian joint called Mirch Masala (Chilly & Spice). As I placed my order, the serving lady asked: “How do you want your curry? Normal, hot, or Indian hot?”
It was the first time I had come across such a classification of curry, and my Indian roots immediately revolted against the first two.
I think the lady sensed a smugness with which I told her nothing but Indian hot for me. To cut a long story short, there was so much heat in that one small bowl, it would have put the sun to shame. I somehow finished it, alternating between sucking on ice cubes, wiping tears from my eyes (which had nothing to do with the joy of eating Indian after a long time), and with sweat dripping down my forehead.
The second incident shows how the Aussies have all become critics after watching MasterChef and MKR. In Sydney, I was at an Indonesian restaurant when I overheard an Australian gentleman make this complaint to the owner about his ‘Crispy sweet chilly chicken’ – “Didn’t like it one bit mate. It was fried too much, was too sweet and not enough chilly.”
At least he was happy with the chicken part!
South African captain AB de Villiers said he was “expecting the unexpected” from the mild-mannered New Zealand, but his counterpart Brendon McCullum has ensured that sledging and bringing up words like ‘chokers’ is something the Kiwis are never going to do.
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When asked in his pre-match conference if he expected the New Zealand players to “chatter” during their 2015 World Cup semi-final today, de Villiers said: “We are expecting the unexpected. Whatever gets thrown at us, I believe we have the right personnel to deal with that.
“New Zealand are normally a gentleman-like team to play against, but sometimes they do come out and go for what they want, and we’re expecting that. I don’t think there will be any surprises. It’s just up to us to deal with whatever comes our way.”
— Sonu 😉 (@_hafees) March 23, 2015
And even though the significance of the match is not lost on McCullum – if either of the two teams win, they will reach a World Cup final for the first time – he said New Zealand will never get drawn into a war of words on the field.
“That’s not how we want to play the game. I think other teams will do that sort of thing, but for us we are not good enough to have that as our focus,” said the skipper, who is receiving rave reviews for transforming the fortunes of his team and leading them rare aggression.
“We need to make sure that we are respectful of the game and go about our work. The way we’ve been playing is obviously a pretty exciting brand of cricket, as well. Just because it’s a pressure game, you shouldn’t change that.
“It’s the greatest chance for success; we know that. For us to compete against big teams on a regular basis and for us to win World Cups in crunch games, we need to remain true to that. I believe that’s our most authentic style of cricket, it’s one that serves us well, and I wouldn’t expect that would change tomorrow.”
McCullum said several players in the Proteas team were good friends of his, and that won’t change whoever wins or loses today.
“Yes, I’ve got a few mates on the South African team. I think you play so much cricket around the world against teams and against guys, you form relationships, and obviously IPL helps with that as well,” said the 33-year-old.
That letter from Brendon McCullum is awesome! pic.twitter.com/XmZ83rKHbS
— Chinmay Bhogle (@chinmaybhogle) March 23, 2015
“When you are out on the field representing your country, you’ve got a duty to ensure that you go out and you try to perform at your absolute best. Tomorrow is no different to that.
“Either way, we will make sure that the teams catch up after the game, and whether you win or you lose, we’ll catch up, and whoever loses will wish the team all the best for the final, and whoever wins, I’m sure will be gracious about that.”
After labouring through nearly 40 days, 42 group matches and four quarter-finals, we are left with a predictable line-up for the semis. New Zealand take on South Africa tomorrow, and it’s Australia v India on Thursday before the grand finale on Sunday.
Those four happen to be the top four teams in the ICC ODI rankings, and given that it includes the two hosts Australia and New Zealand, as well as the country that whips up the most passion and commercial interest in the sport, India, the 2015 World Cup is proving to be good for all stakeholders.
But four is about to become two and I’m going for an Australia v South Africa final in Melbourne. That takes out the two unbeaten teams in the competition, India and New Zealand, but I just think Australia and South Africa are the better outfits, despite defeats in the group stages.
The Proteas have won three out of their last four against the hosts at Eden Park, but there bringing the past into play. This Kiwi team is looking miles better than any other, and they will be a handful.
Brendon McCullum has time and again traced the origin of New Zealand’s resurgence to that eventful day on January 2, 2013, when Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel scythed through their batting line-up on the opening day of the Cape Town Test match for a paltry total of 45 all out so they will be up for revenge.
However, barring a sensational individual performance by one of the Kiwi batsmen or bowlers, South Africa have the edge in man-to-man comparison.
Martin Guptill, whose unbeaten 237 will remain the talk of this tournament, will find it hard to repeat that sort of performance. His record against South Africa is extremely poor, averaging 11.5 runs in 11 matches, which includes seven scores of less than seven.
Despite all their recent achievements, the Kiwi batting is not as deep and consistent as South Africa, which means their bowlers must deliver.
New Zealand bowler Adam Milne ruled out of the World Cup. #bbccricket
— Test Match Special (@bbctms) March 22, 2015
If Tim Southee and Trent Boult can do what they did against England and Australia, they will have a good chance of reaching the final. Several experts here are upbeat about India’s chances against Australia because of the pitch conditions at Sydney Cricket Ground.
And even though Imran Tahir and JP Duminy took seven wickets in the quarter-final against Sri Lanka, there wasn’t much purchase for them.
For India’s spinners Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja to come into the picture, it will be important that their pace attack, led by the impressive Mohammad Shami, continues the fantastic job they have done so far and maintain early pressure on the Australian batsmen.
I also won’t be surprised if the Aussies are peppered with some short-pitched bowling early in the innings. Both Shami and Umesh Yadav have bowled with a lot of fire in the tournament and they would have seen how Wahab Riaz harried the Aussie batsmen with his aggression.
But as good as India have been since the start of the World Cup, they still do not match up to Australia’s firepower in both batting and fast bowling.
For India, the key will be a good start to their bowling innings. They need to take a couple of quick wickets, and then keep pushing hard. If they cannot suffocate the Australian batsmen from the beginning, it could be a long night for them in Sydney.