The most peculiar moment of the Lord’s Test came when Russell Crowe, cousin of the match referee, Jeff Crowe, entered the Sky TV commentary box and proceeded to lambast the “lack of ruthlessness” shown by the Australian team in Cardiff.
“Don’t the Australians usually have the clamp on the opposition’s throat?”, he asked a somewhat startled Shane Warne.
Crowe, one presumes, shares the mindset of those Australians who attributed the 2005 Ashes defeat to over-friendliness on the part of the Baggy Greens. According to this theory, victory comes to those who snarl and sledge and induce “mental disintegration” in their opponents.
It took Nasser Hussain (speaking later) to make the point that Crowe missed: ruthlessness requires a decent bowling attack. An intimidatory presence on the field requires a decent bowling attack. All the snarling and sledging in the world is utterly useless unless you have four (or better, five) chaps who can take twenty wickets.
These Australians look relatively toothless and bland, not because they’re not sufficiently mean, but because they’re not sufficiently good.
Equally, Steve Waugh’s players frightened the life out of their opponents not because they “looked like prizefighters” and sledged, but because they boasted some of the most magnificent performers in the history of the game.
It was Glenn McGrath’s ability to drop the ball on a six pence for six balls in a row that intimidated Mike Atherton, not his bizarre hissy fits.
Crowe’s comments betrayed a failure to understand the nature of sporting “presence”.
It’s an organic process, built on success enjoyed by a group of players over a period of time. You can’t flick a switch and become ruthless. It takes an inner core of belief based on individual and collective success.
Hayden could strut because he (and his mates) had the record to back it up. Marcus North would merely look ridiculous if he tried to do the same.
Crowe thus puts the cart before the horse.
In truth, the travails of Ponting’s team prove what English critics of Australian cricket maintained throughout the 1990s: that the overt aggression of Waugh’s team was a gratuitous and malign irrelevance which pointlessly besmirched the good name of cricket in general, and Australian cricket in particular, whilst maintaining no benefit to the Baggy Greens themselves.
They could have played as quietly as church mice and would still have thrashed England throughout that period because of their magnificent bowlers.
Mr Waugh speaks with delightful self-deprecation in his retirement, but his tactics as captain needlessly tarnished the image of cricket.
The Australian team of 1995-2005 could have gone down not only as one of the most respected teams in cricketing history, but also as one of the most loved.
Instead, the faint odour of barbarism will forever linger.