Can Australian cricket get past sledge mentality?
It is fair to say that the recent Australia India Test series failed to live up to the hype. India’s big name batting line-up failed miserably, aside from Zaheer Khan the bowling was poor, and they fielded like a team from the ‘90s.
The once mighty Australians had been half-destroyed in South Africa, humbled by an amateur-level New Zealand, and all the chatter was that this was India’s best chance of taking down the Australians at home.
There was also, despite media expectation, very little of the bitterness that marred India’s last campaign down under.
The absence of mortal enemies Harbhajan Singh and Andrew Symonds, the total awe and anticipation of Tendulkar’s pending century of centuries, and a degree of player self-control has hosed down any repeat of the ugliness that probably triggered Australia’s overdue decline from Test supremacy.
It took a fighting standalone hundred from the feisty Virat Kohli, who had already become a crowd ‘favourite’ in Sydney, to bring out the well suppressed tensions that obviously still exist between the two teams.
It was an innings that frustrated the Australians, who were anxious to wrap up a series whitewash, and also indicated that the lopsidedness of the series played a huge part in avoiding any reappearance of the ghosts of 2008.
There is an arrogance that remains inherent in Australian cricket. It’s behind recent surprising successes, and the mature and unselfish leadership of PR dream Michael Clarke.
A relic of the Steve Waugh “mental disintegration” era, Australian teams turn to sledging when things aren’t going their way. And the line between sledging and abuse continues to blur.
Do we need sledging? Does it have a place in the modern game? In any game? We look back at ‘great’ sledges from the likes of Merv Hughes, Warney and WG Grace with a vague and misplaced romanticism, but don’t recall nasty incidents such as Lillee-Gavaskar, Slater-Dravid, McGrath-Sarwan or Symonds-Harbhajan so fondly.
Do we need that sort of example trickling down into state, grade and park cricket, where most players will tell you it can go from humorous to ugly to violent in the blink of an eye?
In few other sports does this sort of sustained sledging and abuse exist, let alone go frequently unpunished. Bowling a good bouncer, or several plays and misses from an out of sorts batsman, cannot warrant a foul verbal tirade.
A 200-plus kilometre ace in tennis doesn’t come paired with a personal insult, the slightest taunt in the NBA receives a technical foul and Usain Bolt doesn’t dress down his dust-covered competitors after another 100-metre blow-out.
It’s unnecessary, futile really. The Aussies are better than that.
Of course gamesmanship is tolerated and is indeed a part of all sport, but cricket has recovered from its burns and is playing with matches again.
The Australian team has been so humble under Michael Clarke’s fledgling captaincy and has had concentrated success so far against strong opposition – success that was down to good, honest, and positive cricket.
I would love to see Clarke’s men claw their way back to the summit of world cricket without the combative, divisive and let’s be honest, Western mentality that made the Australian cricket team of the past so condemned.
By all accounts India are set to be much more competitive with the colours on: after all, they are world champions, even though that already seems a distant memory.
The injection of youth for the tourists will be crucial and probably reinvigorate the squad members already here. So with the heat turned up a little, will the Australians maintain their composure the way they have done admirably in victory so far this summer?