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Sledging or spirit: Why are only Aussies in the crosshairs?

Australian batsman Aaron Finch walks after he is bowled by New Zealand’s Tim Southee (AP Photo Ross Setford)
Expert
2nd April, 2015
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12724 Reads

New Zealand quick Tim Southee bowls Aaron Finch, then charges down the pitch directly at the Australian batsman and screams in his face from so close that the players’ shirt sleeves touch.

This was the first wicket of the two clashes between Australia and New Zealand at this World Cup. Southee had been smashed for six down the ground by Finch and replied with a beautiful delivery which breached the Aussie’s defence in the third over of the match.

Surging with adrenaline after snaring a massive wicket in a huge match, Southee channelled his aggression at Finch and gave him a send-off.

There was nothing wrong with his actions – I don’t mind players expressing their emotions at pivotal points in big games.

But I am mystified there was not one mention of Southee’s aggressive send-off either on the live TV commentary or in the media after the match or, indeed, amidst the current debate over on-field behaviour.

We’ve been told that New Zealand don’t sledge, don’t give send offs, and that their behaviour was faultless throughout this World Cup. Those claims about the saintly Kiwis have been made to contrast against the supposedly disgraceful actions of the Aussies in their World Cup final win over New Zealand.

But why, amidst all this denigration of the Australians, has no one mentioned or acknowledged Southee’s send off? Similarly, cricket followers have overlooked the actions of Indian paceman Umseh Yadav and Pakistani quick Wahab Riaz towards the Australians in the semi and quarter finals respectively.

The first wicket of the semi-final involved a send-off from Umesh Yadav to David Warner. Yadav’s pace beat Warner who got a leading edge which flew high in the air to cover. While the ball was still in the air, Yadav turned his back on the ball and started walking towards Warner, not even watching to see if Virat Kohli would complete the basic catch.

With the catch completed, Yadav let out a huge scream directed straight at Warner.

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Yadav’s send-off was more aggressive than anything the Australians did in the final, yet we heard nothing about it in the media.

Riaz was also given a pass by the cricket community for his histrionics in Australia’s quarter final win, which again were more extreme than the incidents the Aussies are being slammed for.

After having Shane Watson dropped at fine leg, Riaz lost the plot.

First, he gathered the ball in his follow through and needlessly and angrily threw down the striker’s stumps, forcing Smith to take evasive action even though he was standing well inside the crease the whole time.

Next, he repeatedly completed over-exaggerated follow-throughs down the pitch towards Watson, directing comments at the Australian batsman from metres away each time. Then he made a big show of standing in front of Watson in his follow-through, clapping animatedly while staring at the Aussie all-rounder.

Again, I have no issue with these kind of actions, which add theatre to the sport. But had that been Mitchell Johnson, not Riaz, we would have had days of ‘Ugly Australians’ reports and debates. Instead, Riaz’s behaviour was described as ‘spirited’ and all the focus was on his brilliant bowling.

Why hasn’t this been the case with Australia in the final? They won their fifth World Cup, and fourth out of the last five tournaments, while demolishing a team which had been undefeated through the tournament.

Yet a large amount of the analysis of the game has centred around Australia’s allegedly offensive on-field actions. The outcry has become so exaggerated that there’s a handful of fabricated incidents of Australian sledging which are now being repeated as facts.

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On The Roar and other cricket websites, I’ve seen people state as fact that James Faulkner screamed in Grant Elliott’s face when he dismissed him, and that Mitchell Johnson gave Vettori a send-off.

I went back through the full footage of the game, watching and re-watching replays of each dismissal. Neither incident occurred.

I have also read that Brad Haddin gave Vettori a send-off. If you watch the footage of Vettori’s dismissal, Haddin is nowhere near Vettori after he gets out, and there is no sign of him trying to yell anything at the Kiwi, who is a long distance away. If anyone can provide a link to footage which suggests otherwise I’d be glad to see it.

Roar colleague Glenn Mitchell yesterday wrote a piece addressing the criticism of Australia’s behaviour in the final and argued that the Aussies have “some work to do”.

I don’t disagree. Australia have been responsible for some ugly, needless on-field incidents in recent years and should avoid repeating them. But none of their actions in the final fit into this category.

There has been a disproportionate level of focus on the Australia’s supposedly boorish behaviour in the final, as opposed to their brilliant performance and colossal achievement.

The media has been littered with articles lambasting the Australians’ supposed abuse of Kiwi players in the final. I say ‘supposed’ because there is no audio evidence of any Australian player making offensive comments, and neither have New Zealand reported any such incidents.

The ‘abuse’ is merely assumed. People have seen the lips of Australian players moving and, without hearing what they said, have made decisions that it must be been insulting.

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Why do we automatically think so poorly of cricket players? When we debate sledging, regardless of which country is in the crosshairs, so often people are quick to assume that a lot of it is personal or vulgar or derogatory.

I have played senior cricket for 18 years and am still competing. Over those years I have heard many inappropriate things said on the field – ranging from plain stupid to crude. But over the course of any give game, 95 per cent of what is said is utterly harmless.

I found the same to be true when we were given a rare insight into the on-field chat of international cricket during last year’s Test series between Australia and South Africa.

The stump microphones were turned up so much higher than normal in that series that many of the players’ comments and conversations were audible. Keen to exploit this window into the game I listened through headphones throughout the series to maximise the amount of chatter I could hear.

When South Africa were batting, the Australian fielders and bowlers were regularly engaging the batsmen. When Australia were batting, the South Africans did the same. But, just like in my own experiences, 95 per cent of the comments and exchanges were innocent. They were either banal, cheeky, clever or constructive.

The ‘sledging’ from the fielders mostly consisted of attempts to distract the batsman from their game or to sow the seeds of doubt. It wasn’t, “Batsman X you’re a piece of s—, we’re going to kill you,” as so many critics of sledging seem to think is the norm. It was, “Ooh he’s playing away from his body there. Big gap. His balance is shocking guys, here comes the wicket.”

That is just mind games. Why then, should we assume that any comments made by the Aussies to the Kiwis players in the final were derogatory or abusive? We couldn’t hear the comments so why pretend we know what was said?

The on-field behaviour of professional cricketers is extremely clean in comparison to most other major sports. Putting aside the thuggish stuff which occurs in most contact sports, what about non-contact sports?

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In baseball, the game closest in style to cricket, every year there are massive on-field brawls where the benches of both teams clear and a wild melee ensues. In basketball, fist fights are not uncommon and we’ve even seen them spread into the stands, with fans assaulted by players. Soccer has been witness to similarly disgusting acts by its players.

In these sports it’s also common to see extreme remonstrations with the umpires, including players laying hands on the officials when irate over decisions.

These type of aggressive behaviours have not become a part of cricket. In light of what occurs in other sports, are we not overreacting to on-field banter between players?

Why not talk about Australia’s glorious dismantling of two undefeated sides in the World Cup semi-final and final, instead of trying to make a massive issue out of some minor on-field incidents?

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