Why is it that Australian cricketers so often act badly when relating to their opponents?
It seems such a pity that their comprehensive drubbing of New Zealand in the World Cup should have been tarnished with sledging and puerile triumphalism.
There was an alarming absence of grace in that victory and it’s possible that this, rather than the overall performance of the Australians – which was utterly faultless in every other respect – will become the enduring memory of the occasion.
If it does then the Australian team will have nobody to blame but themselves. And the great Australian cricketing public will have to live with the embarrassment, just as they have to with the shame of the Trevor Chappell underarm.
A surprising number of prominent Australians have been openly critical of the way some of the Aussie players behaved during and after the match in Melbourne and the media rumpus after the final opened up an interesting debate over the differences between Australians and New Zealanders in this part of the game.
The behaviour of Brad Haddin and some of his mates abashed even Peter FitzSimons who knows a thing or two about sharp tactics in sport. Why, he asked, is it necessary to give a departing batsman such a vitriolic send-off? Isn’t it enough just to have got him out? What value is added by the parting trash talk? Good question.
It’s perhaps easier to understand the motivations of the sledgers when a batsman arrives at the crease. Anything that can serve to disrupt his concentration might be worth a shot, but to open up as he departs in misery says rather more about the winner than the loser.
Haddin’s unwitting revelation – fuelled by the liquid joys of victory – that he suffered severe discomfort at the New Zealanders’ “niceness” says a lot about the mindset that Australians often get locked into when they have a big challenge in front of them. Some have simply labelled this boorish behaviour as plain old cockiness. Yet, as any psychologist will tell you, sledging is a very distinct sign of a personal sense of inadequacy.
But why should Australian cricketers ever feel inadequate? Their track record is spectacular. They are a team of proven achievers who you would have thought have progressed well beyond this schoolboy level of invective.
The answer seems to lie at least partly in a sense of national obligation to be seen and heard as tough and ruthless. We see it in other manifestations of the national character – in business, foreign affairs, military policy and in a variety of other threads of identity the imagery is similar.
Don’t mess with us is the message, we take no prisoners. And don’t – as New Zealand has so often discovered to its dismay – expect any favours.
In a way the Australian cricket team suffers from the same oppressive weight of expectation as New Zealand’s All Blacks. There is hell to pay if they are ever beaten. But you will never see an All Black gloating over a win. It just isn’t in the mindset. To do so would invoke a veritable holocaust of disapproval from New Zealanders at large.
Here we see the difference between the two Anzac nations at its starkest.
And yet a more intriguing question lingers: why should Australia’s cricket team stand at the top when it comes to the nation’s sledging stakes? As far as we can tell cricket suffers far less than rugby codes from hoonish behaviour but far more from sledging. George Gregan’s apocryphal “four more years” taunt after Australia eliminated the All Blacks from the World Cup years ago seems rather limp in comparison to the awful invective dished out at the World Cup final.
Will things change for the better as a result? I’m not holding my breath.