The Baggy Green Caps need to use the mantra: ‘What would Richie say?’

Spiro Zavos Columnist

By Spiro Zavos, Spiro Zavos is a Roar Expert

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    The abusive, deliberately personal and vicious sledging used for over 40 years by Australia’s national cricket team was always going to end in tears.

    The only way to avoid the tears in the future for the baggy green caps is to prohibit any sledging, as most other sports have done. If the ICC won’t do this, Cricket Australia should take the initiative.

    The reason why banning sledging is needed is that there is a direct connection between the Australian tradition of abusive sledging and the cheating that was exposed in Cape Town.

    Without this history of unacceptable sledging there would not have been the unacceptable cheating and the consequent fallout with hardened cricket warriors blubbering like babies in front of a media baying for their blood.

    Abuse sledging morphs into cheating because the abuse creates a poisonous environment which normalises unacceptable behaviour like ball tampering that would be unthinkable in a proper Test context.

    The best account of how all this ties in together has been written by George Orwell in a famous essay written in 1945 called ‘The Sporting Spirit.’

    The occasion of the essay was the visit to Britain of Dynamo football team, Moscow’s equivalent of Arsenal. The point of the visit was to somehow use sport as a goodwill gesture.

    But, as Orwell noted, the visit was a total failure: “If such a visit as this had any effect at all on Anglo-Soviet relations, it could only be to make them slightly worse than before.”

    Steve Smith

    (AAP Image/Brendan Esposito)

    Orwell developed his argument this way in a famous piece of writing: “At the international level sport is frankly mimic warfare … Even a leisurely game like cricket, demanding grace rather than strength, can cause much ill-will, as we saw in the controversy over body-line bowling and over the rough tactics of the Australian team that visited England in 1921 … Even when the spectators don’t intervene physically they try to influence the game by cheering their own side and ‘rattling’ opposing players with boos and insults.

    “Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up in hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard for all the rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting.”

    In Orwell’s time this “war without shooting” was mainly conducted, as he notes, by spectators rather than the players.

    Australia, for instance, had the famous Yabba, Stephen Harold Gascoigne, who has been immortalised with a bronze statue at the SCG at the spot near the fence where he famously let loose tirades against opposition players.

    When Douglas Jardine, England’s captain in the Bodyline series, tried to brush away flies from his face, Yabba, ‘the world’s greatest barracker,’ yelled out: “Jardine, leave our flies alone. They’re the only friends you’ve got here”.

    In general the sledging on and off the field during this era was more banter than anything nasty. It was designed to make a point and produce guffaws of laughter.

    The change from banter to personal invective, to the abusive sledging as we know it today, came from two great Australian captains, Ian Chappell and Stephen Waugh, unfortunately.

    I say unfortunately because it I admire both men as cricketers and for the good work they have performed in their life after cricket. But the blind spot for both men as cricket captains is their ‘anything it takes’ approach to winning cricket Tests.

    Australian captain Steve Waugh

    (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

    We get an insight into Ian Chappell’s use of sledging from Greg Turner’s account of how he was abused by the Australian captain when New Zealand recorded its first victory over the baggy green caps in 1974.

    During a match-winning partnership with Brian Hastings, Turner had words with Chappell challenging the way the Australian captain was abusing the umpire.

    Chappell, according to Turner, then turned on him: “Then he set about me as well. The language continued, and I just walked away. When I got down to the other end in the next over, he had another crack at me.

    “Normally if you play and miss, you would expected a few choice words, but when it is one sentence after another abusive sentence, it is taking it too far. He made reference to the fact that he would sort me out afterwards.

    “I don’t believe you go to the office to be abused … The series took an unsavoury and regrettable turn then …”

    This “unsavoury” sledging became normal practice for the baggy green caps from this time on.

    Stephen Waugh then weaponised the sledging even further by giving it the mission of “mental disintegration” of opponents.

    To my mind, “mental disintegration” is another word for an outcome expected from torture.

    So the “unsavoury” sledging developed by Ian Chappell morphed into sledging as a form of torture.

    Here is Graeme Smith’s account of how the “mental disintegration” torture was applied to him as a newcomer to Test cricket by Waugh’s enforcers according to Osman Samiuddin: “He said Australian Test opener Matthew Hayden … followed him to the crease in the second innings and ‘stood on the crease for about two minutes telling me that I wasn’t ‘f—–g good enough … How the f–k are you going to handle Shane Warne … What the f— are you going to do?’ …

    “Smith also clashed with Brett Lee after they collided on the pitch, which led to a pack of Australians allegedly hounding the young Protea … ‘As he walked past me he told me that he would f—–g kill me right there if I ever touched him again.'”

    Trevor Marshallsea in an article headed ‘Bucket tipped on Aussie sledgers‘ (29 May 2002) made the point that at the time Graeme Smith found the sledging so repulsive that he was reluctant to repeat what was said to him by the Australians.

    But when Australian Cricket Board chief executive James Sutherland was informed about Smith’s experience of the “mental disintegration” method he merely made the point, according to Marshallsea, that “the board does not condone sledging or verbal abuse … If Australian players are breaking the code of conduct, I’m sure the officials at the match would take appropriate action.”

    That was in 2002.

    Sixteen years later Sutherland’s passivity regarding the abusive sledging by Australian cricket teams has cost the baggy green brand probably hundreds of millions of dollars and a tarnished reputation that will take a decade or so to obliterate.

    James Sutherland

    (Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)

    If only someone in the Australian cricket hierarchy in the past couple of decades had had the guts to call out the Chappell-Waugh sledging for what it is, totally unacceptable behaviour that has no place on the field or off it for that matter.

    Richie Benaud, arguably Australia’s greatest Test captain, was hard and fair in every aspect of his play and captaincy. He would not tolerate anything that diminished the true spirit of cricket.

    Benaud, for instance, described the underarm incident as “disgraceful … one of the worst things I have ever seen done on a cricket field.”

    In this spirit, I reckon that the baggy green caps adopt a new mantra to avoid any more ballsupgate incidents. When some tactic is put forward to upset an opposition player, they should ask themselves this question: “What would Richie say to this?”.

    Spiro Zavos
    Spiro Zavos

    Spiro Zavos, a founding writer on The Roar, was long time editorial writer on the Sydney Morning Herald, where he started a rugby column that has run for nearly 30 years. Spiro has written 12 books: fiction, biography, politics and histories of Australian, New Zealand, British and South African rugby. He is regarded as one of the foremost writers on rugby throughout the world.

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    The Crowd Says (57)

    • April 7th 2018 @ 8:10am
      Linphoma said | April 7th 2018 @ 8:10am | ! Report

      Richie was a trained journalist who knew the power of language. You can even see how he carried it across in his commentary where less is often better. He knew the value of shutting up.

    • Roar Guru

      April 7th 2018 @ 9:25am
      Anindya Dutta said | April 7th 2018 @ 9:25am | ! Report

      Lovely article Spiro. There is no doubt that from intent spring consequences. Very interesting the Orwell piece. Must get hold of it.

    • April 7th 2018 @ 9:39am
      sheek said | April 7th 2018 @ 9:39am | ! Report


      I can’t believe my heroes from the 70s – the Chappell brothers, Lillee, Marsh, et al, engaged in any unsavoury language. Impossible!

      Why, didn’t Freddie Walters, with droll sarcasm after a wicket had fallen, say with deadpan feigned frustration as the next batsman appeared:

      “It’s Keith Fletcher. Don’t tell me we have to put up with him for a few more balls”.

      • April 8th 2018 @ 12:14pm
        GWSingapore said | April 8th 2018 @ 12:14pm | ! Report

        The Australians can be crude but are not the sharpest knives in the block wit wise.

        Maybe twenty years ago or so, an Australian opening batsman, who had the reputation as the Australian attack dog, was verbally abusing an English batsman at the crease for carrying too much weight. The abuse continued for a few overs until the Englishman responded, “It’s not my fault I am fat, it’s your wife’s. Everytime I — her she gives me a biscuit.” The poor Australian had absolutely no response to that, and shut up for the rest of the session.

        • April 18th 2018 @ 12:42pm
          JohnB said | April 18th 2018 @ 12:42pm | ! Report

          Actually an Australian opening bowler, and a Zimbabwean medium pacer batting at the time. Pots, kettles, knives, blocks …

    • April 7th 2018 @ 9:50am
      sheek said | April 7th 2018 @ 9:50am | ! Report


      It’s interesting that the modern Aussie cricket sledging seems to have begun in NZ in 1974.

      Australia were playing the Kiwis for the first time in official tests since 1946. Although the Aussies won the series in Oz 2-0, they were heading for defeat in the drawn test, saved by the rain.

      In NZ, the Kiwis provided sterner resistance, splitting the series 1-1, with one high scoring draw. The Aussies were a little taken aback by the Kiwis’ stern resolve.

      Interesting that Chappelli begun the verbal abuse against NZ & not England, although both the 1970/71 & 72 series were intensely & a little bitterly contested.

      The Aussies were on good terms with the Caribbean boys back then, while they were not in the same league as the Saffies. The Indians & Pakis were inconsequential at the time.

      Obviously, because the Kiwis in 1973/74 wee showing some genuine fight, they were considered fair game.

      But i like your argument. There are enough examples in sport of players who were not only outstanding in their field of endeavour but also displayed outstanding character.

      You can definitely be both a good guy & great athlete.

    • April 7th 2018 @ 9:55am
      Lara said | April 7th 2018 @ 9:55am | ! Report

      Sledging is a weapon. I was playing golf with 2 mates . One was as sledger and gave it to this other guy mercilessly . So before we teed of , l said out loud, if the sledges sledges tell him to stick his head back in the sewer ….we had a wonderful round of golf and the sledger shot a terrible score and lost …..funny that.

    • April 7th 2018 @ 10:13am
      Kangajets said | April 7th 2018 @ 10:13am | ! Report

      The culture of Australian cricket has been terrible since they white anted Kim Hughes .

      And the crowd behaviour of the beer bottle fights and abuse to West Indies players was disgusting. Thankfully the crowds are not like that anymore. But the culture of the players….

      • April 11th 2018 @ 7:49am
        Basil said | April 11th 2018 @ 7:49am | ! Report

        it’s funny how we like to both romanticise and denigrate the past, depending on agenda -The 60s Windies tour to Oz was apparently or lovey dovey both on and off the field, a decade latter it is apparently abusive hostile and racist, both on and off the field!

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