MCG

Only Australia sledges the opposition…

New Zealand are a graceful team full of innocent, softly spoken men of praise, whereas Australia are arrogant, silver spooners who are both rude and unnecessarily aggressive.

If you’ve only been around the game of cricket for about five minutes or you are susceptible to sensationalised misrepresentations, then you probably hold this view.

Sections of New Zealand’s media have suggested that Australia “bullied” New Zealand in the World Cup final.

The idea is outright nonsense. The aggressive Brad Haddin, in particular, has come under fire for his banter with Grant Eliot and his ‘sending off’ of Martin Guptill. From these initial sensationalist print media grabs, the usual suspects have suggested that everybody hates Australia because they play the game with no ‘grace or humility’.

New Zealand’s players do not share this view. Neither do the ICC. Brendan McCullum says the final was played in great spirit and the ICC has not issued any fines or warnings for on-field conduct.

Australia has admitted an aggressive approach. They believe New Zealand got the better of them mentally and verbally in the group stage thriller in Auckland.

Australia target certain players believed to be susceptible to a loss of concentration at the behest of verbal banter. But they are not the only team who do this. When the situation demands most teams dish it out.

When Wahab Riaz unleashed one of the most aggressive spells of fast bowling ever seen in ODI cricket at Shane Watson, complemented by some excellent verbal barrage and body language from Riaz and the Pakistani team, the Australian response was nothing but praise and embrace for Riaz and Pakistan.

It was a spectacular quarter final contest. Watson got roughed up and Riaz was dead unlucky not to get him out (his team mate dropped a sitter). Almost everybody supported Riaz and thoroughly admired his desire to lift Pakistan. Many Australian commentators and punters expressed outrage when Riaz was charged by the ICC for his actions and they were right. The ICC made a colossal mistake.

That is cricket. It is a deeply psychological game. After training all week in the nets, batting out in the middle is up to 75% mental warfare with yourself, your technique and your own flaws and insecurities, all of which can be cracked open and exposed by good bowling, a glare or a smile from the bowler or a few comments from the slips.

Some are good at banter, most are not. Some take it too far and they are reprimanded by match officials, who also occasionally get it wrong. The day that verbal banter and aggressive bowling are removed from cricket is the day the game dies. The day when it is only Australia who attempts these tactics is the day when everybody else has stopped playing the game.

Your true character is revealed by your ability to compete hard, without degenerating to immature or offensive behaviour, and then share a beer and mutual respect after the game.

Australia and New Zealand teams mix with another, the media and officials after the World Cup final.

Australia and New Zealand teams mix with another after the World Cup final. Photo by Adam Johnson.

Two great left handed bowlers and friends share a moment after the World Cup final.

Two great left handed bowlers and friends share a moment after the World Cup final. Photo: Trent Boult’s twitter feed.

Australia cruise to a 4 nil lead as England capitulate, again

A short time has passed since I last doused this blog with fresh words analysing the Ashes Series. Christmas commitments, holidays and playing host to international guests squeezed my time and robbed me of the personal creative introspection I need to write anything worth glancing at.

Despite being time poor in the festive season, as I’m sure all of you were too, I still managed to absorb the ultimate cricket exchanges. I’ve spent much of the last couple of days at the Melbourne Cricket Ground watching the action live in human eye definition.

I spent time with the “Aussie Army”, had a few beers at the Cricketer’s Arms on Punt Road and stood among the Barmy Army. Good friends are always an asset in life and especially when they’re members of the Melbourne Cricket Club, an elite and privileged crew with an average 25 year waiting list. My MCC member friends allowed me, as a guest, to enjoy Day 4 in the comfortable surrounds of the members section. An amazing experience complemented by padded seats, good food and generous wine portions.

What a day; a Chris Rogers century, 8000 Test runs for Michael Clarke (Alistair Cook reached this milestone on Day 3), an unbeaten and entertaining Shane Watson 81 and a fourth consecutive resounding victory for Australia. The ease with which Australia finally took England’s scalp in this Test defies or inaccurately portrays how close England came to setting up a win.

England had Australia in a submissive position on Day 3 of the fourth Test at Melbourne when they began their second innings with a lead of around 50. At 0/65 after the luncheon England looked to be erecting the relevant foundation to build a solid lead. At 4/87 the foundation was still there, but the scaffold required to support the lead had begun to fall away. I think that had England established a lead of over 300, Australia would have capitulated, but when England lost 5 wickets for 6 runs near the close of Day 3 and Australia’s openers finished on 0/30, the hosts needed only 201 to win with 2 days of play remaining. England threw it away with devastating style, in part due to relentless high quality bowling from Australia, but also in part due to whatever cancer is eating away at England’s dressing room morale and attitude.

This has been a disastrous series for the tourists. It seems that internal conflicts exist, perhaps factions and cliques are at play and I’m sure that we will here more about these in future as players’ and coaches’ tongues are inevitably freed from the restrictions of international cricket. The leadership of coach Andy Flower and captain Alistair Cook will be questioned. I think that, at least, Ashley Giles will replace Flower in the near future.

The early-series departure of Jonathon Trott – a fine player – and the mid-series retirement of Graeme Swann – possibly England’s greatest spinner – added to the turbulent and unsettled disposition of the England squad. Something or many things have gone awry, but this shouldn’t detract from the super performance by Australia. Four Tests have been played and the same 11 players have provided Australia four victories. Five of Australia’s top 6 batsmen have scored centuries, as has wicket-keeper Brad Haddin, and all four bowlers have taken wickets. Mitchell Johnson has taken over 30 for the series, an enormous return for a man previously condemned by many opposition and Australian cricket fans.

Onwards to Sydney where the fifth Test begins on 3 January. Can England resurrect some of the high quality we know exists in the squad? Or will Australia execute the clean sweep?

Paying Homage

I must make special mention of one of the world’s finest cricketers, Jaques Kallis, who at 38 announced his retirement from Test cricket earlier this week. Kallis just scored a century against India and has 45 Test centuries in his career, second only to Sachin Tendulkar. The South African will bow out having scored over 13,000 runs at an average in excess of 55, at least 292 wickets at a bowling average of 32 and over 200 catches. What a wonderful player.

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