Rumor has it that after each Test victory, the Australian players prowl nearby neighborhoods for unwitting victims that they then drag back to their dressing room and sacrifice as part of some unholy arcane rite. That or they drink VB and sing Cold Chisel songs. Which is equally bad when you think about it. Either way, Australian cricketers are the epitome of evil. In Dungeons & Dragons terms they’d all be Dark Paladins and only able to choose evil based alignments. But since we aren’t massive geeks we wouldn’t know anything about that. We don’t even know what a Paladin is.
The ugly Australia stuff always crops up before an English Ashes series, but it seems even more pronounced this time round, mostly owing to unfavorable comparisons drawn between them and the Kiwis. General sentiment seems to be that most English fans would prefer it if they could just play the Kiwis and forget about the Ashes, which is not terribly surprising given how frequently New Zealand win when playing in England.
But that’s probably to miss the point a wee bit, and the Kiwis are, admittedly, far better behaved in the field than the Aussies are. And good on them for it too. But does that necessarily make the Australians that bad? Do they really represent all that is wrong with Test cricket these days, or is it just the usual media hyperbole (before an Ashes series? Never!) that fans get drawn into because such stereotypes just confirm their own fiercely held prejudices?
Accordingly, we’ve decided to break down the Australian touring squad and see just how many bad eggs it really does contain. Obviously some of our conclusions will be contentious but hey, it’s our blog and stuff. Well, its Editor Steve’s blog, so direct all hate mail towards him if you disagree.
First of all are the players who we would regard as being either blameless, or mostly blameless, in regards to their behaviour on the field. The sort of player who will so rarely get caught up in any controversy that we can’t, off hand, think of any serious incidents involving them. These are Ryan Harris, Adam Voges, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazelwood, Fawad Ahmed and Chris Rogers. All lovely sorts and welcome to marry our daughters any time.
Next up you have the guys who occasionally overstep the line, although only so occasionally it’s usually through over-competitiveness rather than through any sort of malice. Obviously this is the most contentious group, as it really depends on how you determine whether a player is a bit of a prick or just sometimes a bit too combative for his own good. We’ve gone for Steven Peter Devereux Smith, the Marsh brothers, Peter Siddle and Michael Clarke here. Again, some might disagree, especially in regards to someone like Clarke, but we’ve dealt with him before, and whilst he sometimes gets a bit too carried away with his perceived responsibilities as Test captain – which inevitably ends up with him sticking his nose into confrontations that have nothing to do with him – he seems a nice enough sort generally. Probably.
Siddle’s inclusion is an interesting one too, and generally Australian fast bowlers probably need to be treated a separate species. One befitting their lowly position in the gene pool perhaps. Aggression is typically part and parcel of an Aussie fast bowler’s armory, and whilst Harris mostly avoids this sort of thing (although he does sledge along with the rest, just not as much), someone like Mitchell Johnson wouldn’t be half as threatening if he dropped the intimidation tactics. Our perception is that, at this stage of his career, Johnson pretty much has the aggression side of things down pat. Mitchell Starc, on the other hand, reflects where Johnson was at earlier in his career, and most (if not all) of his send-offs and verbals are utterly wasted effort, if not completely counterproductive. Starc hasn’t yet mastered using aggression to his advantage as a bowler. And that’s all it really is, another weapon with which to unsettle a batsman. When it’s overdone or done badly, it looks ugly, whilst when it’s done well, particularly in the case of someone like Siddle these days, nobody ever really takes much notice.
That leaves three more players to deal with: Shane Watson, David Warner and Brad Haddin. On the first, well, we’re just going to conclude that Watson generally seems to be a bit of a dick and largely lacking in any self-awareness. His sledging and send-offs seem only to accentuate his own travails with bat and ball in recent years. Which is to say, they make him look an utter idiot. But we hold onto the suspicion (hope) that he might be growing up at last.
Warner is by far the most interesting of the lot, and whilst a lot of people seem to really, really hate the guy, he probably represents Cricket Australia’s greatest success story in recent years. If Warner had played in an earlier era, where all he did was play domestic Australian cricket and then head off to play international cricket, his career would likely already be over, even with the much looser restrictions placed on player behavior back in the day. We can only imagine how he might have gone on a tour of Pakistan back in the early ’80s.
For someone who looked happy to burn every bridge he could find just a couple of years ago, Warner has been rehabilitated to an amazing degree. Playing in the IPL, where he is now a captain, has been a big part of that, but so has been Lehmann’s faith in him. He is still an idiot, and always will be, but he is not the complete loose end that he used to be. Rather than try and beat it out of him, Australia try to use his on field aggression, because when he is riled up he is a far better player for it. Which means he still transgresses, but probably not as frequently, or as badly, as reputation would now suggest. Rather than a liability, he has become the sort of player opposition fans hate, but would love to have in their own team.
Which leaves us with Brad Haddin and yes, he is a complete arse. But even here we feel need to offer some sort of qualification, in that Haddin is an arse on the field only because he has seemingly concluded (correctly) that the ICC doesn’t have the balls to stop him from being one. Haddin seems to have been essentially taking the piss for years now, seeing just how much he can get away with before the ICC pulls him up on it. And so far that has been quite a bit. Like how he got in the Kiwis faces during the World Cup final because, stuff it, it was his last game so what’s the worst they can do (nothing, as it turns out); he will probably be looking to go out in a blaze of glory in his last Ashes series too.
All of which means we have spent about 1,000 words describing how the Aussies probably aren’t as bad as people make them out to be, or even if they are, is it really that big of a deal compared to some of the other issues cricket faces these days? Besides, if the ICC actually had a backbone in regards to Haddin’s antics, they probably wouldn’t be too dissimilar to most teams out there. Because, let it not be forgotten, all teams have their ugly side. English players sledge just as much as anyone; on their recent Test tour India probably sledged the Australians more often than the other way around and cricket fans worldwide would probably have imploded with outrage if an Australian bowler had carrier on the way Wahab Riaz did in the World Cup quarter final. More than just token fines or warnings from the ICC would see the worst of the on-field behavior scrubbed out pretty quickly, but you expect the ICC are hesitant to act, mostly because a bit of on-field aggro is box office entertainment as far as TV ratings are concerned.
Which just leaves the Kiwis as a rather forlorn outlier in world cricket terms then. Which is probably exactly where they like to be. The weirdos.