Clarke, Haddin warn against excessive sledging
Michael Clarke and Brad Haddin have counselled Australia against excessive sledging in the forthcoming Test series against South Africa, querying whether recent efforts to "puff chests out" detracted more from the team's performances than having any impact on the opposition.
The Australia ODI team engaged in numerous verbal battles with South Africa over the course of a 5-0 series defeat on their recent tour, which followed captain Steven Smith's assertion that a "quiet" team needed to show more "energy" in the field. While Clarke and Haddin were both known for numerous verbal stoushes over their careers, they agreed that forcing the issue verbally would do more harm than good.
"I'm probably contradicting the way I captained, because I loved that aggressive approach and while there was a line, I always liked the team I captained to head-butt that line, not overstep it but head-butt it. That's how I thought we played our best cricket," Clarke told ESPNcricinfo. "But the more I experienced got I believed it wasn't what you said it was what you did, so your performance wasn't dictated by your mouth.
"I'm probably contradicting myself and my captaincy style because there were a couple of occasions where I did open my big mouth. The reason I did that with James Anderson was to stick up for George Bailey and the Dale Steyn one was sticking up for James Pattinson as well. But I shouldn't have said a word, in both situations there was no need for me to say anything."
Clarke noted that numerous players from past eras were particularly talkative on the field because it is what worked for them, not because they felt compelled to do so out of some idealised image of the Australian cricketer. "I think you need to do what's comfortable to you," he said. "The team I grew up playing in that Australian team, they had Steve Waugh, Matthew Hayden, Shane Warne, these guys liked and enjoyed that verbal competition.
"That helped them perform. So if that helps you, as long as you don't overstep that mark, then go for your life. There's a number of players around the world that enjoy that. I remember Kevin Pietersen loved that challenge against Mitchell Johnson or Shane Warne, whomever it was.
"So if it helps your game, do it, but I don't think you should force it. I think that'd be like me trying to bat like Ricky Ponting. The guys have got to work out what they feel is best for them individually and as a team and go for it. But if it doesn't suit your personality then I wouldn't try to be someone I'm not."
Haddin expressed the view that teams could make life uncomfortable for opponents without resorting to verbal abuse. Areas like aggressive fielding, running between the wickets and banter among team-mates - sometimes referred to as "talking across" the batsmen - could have the same effect without becoming a distraction from the primary goal - to win the game.
"I don't think it's about what you say on the field," Haddin said. "The best Australian teams I've been a part of have been able to create an uncomfortable environment for the opposition with your body language, your movements around the game, and creating an atmosphere with each other where the opposition feels like they're the only two people out there, or he [the batsman] feels like he's stuck out there by himself.
"It's the environment you're trying to create with your presence. That can be having the most athletic fielding team so the opposition feels uncomfortable there. It's about creating the environment to make the opposition feel they can't play their best. The best way you can do that is to create an environment where the opposition try to do something they don't normally do.
"Sometimes the best form of that is not to say anything - you wouldn't say anything to a Kevin Pietersen for example because he'd dig his heels in and start taking it personally to hit us all around the park. One of the best things for him was to stay away from him."
Conversely, Haddin felt that talking too much to opponents invariably led to a change in the power dynamic, as the "sledgers" revealed more about their own discomfort than those they were targeting. "Talking too much to the opposition ... you've got to earn the right to play the way you want to play," Haddin said.
"Sometimes if you're just focusing on talking and trying to get a reaction it can have a negative effect on your team. The reason you create that uncomfortable environment there is to make the opposition do something they don't want to do. If it starts detracting from what you're trying to do then that's a problem."
Asked to provide an example of a player who struck the right balance, Haddin mentioned Andrew Symonds. "Andrew was one of the best team men I ever played with," he said. "He didn't say a lot to the opposition, but his presence in the covers or when he had the ball he was always up for the contest.
"You knew if Andrew was there, the way he dived in the field and chased, the tempo he set running between the wickets, the opposition could look at him and says 'Hang on, the Australians are up for the fight today' and that then puts doubt in their change room."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig; Melinda Farrell is a presenter with ESPNcricinfo