Allan Border Medal February 7, 2006

Tufnell jibes upset Ponting


Ricky Ponting: sense-of-humour failure © Getty Images

Phil Tufnell has got under the skin of Australia's cricketers with jibes about them losing the Ashes to England. Facing accusations of being too precious after dining out on English sporting misery for more than a decade, the Australians took exception to Tufnell's teasing during a filmed segment of last night's Allan Border Medal awards ceremony in Melbourne.

The film was intended as a bit of harmless fun, by showing Tufnell perched at a bar having a shot at Australia's costly blunders against England during last year's Ashes series. But the move drew an angry reaction from the Australian team, with their captain, Ricky Ponting, warning: "Quite a few guys at my table were pretty fired up at that."

Tufnell was shocked at the reaction of a skit done "for a bit of fun". "Good gosh ... how on earth has it come to this? I thought Australians had a sense of humour," he said in The Courier-Mail. "I'm sorry if I caused any offence ... My advice to Ricky and the boys would be to enjoy life before it's all gone."

Tufnell highlighted Ponting's decision to bowl first in the second Test at Edgbaston despite having just lost their strike bowler, Glenn McGrath, to an ankle injury in the pre-match warm-up, and a crucial dropped catch by Shane Warne during the final Test at The Oval.

Ponting, however, rejected claims he and his team were too thin-skinned in their reaction to Tufnell's sledging. After being named Australian Cricketer of the Year for the second time, and becoming the first multiple winner of the medal, Ponting told the audience at Melbourne's Crown Casino that Tufnell's jibes would motivate him and his team against England in the Ashes series in Australia later this year.

Ponting was still fuming on Tuesday morning, despite having a night to sleep on the words of Tufnell, who averaged 2.73 with the bat and 38.14 with the ball in 12 Tests against Australia. "Disappointment is probably the right word," Ponting told reporters. "I'm not so concerned or angry over what he had to say. Looking back at a week or two's time it will probably be quite funny, but on our night - the Australian cricket team's night of nights for the whole year - I didn't think the timing was that good."

He rejected any suggestion that he and his players lacked a sense of humour. "There's no doubt that the Ashes loss cut pretty deep with all the players, but in saying that, we haven't thought about it for a long time," Ponting said. "We've been pretty focused and pretty positive on what we've been trying to achieve over the last few weeks, and to have it all re-hashed and brought up again probably touched a note with some of the guys.

"But I don't think that means we're precious or anything like that," he added. "It's just we're there to enjoy the night for what it is and we had to sit down and go through all of that sort of stuff." Tufnell lampooned Warne for spilling a straightforward slips chance early in Kevin Pietersen's innings in the final Test, allowing the England batsman to go on to score a century, save the match and secure a 2-1 Ashes win for his team.

"Warney ... just because you're a mate of Kevin Pietersen's, it didn't mean on that last day at The Oval you had to drop him," Tufnell teased. "Do you wake up in the middle of the night thinking you might have dropped the Ashes? I have got Herschelle Gibbs' phone number here if you want some counseling."

Steve Waugh, Ponting's predecessor as Australian captain, once famously sledged Gibbs for dropping him during the 1999 World Cup which gave Australia a lifeline on their way to winning the tournament. Warne said he was itching for another chance at England and shrugged off Tufnell's remarks. "It didn't really worry me whatsoever what he was saying," he said. "You can take yourself too seriously, take it for a bit of fun."

Cos Cardone, Nine's Melbourne director of sport, told The Courier-Mail no offence was intended and there was no need for the station to apologise. "We just tried to immerse a bit of comedy in the night," he said. "Last year we had Hale and Pace. If we win the Ashes back next season we will fly Phil over and get him to the Crown Casino and Australia can get their own back."