The behaviour of the Australian team January 19, 2006

Aussie moralising smacks of double-standards

So how is it that the same team who grinned and bore it throughout the English summer are now being castigated Down Under for their lack of sportsmanlike behaviour?



Ricky Ponting and Adam Gilchrist: under fire for their team's behaviour © Getty Images
It's funny how quickly things can change. It was only last summer that Australia's cricketers were being lauded as shining white beacons of virtue, as they contested an Ashes series for the ages which was embellished with some of the smiliest, most good-natured behaviour imaginable.

The respect was reciprocated all throughout the summer. There was Shane Warne congratulating Andrew Flintoff for his biffing at Edgbaston; there was Flintoff consoling Brett Lee after the two-run defeat in the same game. There were smiles and back-slaps aplenty, for Kevin Pietersen at The Oval and for England in general in victory.

In fact, the most notable moments of discord were prompted, by and large, by English actions - Simon Jones's shy at the stumps that struck Matthew Hayden on the shoulder at Edgbaston, the lack of concern for Ricky Ponting's cheek injury at Lord's and, if we are to stretch a point, England's contentious use of substitutes at Trent Bridge that caused Ponting to blow his top after being run out by Gary Pratt.

So how is it then, that the same team who grinned and bore it throughout the English summer are now being castigated Down Under for their lack of sportsmanlike behaviour? The whole situation smacks of double-standards, especially when men such as Bobby Simpson and Lou Rowan start to weigh into the debate.

Simpson, lest we forget, was the coach at the helm around the time that Allan Border decided that "no more Mr Nice Guy" was the best way forward for his team. His snappy, snarly approach to the 1989 Ashes - in which at Trent Bridge he responded to Robin Smith's not-unreasonable request for a glass of water with: "No you f***ing can't. What do you think this is? A f***ing tea party?" - resulted in a 4-0 hammering and instant legend status.

Border was the archetypal "little Aussie battler", a breed that has gone out of fashion of late, as Australia's effortless supremacy in world cricket has allowed them to buck their usual style and get, to borrow Michael Vaughan's phraseology, "a little cute with the game". Short-lived initiatives, such as taking the fielder's word on disputed catches, were only ever going to last as long as the Aussies were on top.



England's captain, Ray Illingworth, remonstrates with umpire Rowan during the acrimonious Sydney Test in 1970-71 © The Cricketer

Such niceties are completely out of the window now. The Ashes have been lost and the realisation has dawned on Australia that the tried-and-tested method of getting them back is to get, well, a little bit ugly. The process began in that Trent Bridge flare-up, when Ponting and Simon Katich both lost their rag. Other sides might have folded at that moment - Australia on the other hand were galvanised, and almost fanned the flames of injustice into a thrilling final-day comeback.

As Lawrence Booth wrote in The Guardian last week, Australia have got a bit of the mongrel back in their game. The ICC made a laughable attempt to stamp out their war of words with South Africa - and specifically Graeme Smith - ahead of last month's Test series, but that is as nothing compared to the vitriol that will rain down on England in ten months' time, when the revenge Ashes get underway.

So when octogenarian Test umpires such as Rowan do their best Fred Trueman impersonations and start muttering "it weren't like that in my day," you can write their opinions off to forgetfulness. Rowan, after all, was an official for five of the seven Tests of the 1970-71 Ashes, one of the most filthy-tempered clashes of all time.

In that series, Ian Chappell took the art of sledging to new highs (or lows, depending on which side of the fence you are currently sat), England prevailed despite being denied a single lbw in seven matches, and Rowan's main contribution came at Sydney, when he called John Snow for intimidatory bowling. That decision inflamed an already feverish stadium and led to the infamous incident of Snow being grappled by a drunken spectator on the fine-leg boundary.

The mongrel was certainly present in that match, on the pitch and off it. But if the renewed hard-nosed approach has had the desired effect by this time next year, it's unlikely that many former pros will have much truck with the chosen method.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo