News Analysis

Actions will speak louder than Australia's 38-word Players' Pact

Tim Paine, Australia's Test captain, said it was now very clear what the team could and couldn't do in the middle as they attempt to repair their reputation

Alex Malcolm
Tim Paine discusses the findings on Cricket Australia, Melbourne, October 29, 2018

Tim Paine discusses the findings on Cricket Australia  •  Getty Images

Thirty-eight words. That is the full extent of Cricket Australia's new Players' Pact.
"We recognise how lucky we are to play this great game. We respect the game and its traditions. We want to make all Australians proud. Compete with us. Smile with us. Fight on with us. Dream with us."
This was the only portion of the dual Ethics Reviews conducted into Australian cricket that was owned and presented wholly and solely by the players. It was the work of former Australia batsman Rick McCosker, Ethics Centre consultant Peter Collins, Australian coach Justin Langer, Test captain Tim Paine, stand-in women's captain Rachael Haynes, Pat Cummins, George Bailey and Shane Watson.
It was not the total sum of their contribution to the reviews, as a number of this panel's findings are within the all-encompassing Longstaff Review.
"This represents a commitment from Australian players to adhere to a set of overarching standards," Paine said after presenting the pact. "This is a line in the sand for us as players and we're very much looking forward to focussing on the future of the game, playing with pride and making Australians proud.
"The pact pulls together common themes from team values and embeds them into a simple message."
Thirty-eight words. Paine went on to explain it's now about actions not words for the Australia team.
But herein lies the problem for Australia moving forward. The review specifically addressed on-field behaviour, particularly sledging.
"Australian players have a reputation for aggressive sledging, and it appears that behaviour that would usually be described as bullying or harassment is used as an instrument of the game," the review states.
"Some current players think that it is an essential part of the kit they need to win. As one elite player replied when asked about the decision by New Zealand's national team to stop sledging: '… and how are they (New Zealand) going …?'"
New Zealand, it should be noted, are currently ranked ahead of Australia on the ICC's Test and ODI rankings. The irony being that the crux of the review was to expose the cultural cost in Australian cricket of a belligerent pursuit to be ranked No.1 in all formats.
The challenge for Australia's players is not the reality of what's ahead but rather the perception of their actions. Any hint of impropriety will be pounced upon from a global audience intent on seeing significant and perceptible change in Australia's behaviour. Indeed, some innocent byplay between Nathan Lyon and Sarfraz Ahmed in the Abu Dhabi Test match recently led to probing questions in the aftermath.
The review addressed this specific dichotomy.
"Senior players and coaching staff frequently complain of 'double standards' - that Australians are held to account for behaviour that other teams are allowed to engage in with relative impunity
You feel uncomfortable with what's said of how we behaved and when you actually see it, it can be a little bit confronting sometimes
Josh Hazlewood on looking back at the Ashes and South Africa tour
"There is a sense that cricket as a whole should be held to account according to the same standards and that the ICC should be responsible for ensuring a level playing field - not just in terms of formal rules but also ethical standards.
"Yet, when challenged about this, we have not found anyone willing to defend the claim that Australian cricket should be no better than the standard set by its competitors - or even the international order. For all of its blemishes - sometimes spectacularly awful - the general sense is that Australia should aim higher - living according to its own code of honour."
Paine said the players are unequivocal in their understanding of what they can and can't do and that the team would police itself.
"You're never going to have a game of cricket played where the opposition aren't going to speak to each other and I think that's always been part of the game and that always will be," he said.
"But as we touched on before we know now. We know what's right and we know what's wrong. We know what Australian cricket expects of us and we'll be holding each other accountable. If it does happen or it does start to get out of control it won't just be me it will be a number of guys [who police it]. We know where we sit on that and how far we go and where we don't go."
It was a noble response to a disillusioned public. But Australian cricketers know all too well their fans can be fickle, as one respondent noted in the review: "Fans love the fact we're winning. Some may complain about the way we're winning, but nowhere near as many who complain when we're not winning."
It was a perceptive observation from someone who, as the review states, lives in a 'gilded bubble'. Sledging by Australian cricketers is nothing new and anyone suggesting that past greats did not sledge and abuse opponents has a short memory. Yet only now has it become such a problem that it has in-part triggered two cultural reviews and led to a complete overhaul as to how Australians play their cricket.
It is hard for natural instincts not to take over. Josh Hazlewood, a mild-mannered man by nature, spoke of how uncomfortable he feels about the aggressive persona he and his team-mates took on in both the Ashes and South Africa that led to these reviews.
"I think looking back now, you feel a bit uncomfortable with how we behaved on certain occasions and in certain moments in big series," he said. "You probably don't notice it at the time as much. You're sort of just going from week to week, game to game and things can build up quite quickly. But looking back I think, I haven't watched a lot of footage from South Africa or even during the Ashes, you feel uncomfortable with what's said of how we behaved and when you actually see it, it can be a little bit confronting sometimes."
Paine admitted the Australians have been caught up in the heat of the battle at times and his team now needs to play the game on "skill more than on emotion."
He observed that actions speak louder than words and yet it is impossible to play the game without words.
How Australia wins over the public from here is a riddle in itself.

Alex Malcolm is a freelance writer based in Perth