Kumar Sangakkara spoke for many cricketers of the world a month back when asked about the dark art of sledging.
Among other remarks the Sri Lanka legend made, one telling observation – which I have since come to learn is widely held in world cricket – was his belief that the Aussies love to dish it out, but can’t take it.
“If you do go down the line of having a chat on the field and you open that door,” said Sangakkara, “you have to be mindful that you have to accept whatever comes back at you.
“(You can’t) talk on the field and sledge and then say, ‘Well I draw the line here and what he said was unacceptable’. That to me is ridiculous.
“I think if that is the case then don’t sledge at all.”
There was no clearer example of this than David Warner, “removing himself” from a grade cricket match in Sydney over the weekend when Jason Hughes, the brother of the late Australian opener Phil Hughes, sent a few words his way.
Warner and Phil Hughes were close friends and no one was more deeply affected by Hughes’ tragic passing than Warner.
But Jason’s remarks, it seems, did not involve his brother at all.
The foul words that made Warner crumble, and literally pick up his bat and go home, were these: “You’re a disgrace, you shouldn’t be playing cricket.”
Pretty strong stuff.
Some might suggest that if you get convicted of ball-tampering, suspended for a year from playing for your country and from leadership roles forever, being called a “disgrace” was par for the course.
But not for Warner, himself a notorious sledger.
According to his PR department, better known as his wife Candace, Warner left the field because the remarks crossed the line between “sledging” and “abuse”.
“Everyone has their own opinion but I think there’s a difference between sledging and abuse,” said Mrs Warner.
“I’m not going to go into what was said but yesterday went too far.”
Okay, so Warner is allowed to make vile comments about Quinton de Kock’s sister and mother, but use the ‘d’ word and he’s off.
For the record, Warner clearly wasn’t too perturbed as after having a sulk for a few minutes in the dressing room, he decided to ‘un-remove’ himself from the game and went on to make 157, his second century of the season.
No wonder Sangakkara says there is a lot of confusion about that “line”.
Stand-in Aussie captain Tim Paine, appointed more for his copious diplomatic abilities rather than cricketing skills, also talked about the “line” when he and vice-captain Josh Hazlewood faced the media after the dual reports into the culture of Australian cricket were released in Sydney on Monday.
Paine and Hazlewood were there to rubber-stamp the new “Players pact” – a 38-word collection of platitudes that is supposedly going to fix all the ills in the Australian game, including (hopefully) their now infamous batting collapses.
“This is a line in the sand for us as players,” he read from a prepared statement, “and we’re very much looking forward to focusing on the future of the game, playing with pride and making Australians proud.”
He could have also added staying on the right side of the line.
But what the future looks like now for Australian cricket is anyone’s guess.
The 145-page report into Australian cricket culture, compiled by The Ethics Centre, could all be boiled down to just two words – “play nice”.
A 'Players' Pact' also released today:— Mat Jessep (@MatJessep) October 29, 2018
"... the overarching statement as to how cricketers in Australia should play the game, respecting its traditions. The Players’ Pact is a genuine and humble statement of the leadership group.The Players’ " pic.twitter.com/0BNuTLSQ5D
But the problem is when Australians play nice they invariably lose, because playing nice is not in our culture, especially our cricketing culture.
Take it from a self-confessed sledger, we need the aggression, the edge, the abuse, to perform at our peak.
Without it Aussie teams are like lambs to the slaughter, which you saw in the UAE in the series against Pakistan over the last month.
The Aussies tried to play nice and were completely outplayed in the two Test series and the three T20Is.
When Aussies stay on the right side of the line, they are tame, toothless and quickly put to the sword.
When Australian sporting teams bite and snarl, like Steve Waugh and Shane Warne in their pomp, they are unpleasant to play against and absolutely hate losing.
The Ethics Centre report said that there was too much focus on winning in Australian cricket. Exactly right – and most Aussies wouldn’t have it any other way. In fact, Australians don’t know how to play any other way.
Watching the latest Aussie sporting debacle recently (and there have been many – cricket, football, rugby union and league) an English colleague turned to me and with some concern said: “What is wrong with Aussie sport these days?”
A Pom pitying Australian sporting endeavor – now that really is crossing the line.
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