More to it than winning


For one reason or another it’s been a while since I’ve been interested in the Olympics. I became jaded by the almost perpetual reports of corruption and incompetence, each little bit taking the event further away from the purity of its founding principle. With that it became more corporate with every incarnation, which was reflected in the coverage – always heavy on advertising and promotion of sponsors, and in recent years, ridiculously and annoyingly partisan. (Seriously, I reckon most Aussies would much prefer an impartial coverage to the barracking so often provided as commentary).

In theory if I was over the Olympic games, then it’s poor relation the Commonwealth games didn’t factor at all. At least the Olympics could boast the very cream of the crop – what could the Commonwealth games offer?

It’s for that reason I wasn’t excited about the Gold Coast games just ended. It was poorly promoted to start with, and there was no sense of anticipation. I hoped we – Oz – went well, but in the first few nights I preferred to watch my own shows than switch to the coverage. Then something changed.

Australia traditionally does well in swimming, even at Olympic level, and some of that hype transmitted to me. I switched over a day or two in to watch the exploits of our Aussie swimmers, hoping to see them topple the Brits.

The swimming was great, but I kept watching when the second week began and other sports took over. A lot of it was familiar. Though there were exceptions, much of the commentary and coverage was mediocre. The Aussies were blitzing in general. We’ve had our ups and downs in recent years, but throughout my years of watching international sport it’s been pretty standard for Australia to do well. It’s nice, it’s a bonus, but it’s normal pretty much. It was nice this time, but what really got me was something different.

The whole ball tampering crisis in South Africa has reframed the whole notion of Australian sport. We always had an Australian way, but the bottom line is that we expected to win and would exert our every fibre to achieve that. It can be pure, but in recent times it’s taken on an unsavoury edge. All of us feel that, and all of us want something different. Winning isn’t everything.

That’s what captured me. There were many moments in these games that demonstrated exemplary sportsmanship. Across the board there appeared great respect between competitors, and between spectators and competitors. Overall it appeared a very friendly games. Everyone wanted to win, and the Aussie crowds were rowdy in their support for local athletes, but contest over there was appreciation for the effort.

More than many games I feel as if the stories of the competitors and competition were just as important as the results. Perhaps it is the nature of the Commonwealth games that the sense of community comes to the fore. There were world champions competing, and world class competitors sprinkled through the sports, but reality is that many who won medals wouldn’t have made an Olympic final. This is a second tier competition at best, but being that it emphasises the spirit of doing your best and having a go. It’s nice to win, but to be a part of this, to be in fellowship with fellow athletes and to enjoy the experience of a lifetime trying your best – well, that’s the true essence of it.

That was emphasised by the integration of disabled competitors into the program. This was a great success, and universally heartwarming. None of these competitors are objectively the greatest, but what they exemplify is hope and effort and belief. They define themselves by their determination to overcome the variety of physical handicaps they are faced with. Watching them you realise that there’s much more than coming first. The attempt to surpass your limits – to be better – is the ultimate challenge.

I know, that sounds unusually wet for me. I love competing. I love winning. I hate being second. It’s perspective though, too. Winning is a thrill. It’s an irreplaceable moment in time. The broader experience lasts a lifetime I reckon.

There’s no better example of this than Kurt Fearnley, the much loved, universally admired disabled athlete. He’s been a warrior since the Sydney Olympics in 2000, a fierce competitor and a wonderful representative of Australia. He is a man who has overcome the handicap he was born with to become something much more than a man with a disability.

He won his last ever event yesterday, the wheelchair marathon. He spoke after of how when you wear the colours of Australia you have to be fierce, but competition done, to err on the side of kindness.

That, to me, should be the Australian sporting mantra going forward – fierce, but kind. We used to be that way naturally, but maybe the pendulum is now returning to that. It’s a philosophy that puts these games into perspective, and competition in general.

For me there are no better role models in Australian sport than Kurt Fearnley and Mick Fanning, legends both.

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The fallout


Harrowing scenes the other day when the disgraced Australian cricketers returned home. All three of them took it hard, with Steve Smith breaking down in his press conference. It was hard to watch, and impossible not to be sympathetic.

In the wake of that the attitude to him, and to a lesser degree the others, has softened, to the point that some now claim that the whole thing has been blown up out of all proportion and the penalties are much too harsh.

The penalties – basically 12 months for Smith and Warner, 9 months for Bancroft – are pretty much in line with my expectations. They’re banned from all cricket outside of grade cricket in that period, while I might have allowed them to play Sheffield Shield. The penalties aren’t as harsh as they seem simply because the international cricket season pretty well ends today for the Australians. Effectively they miss a short tour playing Pakistan, and next summer against India.

I was just as affected as most people by the remorse shown, but it doesn’t soften my attitude or change the basic facts. As much as anything a harsh penalty is needed to demonstrate the seriousness of the offence, and as a circuit breaker from which a change in culture and behaviour may now flow. This is a fork in the road.

It’s not necessarily the end of it – appeals and further hearings are possible – but now is the time for us to get around these individuals. They have transgressed, but they have also recognised their wrongdoing and shown remorse. Sport is all about second chances.

Of the three the most I’m most concerned about is David Warner. He appears to be the architect of the crime and has borne the brunt of the recrimination. He’s not well loved around the world because of some of his antics, many of which I’ve found hard to stomach also. He assumed role, misguided as it was, for the team, to be the attack dog, and bear the brunt of the conflict that arose from it.

That backfired to some extent in this tour of South Africa when it became personal off the field. I still scratch my head that Warner was the more heavily penalised in the confrontation with de Kock. In my eyes, as it is with everyone I’ve spoken to, de Kock’s comments and behaviour was reprehensible. The offence was doubled down when in the next test match half the South Africa crowd turned up in Sonny Bill Williams masks, up to and including South African cricket officials. That was an utter disgrace and insult not just to Warner, but more particularly his wife. That too was pretty much swept under the carpet, but it’s no surprise that Warner came into the third test seething with anger.

The whole situation was further compounded when Rabada, banned for two matches for repeat offences, had his suspension overturned on appeal. At the very least Smith was incensed by this, and I presume most of the team was. It was a poor call by the ICC, further proving how inept they are, and effectively undermining their own process. I suspect it added to a siege mentality among the Australians – aggrieved, besieged by the crowd, let down by due process, promoting an us against them mentality and an environment in which extreme choices might seem reasonable. The rest is history.

The ICC, as always, have a lot to answer for, but so too does Cricket Australia. They allowed for this situation to degenerate over a long period. Occasionally they would mutter something censorious, but did little about it. Part of the problem was the wrong people in the wrong jobs. By all accounts Lehmann is a ripper bloke, but I’ve heard stories that prove he was the wrong person to be national coach. He has since resigned. On top of that Steve Smith should not have been made captain. This offence proves that he had neither the strength or authority to prevent wrong being done, but the problem started at his appointment. He’s a great batsman and probably a nice guy, but that doesn’t make for a leader. CA has to clean up the method by which they select leaders. A Border, a Taylor, a Waugh or a Ponting would never have allowed for this to happen.

For now we have a re-configured Australian team, a new captain, and soon to have a new coach. All power to them.

Why it means so much


Cricket Australia made the first of their announcements this morning following their investigation into ball tampering. My first reaction was disappointment at the tepid response.

My very strong view is that CA must be transparent in every aspect of the investigation and findings, and be brutal in its penalties. As they say, justice must not only be done, but seen to be done. The Australian people demand it.

What we got instead was news that the three players at the centre of this scandal had been stood down and were returning to Australia, and their replacements announced. No penalties were detailed, and Darren Lehmann continues as coach. Nothing was revealed of the investigations findings.

Cricket Australia is in a difficult situation, but they have to give more than this. I understand how the penalties may not be determined yet, but what is the process? And what have they discovered? What was the chain of events?

As for Lehmann, I can understand his survival only in terms that he has been allowed to coach on for the final test before announcing his resignation. Even so, I think it is a weak response as there appears no out for Lehmann – either he knew and he’s guilty; or he didn’t know when he should have; and in any case this occurred under his stewardship and symptomatic of a culture he has enabled. I’ll be gobsmacked if he’s not gone after the next test (rumour has it Ponting was approached to take over, but refused as he has too many commitments).

I want to comment on why this is such a big deal. Cricket is one of those sports more than others that pays heed to the spirit of the game. That’s the headline, but the fact of the matter is that there’s always been controversy, and some of it pretty ugly in recent years, including match fixing and other instances of ball tampering. That this has made a bigger splash than most is because of the deliberate nature of the offence, and because it is Australia, and the Australian captain, involved.

That explains the rampant schadenfreude around the cricketing world. Must of the reaction this has been unseemly rejoicing at Australia’s plight. While I’m disgusted by the cheating some of the published responses by notable ex-cricketers (particularly English) have been pretty disgraceful. It’s understandable though, because Australia has had this coming.

Australian cricket has been a combination of brutal on field attack – either with bat and ball, or verbally – and a kind of superior puritanism. Australia might play hard, and celebrate, but we would never stoop to the level of other playing nations and actually cheat. That was not in our make-up, and it was an attitude that pissed a lot of people off. Now of course it’s been revealed as rank hypocrisy, and there’s a queue around the block of those looking to sink the boot.

This is much of the reason it’s had such a profound impact in Australia too – we believed that we were above that. It was an Australian sporting mythology we all bought into. The Australian way was as hard as nails, but never less than fair. We were incapable of such behaviour because our culture wouldn’t allow it, or so we all blithely presumed. The betrayal and hypocrisy cuts no deeper anywhere but in the heartland, and hence the violent reaction.

In a lot of ways I find it heartening. Condemnation of these acts was near universal. Almost everyone felt shame. Even the Prime Minister felt compelled to comment – what other place would that happen? The Australian team on the weekend put victory over morality, but it’s clear to me that for the Australian public – who love to win as much as I do, and expect it – would rather lose a game than stoop to such depths. In fact victory seemed irrelevant – I was one of many who advocated that Australia should declare their second innings without facing a ball.

What it tells me is that the actions of those few in the Australian cricket team remain totally at odds with the Australian national ethos. I’ve wondered at that sometimes in recent years. Others commented quite reasonably how ridiculous it was that we get worked up over a cricket game while we turn a blind eye to our treatment of refugees, and other national disgraces. It’s not that we as a people don’t care, I think we’re largely oblivious, for which our politicians particularly, as well as our media are complicit. We’re lazy about it in a way we never are when it comes to sport. That’s not meant as an excuse – it’s our responsibility as citizens to be informed.

I think we have some evil politicians, but I’m certain the average Aussie remains a decent human being. He shouldn’t be decried for being roused to passionate anger about a game of cricket; what we need is the same level of passion for those other issues which speak equally to the national character.

Ultimately it is threats to the meaning of that character that have provoked such a spirited response. Rightly or wrongly we define ourselves on a sporting image. That was betrayed by a few individuals and left our reputation in tatters. Quite rightly we’re outraged by that. Our honour, for that’s what it amounts to, is worth more than a tawdry victory in a distant test match.

And this too is why it must be made good.

Day of shame


I’m one of those people who whenever there is political turmoil am glued to the TV seeking developments and listening with rapt interest to the commentary and analysis. Yesterday was one of those days, though it was not political turmoil that transfixed me, but sporting – which is the next biggest thing in Australia, after all.

It was a normal Sunday morning. I woke, made coffee, then settled back in bed to catch up with the online news. I’d woken in between news bulletins so I received my initial news through a combination of Facebook updates and the Age online. What I found there shocked me to the core – as it has millions of other Australians.

The third test from Cape Town has been in progress and Australia trailing. These are hotly contested matches against an opponent we dislike. The cricket has been compelling, but everything else from this series has been pretty ugly – and it got worse.

It’s hard to understand how it came to this, but in the lunch-break on the third day and with Australia behind the eight ball Steve Smith and his so-called leadership group hatched a plan to cheat. The most junior member of the team, Cameron Bancroft, was enlisted to do the dirty work – that is, to scuff up the ball with a piece of abrasive tape to help promote some reverse swing.

Not only was this immoral, it was also profoundly stupid. It’s hard to get away with anything these days, but especially so in this series when so much has been going on that every moment is heavily scrutinised. Unsurprisingly when Bancroft attempted to tamper with the ball he was spotted. The umpires became involved, then Steve Smith, who at first denied anything untoward. It was only after play that Smith along with Bancroft admitted to the ploy. Both men were remorseful but Smith, totally out of touch with the gravity of the situation, believed he could continue on as captain.

The news broke like a tidal wave in Australia. Around the world much of the foreign fans either condemned Australia, or rejoiced in our disgrace. My feelings I think mirrored those of most Australian supporters – disbelief, disgust and shame.

I sat on my couch watching one talking head after another being wheeled out for their opinion. Their complete condemnation of events was near universal. Though I knew it, I struggle to comprehend what had happened. It was so foreign to what I believe as an Australian that I couldn’t connect to it. At the same time I felt waves of emotion. I felt terribly betrayed. I felt as if everything I had been led to believe in had been exposed as a sham. The Australian way of sport, our distinct ethos, hard but fair, an ethos I had believed in, upheld, and defended, had been corrupted entirely by this madness that ran contrary to everything we had been brought up to believe.

This is why it is such a big thing: it has struck to the very soul of Australian sport. We’re no lily-whites, God knows that, but while we go hard on the field what was sacrosanct was the concept of fairness. There have been international cricket captains charged with ball tampering in the past. They’ve been condemned, penalised, but the sky didn’t fall in. The difference is that in Australia that sporting ethos is almost holy. It defines so much of us as a people. It’s a part of our identity, and so then to have exposed an act of such cynical disregard to both fairness and the rules is an existential blow. The shame is felt by all.

It was a given yesterday morning that Steve Smith would be sacked as captain. My own view was that should be the minimum. He may be the best batsman in the world, but if he never took the field again for Australia then I was cool with that. I’ve never been a fan of Smith the man, but his actions on the weekend were compounded by the fact that he got the most junior member of the team to execute them. That in itself beggars belief. It’s cowardly, and exploits the loyalty of a guy who wants only to play for Australia and is still trying to prove himself. Bancroft should have said no – he was clearly uncomfortable – but he should never have been put in such a position.

All of this was known when James Sutherland turned up for an impromptu news conference. He was obviously shocked and it showed in his demeanour. Others have commented that he seemed near to tears, and he said many of the things the rest of us were thinking – yet he stopped short of sacking Smith.

This was a terrible misreading of the mood and the situation. Had there been some doubt over the circumstances then an investigation first might have been appropriate. Smith had admitted guilt though, and from that moment could not continue as Australian cricket captain. They say that the position of Australian cricket captain is the highest office in the land – to allow an admitted cheat to go on in that role would be a betrayal of everything the office stood for. One ex-cricketer even suggested they should not be allowed to wear the baggy green cap. In the end both Smith and Warner either resigned or were stood down from their roles before play started.

Where to from here? Well, this is something we can never really live down. I can’t remember a more serious breach in my lifetime of watching Australian sport. There’s a long way back from here, but at least we can make a start on it now.

While this incident is a total shock, standards have been slipping for some time, and Cricket Australia must take some responsibility for that. I wrote a few weeks ago how I was finding it hard to stomach, and I’ve got an iron constitution. The Australian cricket team has been stinking it up for a few years now, and I hear stories all the time of women who used to take an interest in the game who have been turned off by the culture of the team. CA should have been more pro-active.

Obviously Smith is front and centre in much of that. I’ve never liked him. I’ve always thought him a bit odd, a tad socially dysfunctional, and I think that’s been evident on the field. As a leader he’s been poor – impulsive, reactionary, demonstrative, unsympathetic. Unparalleled as a batsman, he has still failed to lead by example. For what it’s worth I think he’s a poor captain also.

Lehmann is another problem. He was the right coach at the right time when he came in, but that time has long past. I have my doubts about his technical ability, but it’s his yobbo-ish tendencies that really turn me off. I think we have gone past that sort of character. From what I hear he plays favourites in the dressing room and can be a divisive figure. More to the point I think his blokish acceptance of borderline behaviour has allowed for standards to slip. Supposedly he was not involved in this decision – hard to believe – but in any case I can’t see him surviving this, nor should he.

If we are to redeem ourselves we must start with a clean slate. To begin with that means hefty penalties for those involved, including something like a 12 month ban for Smith. It means substantial re-education for those who remain, and in fact, throughout cricket teams across Australia. And it means new leadership.

I’m a big fan of Justin Langer, and know that had he been coach none of this would have been possible, let alone allowed. No-one is a tougher competitor than Langer, but no-one is truer to that particular ethos we all so believed in. You know he’ll be bleeding today, just like the rest of us. The bonus is that I think he’s a very good coach too. I think he must be installed pronto.

As for captain, Australia must move away from giving it to the best player in the team. Being a great batsman doesn’t necessarily make the best leader or captain, and Smith is the proof of that. Tim Paine has been named interim captain and I think he’s the perfect choice – level-headed, smart, a tough competitor who will battle it out. He’s an admirable character. Longer term they either need to bring someone from outside the squad in, or elevate Mitch Marsh or even Pat Cummins, though neither is ready for now I think.

We must use this to become the cricket team every Australian admires. There’s a stain that can’t be eradicated, but it can be overcome.

This is 24 hours later and I surprise myself at how measured I am. Yesterday I was devastated. I walked into work and it’s the discussion played out loud. I get a cup of tea and everyone shakes their head. I’m so sad at what Australia has become – politically as well as on the cricket field – but there’s no getting away from what has happened. Let this be a catalyst for change. Hopefully we can strive to be our best selves, hard still and relentless, but true and humble also. That’s what I want, and what the country needs.

My 2 cents


Footy starts tonight and I’m cherry ripe for it. The pre-season of unsatisfying fake football and rampant speculation finally comes to an end, and there’s a general sense of enthusiasm and expectation around town. Around the office people clump and gather to discuss the footy and contemplate their chances. Everyone’s a winner this time of year, and anything is possible, but that can change quick.

There’s likely to be a big crowd tonight of around 90,000 for the season opener, and though it’s likely to be an easy win to Richmond I’ll sitting there on my couch glued to it. The big game for me comes tomorrow night.

For the first time ever I thought I’d give you the benefit of my wisdom by nominating what I believe will be the top eight at the end of the home and away season. It’s a tough gig because you’re basing it off last year’s form and the sketchy, misleading form shown in the pre-season. Players have come and gone and switched clubs in the off season, and how they fit in and what impact they have is no more than speculation right now. Come Monday it’ll much easier because some true form will have been exposed, and most importantly some idea of intensity and attitude will be revealed.

Anyway, here it is.

Richmond

Sydney

GWS

Essendon

Adelaide

Port Adelaide

Geelong

Melbourne

I’ve nominated Richmond for top spot because they’re the reigning premiers and it’s there’s to lose. I don’t expect them to go back to back, but if pre-season form is any guide they’ll be mighty competitive at least. The unknown quantity is how their success has impacted on the. They could go the way of the Bulldogs and fall back, or – and I think this is more likely – the confidence gained will take them to a new level. Having said that they’ll now be the hunted, and will need to adapt.

Sydney is next because, well, they’re Sydney. GWS I’ve tipped with much less confidence. They have the talent but have been a disappointment. I think Leon Cameron is an average coach who has championed a one way playing style. I think we’ll know quickly how they’ll go this year. If they improve their defensive efforts they’ll be a real contender, but last year’s effort won’t cut it. They’re a team who could slide a lot – even out of the eight.

I’ve tipped my team at fourth, but it’s a guess. I think we’re the biggest enigma going into the season. Some have tipped us as premiers, others reckon we’ll miss the finals. I think we’ll make the eight pretty comfortably, and likely finish somewhere in the 4-6 range – but there’s the talent to get on a run and finish top. Recruited really well, and play a dynamic style that can rip teams apart when they’re hot. High expectations, and should be an exciting year.

I think Adelaide will slide a little. They were shown up in the Grand Final, and I thought there were other occasions when they were exposed as great front-runners and struggled under pressure. Very skilled and dangerous when they’re on, I think they go into the season slightly weaker than they ended last year. They need a plan B.

Port Adelaide are another team who could do anything, but they’ve a habit of being frail at the wrong time. Could easily finish top three, but also out of the eight.

Geelong are touted by many by the return of Ablett, but they’re an aging team who have lost a few stalwarts over the off season. They have probably the best midfield group in the comp, but weaker up forward, and with Lonergan and Mackie gone, down back too. They’re invincible at home, but it plays against them away, especially at the MCG where the big games are played.

I rate Melbourne and reckon they’ll be a powerhouse for years to come (watch out for St Kilda and Brisbane, too). I’ve put them so low because two of their main players are missing for the first couple of months of the year – the position doesn’t reflect their quality. In my book they’re smokies for the flag, and will be coming hard come finals time.

Unlucky teams are Bulldogs, St Kilda and maybe Hawthorn – I don’t rate Collingwood. I could see St Kilda sneaking in because they’re a developing team; the Bulldogs possibly too, though they’ve gone through some ructions and lost at least one very good player. Hawthorn are a bit like the Swans, you don’t count them out, and Clarkson is bound to pull a rabbit out of the hat at some point.

Much ado about something


The first test between South Africa and Australia played in Durban finished yesterday with a sensational Australian win. This series was billed as a showdown with the two best test teams in the world (settle down India). By bowling strength I figured Australia were slightly ahead, but I also had question marks. We flogged the Poms over the summer, but England were so poor it was hard to draw a line. The Australian team that knocked over the Saffies was the Australian team I remember – relentless, clinical, ruthless. They picked apart South Africa with immense pressure, and some brilliant cricket.

I sometimes think that the edge Australia has is it’s mentality. There have been some champion cricketers, and Starc in this test match was devastating, but it’s complemented by a mindset that never gives a sucker and even break, and never takes a backward step. It intimidates opposition and makes them work harder than they want to. A lot of them fail trying.

Unfortunately the spillover from this is often controversial, and this match was a classic example of that.

I don’t mind playing hard. I don’t mind giving a bit of lip. I don’t mind crowding the opposition and letting them know we’re coming for them. I don’t mind slipping the knife in or sinking the slipper. I believe in being ruthless: it’s called ‘test’ cricket for a reason.

In my mind there are limits to that. For a start, don’t get personal. That can be a grey line, but in my mind that means you don’t go the other persons personal life. Keep it on the field. That’s the other part of it – go hard on the field, take it easy off it. That appears to be a peculiarly Australian convention, and seems to confuse other cultures – how can you be going hammer and tongs at on me on the field, then buying me a beer off it? Because it’s not personal. It’s business, and the business is winning a game of sport.

There were a couple of things in this match that left me feeling ill at ease.

I’m not a big fan of Nathan Lyon. His bowling has improved out of sight the last couple of years with confidence, and by bowling a more attacking line. I think he’s a classless dick though. On the weekend AB de Villiers was run out for a duck, which was big news in the context of the match. Once the job is done I’m not a big one for send-offs, though I understand how emotions can carry you away. I think it’s cheap. Lyon didn’t give AB a send-off, but basically he dropped the ball on him as if to say, gotcha. Not a good look, and rightly sanctioned.

More complex is the kerfuffle between Warner and de Kock. We all know that Warner goes hard. I reckon he’s one of those guys who gets white line fever. He’s said and done some stupid things, but I suspect he’s not a bad bloke really, and he was excellent captaining the Australian to a T20 clean sweep recently.

This time he gave some lip, pretty much as normal I imagine. On this occasion though de Kock has seemingly responded with something about Warner’s wife, and he went ballistic. It continued off the field and Warner had to be restrained from taking on de Kock. Not a good look.

For a start I’m very disappointed Warner responded as he did because it shows he can be got to. There’s a bit of if you dish it out you have to take it too – though Warner would point out that de Kock went beyond the pale by getting personal. That’s what outraged him most I think, that de Kock wouldn’t play by the rules. Problem with that is you can’t expect everyone to play by the rules that you’ve made up. It may be Australian convention that personal attacks are a no-no, but it’s hardly universal, and certainly confusing to those who think the whole idea of rules about this as arbitrary.

I understand why Warner responded as he did, but can’t condone it. De Kock was clinical in taking that approach, and got full reward for it. Warner should have walked away. At the very least he could have pointed to the scoreboard.

End of the day as an Aussie I don’t like it. Go hard, but keep it classy.

How to sledge


It’s cricket season again and the Poms are over trying to defend the Ashes. We’re two tests into the series and with them down 2-0 it’s not looking good for them.

Like every year I’ve watched the cricket pretty closely. I was pretty confident going into the series that Oz would reclaim the urn, but England have been more disappointing than I expected. Right now they’re on the verge of being a rabble.

In Brisbane they were well in it for three days before collapsing in a heap. In Adelaide they were behind right from the start, rallied briefly, before once more losing by a lot.

One of the ongoing conversations has been about sledging. It seems an issue most series these days. I’m not fussed much by it one way or another, mostly because it never really did much for me. If I was ever sledged it was more likely to fire me up than put me off, but mostly I couldn’t care less. I wasn’t much of a sledger myself, but only because I couldn’t be bothered. If anything I was more likely to sledge when I was a batsman than I was when in the field, though I stood by many times as team mates would sledge opposition batsmen. I found most of it pretty lame. The best stuff had some wit to it.

I remember I used to think you had to earn the right to sledge. Once you actually achieved something of merit then you could have a crack at the other team, but not till then. I still watch the coverage occasionally these days I find myself disapproving of some of the sledging – not so much because of what’s being said, but because it seems an unworthy or wasted effort. For me it’s rarely a moral judgment – though I adhere to the common convention that personal life should be off-limits – and more of a practical consideration.

As an Australian sledging comes easy. We’re notorious for it, but I don’t think our critics understand the source of it. I don’t know if it’s any different today, but growing up as a schoolboy I was subjected to sledging all the time, and gave it back to. Most of it was the good natured rough and tumble between friends and familiars, but the interaction day on day meant that the words came easily to the lips. Others might think it strange, but it was normal to abuse and mock within our circles.

I thought nothing of it myself until I went travelling and discovered that most cultures don’t have such a robust give and take. They’re gentler, with affection expressed You take it for granted until it becomes second nature. That’s why an Australian giving it, and receiving it, is so different to other cultures.

It says a lot about the Australian character I guess, and particularly Australian masculinity, a subject oft debated. That’s a discussion for another time, but fair to say this history of behaviour has informed so much of what we do and how we act – some of it positive, and a lot more not.

I suspect it’s not nearly as pronounced as it once was, but still for someone coming to compete against Aussies on the field this is something that must be adapted to. By the time an Australian cricketer dons the baggy green he’s endured years of ruthless sledging coming up through the ranks. He’s seasoned and hardy and tough, and most of it comes natural.

I think that’s one of the problems the English are having this tour, and past tours. They have made a focus of sledging, and have tried to compete in that area. The problem is that it’s not natural for most of them (Jimmy Anderson and Broad go okay) and so it is forced and mostly ineffective. Ultimately it’s become a distraction, and as an Aussie watching I reckon they would go better ignoring it and concentrated on the cricket. It’s our comfort zone, not theirs.

That’s something that gets lost in the cultural haze. I know the Indians in particular would get upset at the sledging they received. Because they had no cultural understanding of it they misunderstood the intent. I admit, as an outsider the nuances are easily overlooked. In my time at least, you’d go hard on the field and be best mates off it. Something might be said on the field, but it was never intended personally. The sole purpose was to upset the game. With the game done for the day it was time for a beer. It’s that mentality than means that Aussies are also more likely to shrug off sledging, until it crosses the line.

That’s where it has occasionally erupted over the years. Though it’s unregulated, sledging in Australian cultural mores has unspoken rules, primary among them that it’s not personal, and that after play all is forgotten. The problem is that cultures unused to sledging when confronted by it don’t have an understanding of those mores – and the boundaries they draw. Without those unspoken rules they will react to what they feel are unwarranted insinuations and lash out, sometimes crossing those lines – which is when the Aussies will become genuinely upset. It’s not playing the game after all.

All of this is pretty confusing if you’re not an Aussie, and fair enough to. There is something occasionally hypocritical in Australians complaining in those moments because the line they see so clearly appears so arbitrary to others. I know it because I was born to it, but I understand it may bewilder others not born here.

There’s a larger question about sledging. I’m not fussed about it, but that’s probably because a) I’m an Aussie, and b) I’m a pretty rugged character. I understand for the purist they may see it as being neither sporting or fair. As long as it doesn’t ‘cross the line’ I don’t mind it – in fact I think it’s just another element of the game. It adds an interesting edge, and another challenge to overcome.

In any case it’s another area the Australians are handsome winners in this series. What teams need to understand is that as soon as you react, you lose. It seems a truism, but it is so often forgotten. If it is seen to be getting to you then the Australians, far from backing off, will go harder. If you show vulnerability then we’ll be on you like a pack of dogs. And that’s what England have shown.

It’s a cliché, but England would do better by not engaging, and doing their talking with bat and ball.