Out with the old and in with the new, eh? Well, sort of, maybe, possibly… but not entirely.
After the ball-tampering scandal that engulfed them in South Africa three months ago, Australia return to the international arena with a five-match ODI series against England. And there will doubtless be plenty of spectating Poms who’ll be more than happy to let the Aussies know exactly what they think of the sandpaper antics that led to the hefty bans meted out by Cricket Australia to Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft.
No one likes a cheat. But Australian reaction to what happened in South Africa bordered on the hysterical – from the prime minister and corporate sponsors to cricket fans and non-cricket fans alike. The miscreants were punished, but the severity of the punishments probably reflected the prevailing mood of the country rather more than the crime itself.
Talking of punitive measures, Smith may have afforded himself a wry smile when the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, who dropped him as a sporting ambassador before you could say “hot potato”, were recently slapped with the largest fine in Australian corporate history for failings that permitted drug gangs to launder money on a widespread scale. Oh, the irony!
So, in light of the above, I say power to the elbow of Justin Langer – who took over as Australia’s head coach after Darren Lehmann’s resignation in the wake of Sandpapergate – for setting out his stall about what will and won’t be acceptable behaviour from “new Australia”.
“Cultures are just behaviours, so we have to make sure our behaviours are really good on and off the field – that there is an environment for all our young blokes to thrive and become as good players and as good people as they can,” Langer said.
And on sledging: “There is a difference between banter and abuse. Abuse is no good – there is no room for it anywhere. But there is plenty of room for banter or what we call sledging. It’s part of the game, a fun part of the game.”
One man’s banter can be another man’s abuse, of course. But Langer’s comments are very much in keeping with his approach during his own stellar playing career. A polite and approachable person off the field, he played hard but fair on it, although he conspicuously wasn’t averse to dishing out the sort of sledging to which he now refers. And needling the opposition through words (sledging/banter/abuse – take your pick) is, for better or worse, an acknowledged feature of top-echelon cricket.
Australia at large clearly won’t accept a repeat of the ball-tampering ignominy, but what Langer is saying, if I’m reading the tea leaves correctly, is that the boorish behaviour of the likes of Warner won’t now be tolerated either. But that their approach on the field of play will be same old, same old. In other words, hard but on the edge. And which cricket fan of any nationality would want Australians to play any other way?