For years Australia’s cricketers have mocked New Zealand’s no-sledging policy, now they plan to adopt it in a belated bid to repair their own battered reputation.
Australian coach Darren “Boof” Lehmann cited the Black Caps’ approach when asked how his team needed to change its approach in the wake of the ball-tampering scandal in South Africa which led to year-long bans for Steve Smith and David Warner, while Cameron Bancroft got nine months.
“The thing for me would be if we take a leaf out of someone like say New Zealand’s book, the way they play and respect the opposition,” he told reporters in Johannesburg.
It is a major turnaround for the Australians and Lehmann in particular, who has previously described his priorities as “win, win, win”.
With his long-term future in doubt as Cricket Australia examines the team culture he encouraged, a chastened Lehmann said: “We’ve got to make sure we’re respecting the game and its traditions.”
‘Overpaid prima donnas’
New Zealand decided to scrap sledging in 2013 after their own crisis of confidence, when they were skittled for 45 against South Africa at Newlands.
While that embarrassment was far less serious than the cheating attempted by Lehmann’s Australia at the same ground five years later, the capitulation prompted a backlash among long-suffering New Zealand cricket fans.
Newly appointed captain Brendon McCullum promised change and was as good as his word, acknowledging his players were seen as “overpaid, under-delivering prima donnas”.
With his tattoos and swagger, McCullum appeared to be the New Zealand player most likely to adopt a hardnosed Australian approach of baiting and belittling opponents.
Instead, he surprised many by setting out to revive the Black Caps’ sense of sportsmanship and nurture his players’ love of the game.
“One of the things that we decided we had to change was the public perception of us as people, not just on the cricket field but off it as well,” he later said.
“The changes . . . endeared us to our public and let’s hope that continues for a long time.”
It was a move that left the Lehmann-coached Australians distinctly unimpressed, best illustrated by their behaviour during the 2015 World Cup final.
New Zealand had beaten Australia in the group stages but did not rub their opponents’ faces in it, leaving wicketkeeper Brad Haddin non-plussed.
“They were that nice to us in New Zealand and we were that uncomfortable,” he said after Australia’s seven-wicket victory.
“I said: ‘I’m not playing cricket like this. If we get another crack at these guys in the final, I’m letting everything [out].’”
‘They deserved it’
Haddin adopted the role of lead attack dog in the final as Australia gave New Zealand’s batsmen a series of ugly send-offs, including a sneering farewell for Daniel Vettori in his final international appearance.
“You know what? They deserved it,” he said.
It was not just Haddin who took exception to the New Zealanders’ approach. Steve Smith and David Warner also made it known they had no time for such niceties.
McCullum received a curt “mind your own business” when he pointed out some of Smith’s behaviour appeared petulant while he revelled in his win-at-all-costs attitude.
“You’re not playing for the spirit of cricket award, are you?” he said in response to criticism from McCullum.
“You’re playing for a series and for us that’s what our goal is – to win the series. Our goal is to be No1 in all formats and we’re always going to fight for that.”
England captain Joe Root said that there was a marked difference between playing against New Zealand and in Australia during the recent acrimonious Ashes series.
“In terms of atmosphere on the field there might not be as much said verbally when you play against New Zealand,” Root said on Thursday on the eve of the second Test against the Black Caps in Hamilton.
“They go about things very much in their own way, but you know you’re up against a side that are desperate to win. But you still get a sense that they’re playing good, hard cricket.
“I’m not saying Australia don’t bring that to the table when you play against them, but it is a different atmosphere in my experience.”
Mickey Arthur, who was sacked as coach to make way for Lehmann, on Thursday said he was “bitterly disappointed watching the Australian cricket team over the last few years.
“The behaviour has been boorish and arrogant,” he wrote on www.playersvoice.com.au.
Whether his successor Lehmann is the right person to oversee a change in Australia’s toxic team culture remains to be seen.