Greg Baum, in The Age and Sydney Morning Herald, where thetitle is “Coarse tongues leave stain on the cup”
In a corner of the glowing image of Australia’s World Cup triumph is a blot that no amount of rubbing ever will remove. It is the disposition of the Australians at the dismissals of three New Zealanders during a largely one-sided final. Brad Haddin mocked Martin Guptill by clapping his gloves in Guptill’s face after he was bowled by Glenn Maxwell, while Grant Elliott and Daniel Vettori were sent on their respective ways with volleys of words.
It was the sort of ugliness the ICC had promised to crack down on in this tournament. Like footballers who used to run amok in grand finals until the penalties were doubled, Australia’s cricketers seemed to take the attitude that in a World Cup final, as long as they won, no punishment — no matter how stringent — could hurt them.
Australian captain Michael Clarke adopted the three wise monkeys defence, saying he saw, heard and said nothing. More generally, he said Australians played with “passion, excitement, adrenalin”, as if that explained all. He left out the other usual alibis, “hard but fair”, “not crossing the line” and “the Australian way”, but it was late. Cocooned in sycophancy, the Australians seem not to grasp nor care how poorly this behaviour sits with the other half of a cricket-following public they repeatedly and ever more deeply divide, even in their finest hours.
They also do not seem to care or grasp how it rankles with opponents, and how insufferably arrogant it makes them look. Do they really think they are the only country that plays with passion and pride? Do they think they patented the will to win? Do they think they have cornered the market in competitiveness?
No team in the World Cup played with more “passion, excitement, adrenalin” than New Zealand, but the Kiwis explicitly and scrupulously refrained from parlaying that into boorishness. Speaking before their epic semi-final win over South Africa, captain Brendon McCullum said: “Verbals are not part of our game. We’re not good enough to focus on that.”
In that semi-final, match-winner Grant Elliott went immediately to fallen opponent Dale Steyn to commiserate before rejoicing with teammates. In the final, when Clarke was dismissed moments before the end, four Kiwis put aside their own disappointment to go and shake his hand as he walked off. The contrast with the attitude of the Australians could not have been any sharper. Of course, in the minds of some, the Kiwis were too polite and too deferential, and that made them losers before they began, and the final result was proof of it.
Evidently, Haddin is one. Speaking on minimal sleep on Sydney radio on Monday morning, he said Australia had been discomfited by New Zealand’s courtesy when the two played in Auckland earlier in the tournament. “I said in the team meeting, ‘I can’t stand for this any more, we’re going at them as hard as we can’, ” he said. “It was that uncomfortable. All they were was that nice to us for seven days. 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)’. ”
Just possibly, Haddin was speaking with thick tongue in ruddy cheek. But the mindset was unmistakeable; niceness is a failing. It is un-Australian.
This is not about the everyday rough and tumble of high stakes international sport. No one objects to zest and enthusiasm. Not many object to meaningful stares, back and forth. In the famous duel between Pakistan’s Wahab Riaz and Australia’s Shane Watson in the Adelaide quarter-final, they were essential to the mise-en-scene. No one objects to banter. When McCullum took strike in the first over of Sunday’s final, Haddin asked him if he was going to have a crack that day. “Too right I am,” McCullum replied.
What is objectionable is the snark, the cattiness, the hissing, the goads and provocations, the infantilism. What is objectionable is the faux offence taken should an opponent be so impertinent as to reply. What is objectionable is to rub a dismissed batsman’s nose in his dismissal, rather than let the wicket speak for itself. For 18 years, Vettori has been a grand competitor at international cricket, and this day was playing his last New Zealand game in any form. He deserved a salute; he got a gobful.
Later, McCullum was even and diplomatic, saying the send-offs were a “micro” issue, and that he did not want to say anything that might diminish Australia’s achievement. Australia deserved to bask in the glory of being the best one-day cricket team in the world, he said.
And they are, and they bask on. But there is a difference between best and champion.