Australia Reap the Sins of Steve Waugh Mental Disintegration

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Always ready for a scrap, Waugh turned sledging into an art form.

ONDRIVE with Sham Samaroo

This week, the sport-loving Aussie public awoke to the news that their team was caught cheating, red sandpaper handed, during the third test at Newlands. As if that were not humiliating enough, worse was to follow.

Captain Steve Smith later confessed that during the lunch break, he and a few teammates; including Vice-captain Warner, had hatched the plan which led to Bancroft getting caught on camera doctoring the ball with sandpaper. The revelations rocked the very foundations of Australian cricket. The Honourable Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, expressed his bewilderment, “It seemed completely beyond belief that the Australian cricket team had been involved in cheating.” “…the whole nation, who holds those who wear the Baggy Green up on a pedestal, about as high as you can get in Australia, this is a shocking disappointment”, continued the Prime Minister.

Back in Australia, all three players held tearful press conferences admitting their shame and guilt to a stunned nation. But what was strikingly surprising was that the rest of cricket world seemed unmoved, almost unsympathetic to the plight of these young men despite their sincere confessions and remorse. Why the lack of compassion? After all, there have been several incidents of ball tampering in the past. Most recently in 2016, South Africa’s own Faf du Plessis was found guilty of ball tempering in the second test against Australia. That ugly incident set off a chain of events leading to TV footage that caught India’s captain, Virat Kohli and Australia’s David Warner also in the act of cheating. So why does the rest of the cricket world seem to be enjoying this moment? The answer is simple. It is seen as Australia finally getting their comeuppance, their “reward” for the sins of Steve Waugh.

In 2001, I shared the view that Australia’s winning record relied heavily on psychological confrontation – something that Steve Waugh called ‘mental disintegration’. But according to Aussie Sport psychologist, Jeff Bond, this mental disintegration was nothing more than a glorified name for sledging and abusive conduct towards one’s opponents. Steve Waugh’s Australians have insulted, verbally abused, and intimidated just about every test cricket nation in the world. And it had been my contention that a list of these abuses ought to go along with Waugh’s winning record.

Every opposing captain has a story to tell. Australia’s tour to the Caribbean in 2003, specifically the Antigua test and the McGrath meltdown, is one that comes to mind. The entire game was filled with acrimony and heated exchanges that started after the West Indian opener, Devon Smith, stood his ground (which is his right) until given out caught behind. The Aussies, led by Matthew Hayden, gave the young opener an earful as he left the field. All the while, Steve Waugh stood stone-faced at mid-off with his hands in his pockets. This brings to mind a similar incident when Australia toured India in 2001. Then, it was Michael Slater hurling curses and abuse at India’s vice-captain, Rahul Dravid, for standing his ground after a fake appeal for a bump ball was rightfully turned down. Not satisfied, Slater then walked over to Umpire Venkatraghavan and gave him too a piece of his filthy, disgusting mind. And as in the Antigua test, Waugh stood stone-faced at mid-off with his hands in his pockets and said nothing. And why should he? This was, after all, mental disintegration at its best.

In Antigua, with Sarwan going great guns, leading his team to victory, McGrath maliciously taunted him: What does Brian Lara’s d–k taste like? To which Sarwan, in true West Indian form, responded: “I don’t know, ask your wife.” McGrath went into a hissy fit yelling: “You mention my f…… wife again and I’ll rip your f…… throat out.” He later apologized to Sarwan for being the instigator blaming his actions on the pressures of the game that got the better of him. But fans were not convinced. They point to the fact that McGrath had often been guilty of such boorish conduct, once allegedly calling Sanath Jayasuriya a black monkey. Then there was too, the spitting incident with Brian Lara on the 1999 tour to the Caribbean.

The Antigua test was an all-time low for the game. And make no mistake about it; the real culprit was Captain, Steve Waugh. The late Peter Roebuck berated Waugh for failing to act in his capacity as captain to cool tempers, and felt that this reluctance on his part must put his position in doubt. “Waugh has done many fine things”, he wrote, “but he does not protect the game that has been his living. Nor did these nasty moments improve Australia’s performance”, added Roebuck. The Australian Cricket Board (ACB) was concerned enough that, immediately after the game, the Chief Executive, James Sutherland, telephoned Waugh about this “ugly” incident involving McGrath. Sutherland chastised Waugh for the poor conduct of the World Champions when a match was not going its way. “What we do agree on is that it’s all very well to be playing the game in the right spirit when things are going your way but if things don’t go your way, that’s when the real test is on,” Sutherland said. “And if you can’t carry yourself in the right fashion, in the true spirit of the game at those times, then perhaps you need to have a good look at yourself”, concluded the Chief Executive.

Now here we are, some 15 years later, Mr. Sutherland is still the CEO, and the problem remains because Steve Waugh had turned sledging into an art form. And it has been the playbook for Australian teams since – from Captain Ricky Ponting to Steve Smith. Former captain, Ian Chappell, is correct when he writes that Cricket Australia and ICC must shoulder some of the blame for this latest stain on the game. Where was the ACB (Cricket Australia) or the ICC when in the home series against India in 2003, then Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, and Governor-general, Michael Jeffrey, lamented the loss of civility and grace from the game. Neil Harvey, one of Australia’s greatest cricketers, and an icon of the game, said the Australian players behaved “like a pack of morons”. But rather than accept the criticisms from his countrymen as an opportunity for reflection, captain, Ricky Ponting, chose, instead, to launch a scathing attack on Neil Harvey. This is what Ponting had to say: “there is no one in our current team, and I don’t think there’s too many around Australia that actually sit back and listen to what Neil Harvey has got to say.” Wow! Whether he knows it or not, Ponting owes the esteemed Neil Harvey a public apology, not to mention his fellow countrymen and teammates for whom he took the liberty to speak so recklessly.

There is too, Captain Michael Clarke’s abuse of Jimmy Anderson: “get ready for a broken f–kin arm”. And once again, I ask, where was Cricket Australia? One can even go back to 1994 when brother Mark Waugh admitted to the ACB to taking money from a bookie called “John”. Wasn’t the ACB obligated to inform the ICC of Waugh’s confession? Hell, yes. And they did, sort of. They requested the ICC to keep it a secret, which they did (Wisden, 1999). In other words, the ACB and the ICC perpetrated a cover up. Then, ICC Sir Paul Condon issued the usual platitudes suggesting that “draconian sanctions” could be used on those not co-operating. But after Waugh’s refusal to cooperate, the ICC said that, “we are not able to force anyone to speak to the Anti-Corruption Unit.” Wisden wrote that “by remaining quiet the ACB neglected its responsibilities”.

Steve Waugh might have been one of the most successful captains of all time, but, regretfully, his tenure remains an embarrassment to the game. This latest rebuke from Prime Minister, Turnbull, and the Australian public is evidence enough that the team and management needs to do some serious soul searching. The Aussies might have the best team in the world in terms of winning, but to earn the tag of greatness requires a certain panache, a certain grace and charm, something the present Aussie team may want to think about. It is unfortunate that the team “leadership group” insists on such a disagreeable strategy because the Australians are fun-loving sorts, and their players are of exceptional talent that when played in the right spirit, can be the very best. If they want an example, they need look no further than their fellow countryman and former captain, Mark Taylor. In the 1999 issue of Wisden, Taylor is described as “the only cricketer of the decade to acquire stature around the world as a human being as well as a player.”

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The views expressed in this column are solely those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the THE WEST INDIAN.

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