We walk the line: Clarke defends Australia’s Ashes sledging

Michael Clarke says he and his players understand there is a line you cannot cross, and admits he stepped over it twice.
Nanjing Night Net

Only now that the dust has settled on Australia’s Ashes triumph has it been revealed how closely players from both sides, but especially the victors, walked that line during the summer.

During his recent trip to the US, Clarke recorded a video interview with ESPNcricinfo in New York during which he was asked to respond to an essay by former New Zealand captain Martin Crowe published in this year’s edition of Wisden.

It was hard not to admire the strength of Australia’s resurgence last summer but Crowe, whose brother Jeff was match referee during the Ashes, was unimpressed with the standard of behaviour.

“At Brisbane and Adelaide, the verbal combat was appalling and on full display,” Crowe writes in Wisden. “Jeff Crowe, the match referee, had no hair to pull out; yet, believe me, he tried.

“His disdain for the sledging that went on – particularly from the Australians – couldn’t be conveyed in public. But, behind closed doors, there was a lot of effing and blinding (ironic, I’ll grant you).

“The two captains quietly accepted his point that a repeat of the physical contact between Mitchell Johnson and Ben Stokes at Adelaide would not be tolerated, but it was no coincidence that things calmed down only after Australia had the series in the bag, and England had all but given up.”

Memorably, Clarke was fined by the International Cricket Council for telling Jimmy Anderson to expect a “broken f—ing arm” as he faced up to Johnson at the Gabba, while Johnson and Stokes escaped punishment for a run-in at Adelaide Oval.

At the end of the next series in South Africa, James Pattinson and Clarke were involved in an altercation with Dale Steyn after an inexplicable decision review, and the Australian captain later said he was out of line.

Consistently, Darren Lehmann and Clarke have been unrepentant about the side’s sustained aggression and left it up to the ICC and Cricket Australia to intervene when “a line” is crossed.

In his interview in New York, Clarke took a similar line in responding to Crowe’s criticism.

“Firstly Martin Crowe’s certainly entitled to his opinion, like the rest of us,” he said. “I think we play our cricket hard on the field but I think as Australians we understand and respect there’s a line you can’t cross.

“I made no bones about the incident in Brisbane and what I said to James Anderson wasn’t appropriate, especially being over stump mic where boys and girls can hear that, and I did the same with the Dale Steyn incident.

“Sometimes when you’re playing sport at the highest level, emotions come out for people to see, and I think that’s a great thing about our game.

“But we understand there’s a line you can’t cross. You can go close to it, but you can’t cross it. I think generally Australians play cricket extremely fairly, and play sport extremely fairly. I can tell you in my career 100 different instances like those that nobody knows about, because it’s not over the stump mic, or you can’t see it first-hand.

“The Australian way is to play tough, non-compromising cricket on the field. I think if you speak to a lot of the other players you’ll find that we’re very social off the field, we go out of our way to make sure we see the other team, win, lose or draw, after a game. But with that we understand there’s a line you can’t cross and I think generally we’re pretty good on that.

“The integrity of the game’s crucial, we all know that as players, and certainly as captain of Australia that’s a big part of my job to make sure that we always uphold the integrity of the game. With those sorts of things, when you’re out of line you get pulled up by CA or the ICC anyway, so there’s things in place to ensure you don’t overstep that mark.”

Many celebrated the return of Australia’s “mongrel”, because channelled aggression had been missing during the bleak months that preceded Lehmann’s appointment. But Crowe believes the scheduling of back-to-back Ashes bred unpleasantness between the teams.

“Too many Ashes Tests in one year, too much greed and overkill – that was part of the problem,” he wrote. “Hatred and vengeance built up. (And let’s be clear; it wasn’t just the Australians who sledged – Anderson was no angel.) But these two proud nations needed to back off, smell the roses, go back to the family.

“The tone of the series was wrong. Yes, Australia played superb cricket for most of those live 45 minutes each day, but the other 315 were spent venting and frothing. It was not pleasant to watch. And it reduced England and the spectacle to nothing – unless, of course, you were an Aussie. It was the ultimate in mental disintegration.”

Clarke’s own reputation has burgeoned because of his on-field achievements – series-defining centuries against England in Brisbane and Adelaide and a courageous 161 in Cape Town with a fractured shoulder, which he cherishes because of its role in Australia’s win. Clarke has recovered from the injury inflicted by Morne Morkel and is back in full training ahead of Australia’s next assignments, a one-day series in Zimbabwe and a Test series against Pakistan in the UAE.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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