Is Justin Langer’s talk of sledging-free cricket mere rhetoric, or the dawn of a new era in Australian cricket?
Cricket has long been considered as a gentleman’s game. It’s not just a non-contact sport; it is a sport where even verbal abuse (sledging) is a punishable offence.
But in the last two decades, the game’s image has been tarnished by corruption scandals such as match-fixing and spot-fixing as well as ball-tampering.
Heads have rolled, and rightly so, for the above-mentioned offences. Superstars and role models such as the former Indian captain Mohammed Azharuddin, and former South African captain Hansie Cronje, have been tainted by match-fixing scandals. The young and promising careers of talented players like Mohammad Asif, Salman Butt and S. Sreesanth have been nipped in the bud for that same reason.
In the recent past, two of the best batsmen of modern day cricket, Australian captain Steve Smith and explosive opening batsman David Warner, have been handed one-year bans for their role in ball tampering, along with their teammate Cameron Bancroft who was suspended for nine months.
Australian cricket has been especially notorious for walking the thin line between playing hard and playing to win at all costs. Sledging, that too of the systemic kind, has become an all-too-familiar trope in the Australian cricket culture. The former Australian coach Darren Lehmann had openly endorsed sledging.
In that context, the current Australian coach Justin Langer’s exhortation to Australian players to be “bloody good” in not just trying to be the number one team in the world, but also to imbibe the true spirit of the game and its values, comes as a breath of fresh air for the gentleman’s game.
"..there's no room for abusing people in anything we do on the cricket field...You don't abuse people. It causes trouble. In Australian cricket, we're brought up to play really competitive cricket to try and win it. That can't be a dirty word, it can't be a bad thing," Langer said ahead of the first match of the India-Australia series.
But the question on everyone’s mind is: will the Australian cricketers, accustomed to a confrontational and aggressive win-at-all-costs style of play, listen to him? We won’t have to wait long to get our answer as the much anticipated Test series against India is almost upon us.
Regardless of how things unfold in the series, this is a welcome change coming from one of the most Australian of Australian cricketers. But it remains to be seen whether it’s mere rhetoric or it’s the dawn of a new era in Australian cricket culture.