Australia are aggressive when they’re at their best

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Broken fucken arm (via YouTube)

It was said that Australia’s ‘in-your-face approach’ underpinned their first Test win in the 2013 Ashes. It’s the kind of thing you hear a lot. Ex-players often plead for the team to be more combative. They say that Australia play their best cricket when they’re aggressive/sledge more.

But is it that they play better when they’re aggressive, or is it just that they tend to get a bit gobbier when they’re winning?

One’s a cause; the other’s a symptom; and each says something rather different about the players who become more vocal.

As Mitchell Johnson said about the sledging during that Test:

“It was pretty quiet the whole match until sort of closer to the end.”

When you’d basically already won, you mean?


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  1. Apparently Anderson got rather gobby, as you put it, cos he wasn’t winning. Since he’s gobby anyway, can’t see the diff. Likewise Warner.

    Some people just can’t keep their mouths shut.

  2. Partly to do with aggression in sport, but maybe more to do with Trott and sledging (I’ve been away, so this is a distillation of all three)…

    There was a football chap who once said, “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death. I can assure you it is much more important than that.” People quote him on that with a certainty that is almost religious. Of course sport isn’t trivial, see what Bill Shankly said if you don’t believe me.

    They built a statue of him. What they should have done is had a quiet word with him, maybe taken him to lie down for a few minutes until he’d come to his senses, possibly even pointed at him and laughed at his confusion. I realize that he said it with a good dose of irony, and that he didn’t actually mean it, but frankly Mr Shankly this position you held is one of the most damaging in the history of sport. Ever since then way too many people in too many sports have actually thought it is true.

    How is it even possible to get “aggressive” at sport? Focused – yes. Dedicated – yes. Driven – yes. Putting every single ounce of your being into winning when on the pitch – yes. But aggressive? What on earth is there to be aggressive about in a game of cricket? All sport is a contest between you and yourself – opponents are only there to provide a mark to test yourself against. If there is anyone to get aggressive against, it’s the chap in the mirror (not Piers Morgan, although he is a legitimate target for aggression).

    I have a solution to all this confusion. Before every test match all the players should be made to watch two teams of nine players with their legs tied together attempting to hit a pear-shaped ball into one of a series of jars, using a large fork. This will demonstrate to the cricketers the utter randomness and stupidity of their chosen sport, whose rules are no less arbitrary than those of pear-jar-ball. If they can still find something to be aggressive about, send them for treatment.

    1. See what KC wrote about Atherton.

      ‘He has previously written of his efforts to quash feelings that what he was doing was inherently trivial in a bid to muster more emotion and passion:

      “I somehow had to convince myself that what I was doing was the most important thing in the world – that if I failed all manner of plague and pestilence would descend.”’

      I don’t like the double quotation marks at the end of that any more than you do. But this is the world we’re living in.

      Point is, teams need a mixture of characters. For every Trott, there must be a Tufnell. For every Hussain, a Mullally.

      Not sure that works. Can’t think of any more opposing angry/laid-back cricketers. Steve Kirby and Chris Gayle?

    2. I’ve often wondered how much of a role fans, and their increased “rabid-ness”(*), plays in the number of sportsmen stuggling with stress issues.

      If we, as a group, toned down our expectations, or perahps gave less of a crap about the outcome of the random/stupid/arbitrary game of cricket that was being played, how would players react?

      Do players feed off the aggression of fans, or do fans translate the aggression that professionalism supposedly brings onto the terraces?

      When did support of a team turn into the perceived ownership of that team and its players?

      Obvs (that one’s for you, Sam), I don’t have the answers. In fact, I think I’ve probably butchered the questions.

      * – rabid being the stock adjective that tabloids like to label fans with.

    3. Not sure cricket fans put much pressure on players at all, really. They are driven and focused and obsessive enough. The nature of the sport demands that. Just imagine what it might be like if cricket was our primary national sport.

    4. I think the attitude that any of this sport stuff actually matters comes from the whole range of interested parties – players, media, and fans. It feeds off itself. I coach mini-rugby, and have to occasionally “remind” the six and seven year old players that their opponents are not their enemy. This attitude definitely comes from their experience as fans, encouraged by what they see in the media.

      But it’s not a completely clear cut thing either. We don’t want players who couldn’t care less, that would be dull, but neither do we want players for whom it is the be all and the end all. There’s a balance in there somewhere, one that seems to be increasingly hard to find. When Flintoff did his thing with Brett Lee in 2005, he understood that Lee was disappointed, gutted even, and that speaking to him was more important at that moment than celebrating the match just won. That’s not to say that he didn’t want Lee to be in that position; seconds earlier he was putting 100% of his effort into making exactly that disappointment happen, and he knew what he was doing. That’s the balance. It is a poor reflection on sport that an example of this from 2005 still stands out as being remarkable.

      Like with football, there’s a risk that the extreme becomes the norm, that personal sledging and abuse becomes accepted because “that’s what everyone does”, that win-at-all-costs becomes the only way to play. Take those two Mitchell Johnson songs the Barmy Army sings – one is about his (in)ability to bowl straight, the other is about his family life. One is acceptable, the other is absolutely not.

  3. You do need to keep up the chatter in the field. A demoralised side loses concentration, drops catches and concedes runs they would otherwise stop. This is half of it.
    The other half is to make sure the batsmen aren’t comfortable. A large part of this is fear – preferably fear of failure through doubt in their own ability. As a fielding side you can chip away at that and at the same time encourage your bowlers by pointing out how low the score (or scoring rate) is or by say critiquing their shot selection or strokeplay.
    You can also encourage some of that doubt by aggressive bowling. This too is a legitimate tactic for gaining wickets.
    Where it becomes unsavory is where a fielding team attempts to introduce discomfort by being an annoying pack of yobos and unleashing a barage of profanity at the batsman for no reason other than to unsettle them.

    1. We’d suggest that in Trott’s case at least, the pressure is self-applied and we’d be inclined to believe that those of a similar mindset would be more likely to experience difficulties. Nothing is quite so crushing as failing to meet your own expectations.

    2. I don’t know about that wolf. Correct me if I am wrong, but this whole sledging business seems to me to be largely modern and mostly Australian, originating with Waugh. Take a look at the sub-continent players. Nobody is under a larger pressure than the typical Indian cricketer – his failures are scrutinized by a billion people, and his effigies burnt when he fails. Except for the rare incident (probably Gambhir), they don’t resort to verbal abuse/chit-chat/banter (or whatever you want to call that). If you have to keep up the morale of the team by on-field chatter, then you don’t have much morale to begin with. I don’t see England involved in heated talk when they play NZ or Sri Lanka.

      I realize my comment sounds offensive, but in no way is it intended to be reflective of Australians in general – just about their cricketing subculture.

    3. Absolutely self applied but I guess the point I was trying to make is that in all levels of cricket it takes mental strength to bat in tough conditions. Any small amount of doubt would be intensified by the 11 guys on the fielding team (as well as the media and your own fans at the top level).
      Deep Cower what I described above is common in all levels of cricket here in Australia – you reinforce to your bowlers (eg “well done mate, too good for him”) and your fielders (eg “they wont get anything past you” or “he’s a brave man taking on your arm”). Even when you get belted for consecutive boundaries through the same part of the field you can still chatter (“do we put someone out there to cover his shot?”). The other end of the scale with a stream of profanity is less common but EVERY team will keep up the talk if only to keep everyone focused on the task at hand. It is incomprehensible to me that a team would field in silence, berate their bowlers in the middle of their spell or stand there applauding a batsmen while he rips your bowlers apart. Plenty of time for that after the game.

    4. Spot the odd one out:

      1. Well done mate, too good for him

      2. They won’t get anything past you

      3. He’s a brave man taking on your arm

      4. Get ready for a broken fucking arm

    5. Interesting that it was “broken fucking arm”, not “fucking broken arm”.

      He might be 1-0 up, but Clarke’s grammar sucks.

    6. He might have meant it as a compound noun, which corrects his grammar but opens up a whole new set of questions.

    7. Bert number 4 is well beyond unsavory, especially to a number 11 batsman.
      I’ve hit plenty of batsmen in the head over the years, and even though I was aiming for it there was a sickly feeling in the pit of my stomach each time as the ball connected.
      It’s one thing to put the ball there with the aim of unsettling the batsman, or making him play a rash shot and get out. It’s another when you actually connect because you assume he’s going to duck, run, fend, swing at or generally do something other than stand there and get drilled.
      When the batsman is of limited ability, stating your intention to injure him then following through with it is a dick move.

    8. Regardless of his ability, trying to injure any batsman is a dick move. Even if it’s Brian Close or Robin Smith.

  4. It’s all infantile bullshit, and I wish they wouldn’t engage in any of it. All ‘banter’, ‘sledging’ etc should fall under unsportsmanlike conduct and fines should be levied. It’s totally unnecessary and there shouldn’t be any of it. Just play the goddamn game and shut the hell up. They’re a bunch of overpaid schoolboys, the lot of ’em.

    1. Same. I abhor sledging. Just reminds me of playground bullies. Nothing wrong with a bit of generic nonsense, but constant verbal abuse, that the umpires are clearly aware of, should have them all in front of a disciplinary panel. Include the umpires if they’re letting it slide, for that matter.

  5. On a completely unrelated note, Sam Robson has hit a hundred for the Performance Programme (he retired out so he probably could have got more). Against an attack with two first-class games between them, but still, nobody else on the team got a century. Moeen Ali made 83 and Bresnan is not out on 50-odd also.

    The next innings could be slightly more interesting as the Queensland 2nd XI has Joe Burns and Luke Pomersbach, both of whom I’ve heard of.

  6. We engage in it on an almost weekly basis at out club. Unfortunately we forget that the aim of sledging is the mental disintegration of our enemies and just start having a go at one another.

    This might explain our constant talent for middle order collapses come to think of it,

    Part of the Aussie-English problem I think may stem from the fact that the two teams are almost constantly playing one another. I did some mental arithmetic and the only years in the course of 2 decades when the two teams have not and will not face one-another are 2008 and 2018. We are beyond familiarity breeding contempt and into sheer balls out hatred.

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