Sydney – Cricket Australia announced on Friday that former Test batsman Rick McCosker would head a review into player behaviour in the wake of the ball-tampering scandal, echoing moves made as far back as 15 years ago.
Here are five attempts to rein in sledging, or verbal abuse, in Australian cricket:
2003, The Spirit of Cricket
By 2003, the Australians’ antics were beginning to mar their on-field success.
The flashpoint came in the West Indies when paceman Glenn McGrath baited Ramnaresh Sarwan with a lewd taunt and the batsman had the temerity to respond in kind.
McGrath exploded with rage, looming over the diminutive Sarwan and threatening to “rip your throat out”.
Cricket Australia demanded action and captain Steve Waugh drafted a “Spirit of Cricket” manifesto setting guidelines for player behaviour, including respecting umpires and opponents.
Result: The number of ICC charges against Australian players fell for a year or two before creeping back up.
2005, ‘Hooligan sport’
The then-ICC chief executive Malcolm Speed warned Australia and South Africa to tone down what he termed a “war of words” ahead of a Test series in Australia.
“(I) remind the players of the importance of playing within the spirit of the game ahead of this series,” he said.
The-then ICC president Ehsan Mani went further.
“There is a growing number of incidents of verbal exchanges on the field, and they’re concerning for us,” he said.
“We don’t want cricket reduced to a level where it turns into a hooligan sport.”
Result: Former Australian paceman Jeff Thomson accused the ICC of trying to take the fun out of the game, calling it “a waste of space”. Cricket Australia chief James Sutherland dismissed the conduct as “banter”.
The Australian media called out the team’s behaviour after the infamous “Monkey-gate” controversy involving India in 2008.
A spat between Harbhajan Singh and Andrew Symonds in the second Test resulted in the Indian spinner being charged with racial abuse after allegedly calling the Australian a monkey.
Harbhajan was hit with a three-match ban, later overturned when India threatened to abandon the tour and go home.
The Australian newspaper labelled the home team’s conduct in the lead-up to the row as “boorish, arrogant and ungracious”.
“The attitude and behaviour of Australian players worsens the moment their superiority is seriously challenged,” it said.
The Sydney Morning Herald’s late cricket writer Peter Roebuck called for Australia’s captain Ricky Ponting to be sacked.
“Ponting has presided over a performance that dragged the game into the pits. He turned a group of professional cricketers into a pack of wild dogs,” Roebuck wrote.
Result: Sutherland leapt to his players’ defence. “Test cricket is what is being played here. It’s not tiddlywinks,” he said.
2015, World Cup warning
As Australia prepared to co-host the 2015 World Cup with New Zealand, officials promised a clampdown on sledging.
Abrasive batsman David Warner, a key figure in the ball-tampering plot, caused outrage in a warm-up one-dayer by abusing Rohit Sharma and telling the batsman to “speak English”. ”
“Quite simply, he needs to stop looking for trouble,” CA’s Sutherland told reporters.
ICC chief David Richardson warned verbal abuse would not be allowed at the game’s showpiece tournament.
“There have been too many examples of player behaviour going too far and overstepping the boundaries of acceptability,” he said.
Result: Warner toned down his sledging to avoid a suspension only for wicketkeeper Brad Haddin to take over the role of attack dog. The Australians gave New Zealand’s batsmen a series of ugly send-offs as they won the final at a canter. “They deserved it,” Haddin said afterward.
2016, ‘Ugly underbelly’
Former Test batsman Phillip Hughes died while playing in a domestic match in Sydney in 2014, prompting an inquest that once again put the spotlight on sledging.
Coroner Michael Barnes heard claims a bowler told Hughes “I’m going to kill you” during the match, although the players involved denied it.
In his 2016 findings, Barnes determined Hughes died when a short-pitched delivery hit him on the neck and ruled on-field intimidation “could not be implicated in his death”.
But he called sledging an “unsavoury aspect” of cricket, adding: “An outsider is left to wonder why such a beautiful game would need such an ugly underside.”
Result: Former and current players argued they should not have to control their on-field behaviour, it was an issue for umpires.
“Sledging is something that has always been talked about regularly, but the umpires should step in if they think it is over the top,” former Test captain Mark Taylor said.