How a switchgirl's sobbing shamed Aussie superstars

Published: Sunday, October 28, 2007, 12:06 [IST]
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Sydney: Australia's cricketers rediscovered sportsmanship after a barrage of callers complaining about their behaviour reduced Cricket Australia's receptionist to tears, a new official history says.

Authors Gideon Haigh and David Frith were given complete access to Cricket Australia's archives for the book "Inside Story" and the governing body told them to produce a warts-and-all account of its activities.

"We ask the cricketers who wear the baggy green to play hard but fair and it was only logical to ask our historians to do the same," chairman Creagh O'Connor said.

The book gives insights into events that have shaped the game here since 1905, using both the archives of Cricket Australia -- formerly the Australian Cricket Board -- and interviews with players and officials.

It recounts the controversial "Bodyline" series against England in 1932/33, cricket's move to commercialism in the 1970s and confirms that Shane Warne's off-field behaviour was the reason he never captained the Australian Test team.

The book also details how in 2003 a humble receptionist shamed Australia's all-conquering cricketers into becoming better sports.

Undisputed masters of the cricketing world, the Australian Test team in the early years of the millennium alienated even some of its own fans through a mixture of excessive sledging and boorish behaviour.

While successful Australian teams of the past had been lauded as the 'invincibles' and 'unbeatables,' this one was dubbed the 'unloveables' because of its snarling attitude and strutting manner.

The 2003 World Cup win was overshadowed by Shane Warne's drugs ban, Darren Lehmann was suspended for five games for yelling a racist term after being run out against Sri Lanka and other players were reprimanded for abuse and dissent.

The flashpoint came in the West Indies in May 2003, when paceman Glenn McGrath baited Ramnaresh Sarwan with a lewd taunt.

The batsman had the temerity to respond in kind, at which the Australian paceman exploded with rage, looming over the diminutive Sarwan and threatening to "rip your throat out."

The image was flashed around the world and the sporting reputation of Australia's players sank to a new low, reinforcing the impression that they could dish out abuse but not take it.

Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland said he knew the unsporting behaviour was damaging players' reputations, but reining it in was posing a problem.

"What became obvious in conversations with the players was that they were in denial, and they were in denial because they were insulated from the consequences of the fall-out from that sort of behaviour," Sutherland told the authors.

Cricket Australia's solution to the dilemma was simple and effective.

At a function in Sydney, officials took aside senior players including Steve Waugh, Lehmann, McGrath and Matthew Hayden and Ricky Ponting.

They confronted them with footage of recent incidents, along with comments from sponsors saying they were uncomfortable to be seen as supporting such behaviour and read letters and emails from outraged fans.

"Most effectively, they saw an interview with Emma Hopley, the Cricket Australia receptionist for the past year, who told of how she had been reduced to tears by fulminating members of the public," the book says.

It said Waugh was soon drafting a "Spirit of Cricket" manifesto that set guidelines for the players' on- and off-field behaviour.

"I wanted us to be remembered for the right reasons," he said.

The Spirit of Cricket programme, extolling the virtues of playing "hard but fair" was launched in October 2003 and the history book says it soon had an impact.

"Instances of trubulence and petulance became more noteworthy for being rarer," the authors wrote, with Australia sustaining only one International Cricket Council charge in the next 28 Tests and one in the following 96 one-day internationals.

"During the Ashes series of 2005, Ponting was even criticised for being too friendly and easy going.

"As complaints go, it was an agreeable change."

"Inside Story: Unlocking Australian Cricket's Archives" is published by News Custom Publishing.


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