Sledging Down Under: Australia’s latest war of words

Australia's sledging has evolved in the aftermath of the ball-tampering scandal last year

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An aerial photo of the Sydney Cricket Ground during a Test match between Australia and India
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Five years ago, Michael Clarke stole the back pages when he warned James Anderson to “get ready for a f****** broken arm”, as Mitchell Johnson dismantled England’s batting line-up with raw pace and bounce. This line embodied the Aussie mentality of old, a cricketing culture fuelled by aggression and ruthlessness.

However, following the shocking ball-tampering scandal early last year, Australia’s cricketing etiquette came under heavy scrutiny. Justin Langer replaced Darren Lehman as head coach and Tim Paine, who had only recently earned a recall to Australia’s international side after a seven-year absence, found himself in charge of an ailing team.

The incoming duo made efforts to change the negative perception of Australian cricket, even introducing a team handshake with the opposition before the first match of every series. At the time it seemed like a superficial gesture to show the outside world that Australia were willing to make changes and redefine their persona.

Yet, as we found out in their recent Test series against India, their changes even extended to their on-field sledging. Instead of the rather inane profanities previously employed, Tim Paine was exceptionally witty behind the stumps and produced some cracking banter throughout the series. While there was a fierce contest on the pitch, the war of words surrounding it was conducted in the right spirit and certainly enhanced the drama.

Perhaps the most iconic line was when Paine told India’s opener Murali Vijay: “I know he’s your captain [Virat Kohli], but you can’t seriously like him as a bloke”, playing on Kohli’s dividing personality.

It was India’s 19-year-old wicket-keeper Rishabh Pant who bore the brunt of the chat and was given some useful advice by Aussie opener Marcus Harris: “If you get out you can go and disco tonight. Good circuit on a Monday night in Perth”.

There were moments of high tensions though, especially when Tim Paine and Virat Kohli came together physically on the field. Verbals were exchanged in which Kohli is rumoured to have said “I am the best player in the world and you are just a temporary captain”. Unsurprisingly the Board of Control for Cricket in India denied the accusations.

These verbals provided the backdrop to an enthralling Test series, which India clinched 2-1. This was the first time that India have won a Test series Down Under, with Virat Kohli’s side firmly ranked as the number one side in the world. Kohli claimed that this series victory was the proudest moment of his cricketing career, which includes winning the 2011 World Cup.

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