Actress, presenter and cricket tragic Sonia Gray on the stealthy way the Blackcaps have adopted reverse sledging and “respect-shaming” as tactics.
Today the cricketing world will look to the Adelaide Oval, waiting to see how the pink kookaburra holds up in the world’s first day/night test match – a task that it appears to have failed at in every single test it’s been put through. While we wait for the results of the ICC’s latest attempt to fix something that isn’t broken, I will be watching a far more nefarious, damaging and morally questionable development in the international cricketing scene: the tactical masterstroke that is the dastardly sportsmanship of the New Zealand Black Caps.
The Australian team psyche has been well known since Steve Waugh made everyone don green woolen caps in 40 degree heat; the Australians have aggressively sneered, complained and bitched their way through every moment of cricket since. It is a stance that has seen them become the world standard in cricketing excellence, but New Zealand’s Brendon McCullum and Mike Hesson have perhaps stumbled on the best tactic when it comes to beating the Aussies: Obscene niceness.
Allan Border, one of Australian’s most prolific and proudest sledgers, has caught on. “They’re sneaky, those Kiwis” he mused on Fox Sport’s Inside Cricket last week, “I reckon there’s a method to this madness. Everyone loves the Black Caps now because of this nice-guy stuff. They’re putting pressure on us ugly Aussies.” And he’s right. Even the most one-eyed of Australian commentators has begun questioning their team’s ethos.
It’s not just the Australians who are beginning to feel uncomfortable in this new era of humility.
sick to death of hearing Kiwi’s blow on about how Australia are bad sports – In the process trying to position ourselves as some kind of righteous moral sporting authority, wish we would just get over ourselves and the posturing that is being printed in the media, mostly by people who have never actually played competitive sport – apart from anything else its just plain dishonest.
Sorry but sport is competitive and the people who play it should be able to engage with it on that basis – plenty of time to shake hands after the game.
The point is, the Black Caps are succeeding at unsettling the Aussies. They’re making them second guess the way they play the game. The struts, the glares, the taunts have been noticeably absent from the first two tests. Slowly, methodically and gracefully, our boys are respect-shaming their Australian counterparts into silence.
The departure of many of the seasoned Australian players has helped our cause. This sort of passivity would have been unacceptable under the watch of Michael “get ready for a broken arm!” Clarke. And compare king-of-the-send-off, Brad Haddin, to his successor behind the wickets, Peter Nevill. Hadn’t noticed him? Neither have the batsmen. Nevill tried the chirping early on but realised the unsettling grace of the Kiwis made him look a boofhead by comparison.
This ‘reverse sledging’ by New Zealand has proved so successful it’s even pushed Mitchell Johnson over the edge and into retirement. If he had any doubts about his decision to leave a game corrupted by an intrusion of fine manners, they were quickly quashed the next day when the Kiwis made him do a humiliating run out to the pitch through a guard of honour. “It was really nice of them. But it made me feel a bit uncomfortable,” Mitch confessed.
But the real success story for New Zealand so far in this series is spin-bowler Mark Craig. Despite his bowling being horrendous, his performance as the ultimate nice guy has been Oscar-worthy. He somehow finds a way to make it from anywhere in the ground to personally congratulate every Aussie batsmen on any milestone (and there have been numerous milestones). And somehow, by doing absolutely nothing at all, he managed to fire up Mitchell Starc enough to throw the ball at him – resulting in four over-throws, a fine, and a public dressing-down from his captain.
Ross Taylor has done his bit too, remembering (even after being at the crease for nine and a half hours) to walk quickly and purposefully off the ground so no Australian fielder would have the opportunity to congratulate him on his double-ton. That sparked a slamming of the Australians from ABC commentator and one-time Australian player Dirk Nannes, who called it “horrendous sportsmanship.”
The Black Caps will know it’s not going to be easy for them out there on the Oval. A stapled-together Trent Boult is going to have to bowl his heart out. Ross Taylor will likely have to have to bat for three full days, and McCullum desperately needs to find a way to win a toss.
But most importantly, to secure the win, the team must look to step up the nice guy routine. Perhaps a pat on an Aussie back for no reason at all; some gentle hand holding; an offer to “hug it out” when things don’t go Australia’s way. And of course, some subtle yet heartfelt reminders that this is just a game of cricket and we are both on the same team – Team Human. That is the sort of stuff that wins test matches, and if we can get that right – if we can kill them with kindness – the test, and the highly questionable moral high ground, is ours.
The Spinoff Sports is brought to you by World Golf Pass – click here to subscribe and watch the PGA, LPGA and European Tour live and on demand.
The Spinoff Daily gets you all the days' best reading in one handy package, fresh to your inbox Monday-Friday at 5pm.