Is sledging Australia's key?
Pronouncements of the demise of Australian cricket prior to the third Test in Perth last week proved to be wide of the mark as Ricky Ponting's men roared back with a dominant 267-run win over England to square the Ashes series at 1-1.
But putting Australia's renewed vigour on the field down to using old tactic of verbal aggression to unsettle opponents is also false according to players from both sides.
Kevin Pietersen, the England batsman, said yesterday ahead of Sunday's fourth Test in Melbourne that there had been verbal clashes between players in the first three matches of the five-match series but "there's nothing that's been overboard".
His comments followed an assertion from the head of the Australian Cricketers' Association (ACA) that Australia's recent downturn in form was directly attributable to warnings to tone down their sledging after an acrimonious Test against India at Sydney in 2008.
But Peter Siddle, the Australian fast bowler, also denied that sledging had been an important element to his team's reversal of fortunes, and claimed that it was simply part of the game.
Paul Marsh, the ACA chief executive, said opponents had exploited Australia's caution but a more aggressive approach in Perth had produced Australia's best win in years.
Pietersen, who along with James Anderson, the fast bowler, had been the most verbal of England's players in the series, most notably having a verbal spat with Mitchell Johnson, the Australian fast bowler in Perth, said the level of tension in the past three Tests between England and Australia had been typical of an Ashes series, and simply demonstrated just how much both sides wanted to win the series.
"You guys [the media] feed them some good lines," Pietersen said. "They talk a lot. Nothing's different.
"There's not really any big chirpers or big sledgers, it's just England versus Australia. It's an Ashes series.
"Blokes get a bit of red mist occasionally. You're allowed to do that on both teams. You're playing for a little urn. It's historic. It's huge. But there's nothing that's been overboard."
However Pietersen's comments were contradicted by teammate Matt Prior, the wicketkeeper, who said in a regular newspaper column on Tuesday that the verbal send-off he received from Siddle after his dismissal in the first innings Perth was like kicking a man when he is down.
"He got me out luckily, maybe, as the ball trickled off my body on to the stumps, but out still," Prior wrote in The Independent. "As I left he said something which annoyed me. It doesn't matter what he said but once you have dismissed somebody you have done the job on them.
"There are not many boxing matches when a guy knocks someone out and then kicks him while he's on the floor. That isn't the way it works."
Siddle claimed yesterday that Prior had challenged him to a fight after the day's play, such was the apparent level of bad feeling from Prior over the incident.
At a later news conference he said some England players were only complaining about sledging because they had lost the match.
"We won the game. That's why they're making such a big deal of it," he said. "They're at us, we're at them. It just makes the game a bit more lively and no doubt the spectators like to see it.
"I think that's part of my game. When I play my best that's what I'm doing anyway. I enjoy having some fun with the batters and it's just the way I like to play my cricket, so if it helps the other boys get the job done, I'm happy to do it."
Marsh told The Sydney Morning Herald a meeting between Cricket Australia and players after the 2008 match against India, where the team were publically condemned for their use of sledging against the Indians, had resulted in a decrease in the verbal aggression which had long been a part of Australia's approach.
Australia's poor form, which saw them lose series to South Africa, India and England in the intervening two years, was partly due to their less confrontational style, Marsh said.
"There's no doubt the team's performance has been affected," he said. "Hard, aggressive cricket is in the Australian team's DNA and unfortunately the players started second-guessing their natural instincts in the heat of battle for fear of reprisal from CA or a public backlash from the vocal minority.
"I know for a fact that many of the opposition teams were seeking to exploit what they now saw as a weakness in the Australian team."
Published: December 23, 2010 04:00 AM