The Ashes series could disintegrate into an ugly affair if umpires and officials do not stake a tougher stance over the issue of sledging, according to former Australian captain Kim Hughes.
Hughes launched a stinging attack on Australian opener David Warner for publicly branding English opponent Jonathan Trott as “weak”, saying he should be pulled into line by captain Michael Clarke or Cricket Australia.
He said it was ridiculous that Clarke was fined for sledging Jimmy Anderson on the field as a result of Channel Nine error in putting the “broken f—ing arm” remark to air, while Warner had escaped censure.
Hughes, who tearfully resigned the Australian captaincy 29 years to the day on Tuesday, also spoke of his admiration for Trott for having the courage to admit to his teammates that he was having problems and should quit the tour.
“When I resigned the captaincy I had no more petrol left in the tank. I was becoming a person I didn’t like. It was affecting my performance, it was affecting my relationship at home,” he told The New Daily.
He said of Trott: “It does take courage to say to the boys ‘I’m doing no justice to myself, I’m doing no justice to the team and until I can get this issue sorted out, I’m going to have to leave you’. That is not easy for a professional athlete to say and I admire him tremendously.”
Hughes said he accepted England team director Andy Flower’s view that Trott had a pre-existing concern and was not influenced in his decision by Warner’s public evisceration of his character.
But he did not spare Warner for his remarks.
“Irrespective of what happened with Jonathan Trott, what Warner said is just indefensible.
“I’ve never heard it in any field of endeavour for someone to say in the cool light of day that ‘this bloke’s a coward’.
“His teammates won’t like it, the opposition won’t like it and there is a chance now for it to get ugly. The opposition will think ‘that’s bullshit, that’s out of line’.
“Someone might say something to a person in the field. They might say you’re a weak person. You might say it in the rooms to your teammates, you might even say it to the bloke out in the middle. But you certainly don’t get on national TV and say an opposition player is weak.
“That was unforgiveable, totally uncalled for and one of the worst things I have ever heard in my whole life. It’s just disgraceful.
“He played one of the really great innings, and he’s shot himself in the foot yet again.”
Hughes said he had spoken about the comments with other former athletes, including champion footballers and a Brownlow Medallist, who were all horrified at the way he had treated a fellow professional athlete.
He said the English players, particularly Anderson, had obviously also been sledging on the field, but that the umpires had been too weak to deal with the verballing.
He said this, combined with Warner’s public comments, spelled danger for the future of the series.
“The umpires have been weak,” he said. They need to be a lot stronger and take control of the game.”
Hughes was also critical of cricket’s sledging culture, which he described as “puerile and pathetic”.
“It’s not a part of our game. Where in the rules does it say that you’re allowed to just keep sledging blokes? Perhaps the greatest team that ever played the game – the West Indies under Clive Lloyd – they never sledged you. They kept their mouths shut, but it was still bloody tough.
“Mitchell Johnson was fantastic. He wasn’t abusing people. He might glare at them, but he wasn’t swearing and cursing and doing his quince.
“You know what the tough thing is? Getting behind the ball and getting some runs, taking the catch, taking the wickets.”
Hughes said Trott’s issues were a reminder that even the best international sportsmen could be affected by the pressures of the job.
“From what I’ve seen of Jonathan Trott, he’s extremely well prepared, he’s extremely professional, he’s tough, he’s resilient, he’s been a consistent performer. But there is an issue there.
“I preach to the boys that I coach that there are only three things you’ve got to concentrate on as a batsman: you watch it, you hit it and you have fun.
“And the day you’re no longer having fun at whatever you’re doing, irrespective of how much money you’re getting paid, give it away, otherwise you’ll pay a price with your health or your relationship.”