New Zealand cricketing great Martin Crowe has made an impassioned plea for the “angst and hate” to be taken out of the game in the wake of Phillip Hughes’ death, and has pointed his finger squarely at the conduct of the Australian side in recent seasons.
Crowe wrote that “the game needs to calm down” and referred directly to sledging – both on and off the field – by Australians Michael Clarke and David Warner last summer when Mitchell Johnson’s thunderbolts were rattling the Englishmen.
Warner said that the English players had “scared eyes” when they were facing Johnson and described Jonathan Trott as “weak”, while Clarke told tail-ender James Anderson to “get ready for a broken f—ing arm”.
“You can’t say publicly that an opponent has got scared eyes … just because you have the mean, nasty fasty on your team,” Crowe wrote in a column on ESPNcricinfo.
“This is not the uncouth WWF or heavyweight boxing. You should be respectful.
“You can’t threaten an opponent to get ready for a broken arm.”
Despite the criticism of Clarke and Warner, Crowe said that “my heart goes out to them” because they were close to Hughes. “I can only offer them all my deepest compassion.”
Clarke was one of Hughes’ closest mates, and has been widely praised for his leadership and his conduct in supporting Hughes’ family. Warner was also a friend, and travelled in the ambulance with Hughes to hospital.
Crowe, a former NZ captain and brilliant batsman, called for a new approach to the game after the tragedy.
“We should smile when stumps are drawn and be grateful for the day’s cricket, the genuine sharing of camaraderie between two teams,” he said.
Former Australian batsman Michael Hussey has also shed light on the tit-for-tat, combative nature of the game, writing in The Sunday Times about Hughes’ Test debut against South Africa in 2009.
Hussey wrote that Hughes was sledged by South African quick Dale Steyn, which was witnessed by Peter Siddle at the non-striker’s end. Siddle responded by bowling around the wicket to Steyn, enabling him to pepper his body with short balls.
Crowe said cricket had become “too lippy, too edgy”.
He defended the use of short-pitched bowling, and recounted in detail all the times he had been hit, but said there was no need for it to be accompanied by gratuitous abuse.
“By all means bowl bouncers with skill and precision, but take out the angst and hate, the sledging and the media barbs, and just go out and express your version of your courage and skill for your team.”
Crowe felt for the bowler, 22-year-old seamer Sean Abbott, who he said wasn’t guilty of “any angst, of wanting any mental disintegration in his opponent”.
He said Abbott was going about learning his trade and trying to get an in-form batsman out.
“He bowled a skilful ball, right over off stump, perfect height to challenge the pull or hook to entice a catch,” he said. “He was doing his job earnestly.”
But Crowe believed the game would change and it would gradually become less critical to win at all costs.
“We can calm this game down by playing with more joy within, the kind one impressive Phillip Hughes showed.
“In that, he displayed a sageness rare in one so raw, a mature hand an an old head, showing us what we need to do.”
– with AAP