Granted, if you’re in England’s shoes it’s difficult to sledge when you’re being pummelled to a pulp. But dominant Australia’s distinct lack of trash talking has begged the question; has the Ashes become too friendly?
Justin Langer’s side blew the dismal tourists away inside 12 days, two days shorter than the visitor’s quarantine when entering the country, to win the sacred urn. England restored some, albeit belated, pride with a battling draw in the fourth Test.
And the two teams now head to Hobart for the fifth and final match of a series Aussie fast-bowling great Glenn McGrath has labelled “too nice” and he’s not the only one who thinks the bitter rivalry between the sides has lost its famous hostile spark.
The ongoing series has undoubtedly been played in a great spirit, but could you imagine Don Bradman and Douglas Jardine exchanging pleasantries, let alone extended conversations, before a days’ play during the infamous Bodyline tour? It’s been too convivial.
Rewind to the 2013/14 series, where demoralised England were hammered 5-0, and captain Michael Clarke was telling last man standing James Anderson to “get ready for a broken f***ing arm”. It epitomised the sheer hatred between the nations’ cricket teams and the ultra-aggressive culture of the hard-nosed Aussies.
Australia have tried desperately hard to turn their tarnished image around in the aftermath of the 2018 ball-tampering scandal. David Warner, Steve Smith and Cameron Bancroft were all banned for their roles in the sorry saga.
But the reincarnated Warner, who also punched now England captain Joe Root in a Birmingham bar in 2015, tweeting his adulation for opposing fast bowler Mark Wood in a cringe-worthy mid-match post is surely a step too far?
Controversial figure Jardine, who captained England to victory on the 1932-33 tour, wanted to intimidate the Australians. He devised a brutal plan to thwart the brilliance of Bradman and unleashed tearaway quick Harold Larwood and co to bowl fast bouncers at the body. Aussie skipper Bill Woodful was struck above the heart, whilst Bert Oldfield suffered a fractured skull during a fiery tour which almost incited riots from the home crowds.
The visible amiability between the sides has left a bitter taste in the mouth of many past players who engaged in vicious battles over the years, as well as frustrated fans watching at home.
Spin king Shane Warne, who won seven of the eight Ashes series he played in during an amazing Aussie era, said: “I wanted the batsmen to hate me, I wanted them to absolutely hate me and smash me out of the park because then I had an edge. You’ve got to be careful not to lose your edge.”
The Ashes is built on a fierce, historic rivalry and there are plenty of stories which illustrate the ferocious nature of the iconic series.
The famous feud between Ians Botham and Chappell started way back in 1977 and still looks to have plenty of mileage left in the tank. The story goes that Botham punched his nemesis in an Australian bar. And he recalled: “I gave him three official warnings, all of which he ignored, so the next time he started, I just flattened him.”
On the first morning of the classic 2005 series at Lord’s, which England went on to win to lift the Ashes for the first time in 18 years, England sent out a statement of intent.
Steve Harmison hit Matthew Hayden on the helmet before drawing blood from Aussie skipper Ricky Ponting with a brutal blow to the grille. It was a sign of things to come as England’s aggression, camaraderie and fighting spirit became synonymous with their famous triumph.
Ironically, Nathan Lyon — who memorably wanted to “end careers” during England’s last tour down under — has been sharing off-spin tips with opposing captain Joe Root. It beggars belief.
Having a beer after the series, once all is said and done, has long been the norm; but the familiarity between the two sides is staggering.
Maybe the game is changing and we are all stuck in the past? No doubt the amount of T20 leagues around the world plays a huge part, players have got to know each other and struck up bonds. You see their families grow up and draw comparisons with your own life. It makes it harder to dislike them.
But Ashes cricket means something. You put all of that to one side in the heat of one of sport’s biggest grudge matches.
It’s nothing new, we’ve seen previous Ashes sides be friendly. Great Australian captain Allan Border seemed to want to spend more time with Botham and David Gower than his own dressing room during the 1985 tour.
But my, did England pay for it four years later. There was no more Mr Nice Guy. Border vowed to “show the bastards”. And he did just that as Australia annihilated the hosts 4-0 for the first time since 1948. It sparked a generation of Pommie pounding as England were habitually humiliated time after time.
Hopefully this series is the wake up call England need to fight fire with fire and produce box-office viewing once again.
*18+ | BeGambleAware