Monday, 29 April 2019

What do we mean when we say a cricketer is mentally tough?

Paddy Upton in Cricinfo

At this juncture, it is worth having a conversation about the concept of 'mental toughness', which is currently the most overused and least understood concept in sports psychology. I neither agree with nor use the term.

When helping the Indian players to develop better mental resolve and manage their emotions in preparation for the World Cup, we were not attempting to create 'mentally tough' athletes. Because there is no such thing as mental toughness, and even if there was, the idea of striving to be mentally tough is flawed.

There's no such thing


I contend that mental toughness is like Batman and Superman. We all know them. But they're not real and don't actually exist.

In a review of over thirty published academic papers on mental toughness involving forty-four world-class researchers, it emerged that there is no agreement on the definition of mental toughness. Sport psychologists cannot agree on what mental toughness is. In trying to define this concept, they broke it down into subcomponents like grit, resilience, focus, emotional control, mental control, hardness and so on. Collectively, those thirty-plus papers present as many as seventy-five subcomponents that supposedly make up mental toughness!

Of all the instruments available to measure mental toughness, there are only two that have been validated: The Australian Football Mental Toughness Inventory (AFMTI) and Mental Toughness Q48 (MTQ48). These are the only two instruments that reliably measure what they are supposed to measure.

However, there is no agreement on whether these instruments are relevant for both men and women. There is disagreement about the relevance to different age levels, different experience levels, different levels of competitiveness and, importantly, there is no transfer between sporting codes. Thus, the Australian Football instrument does not necessarily apply to other sports.

Further, when 'mentally tough' players assess themselves, and coaches, who know them well, also assess them, the results are fundamentally different. There isn't even agreement over how players see themselves and how a coach sees those same players. There is also no agreement on whether mental toughness is to do with nurture (something we're taught), or nature (something we are born with).

What becomes patently clear from a review of these academic papers and literature on mental toughness is that sport psychologists, who are supposed to be the experts, cannot define and don't even understand the concept. And yet, as coaches and parents, we continue to use the term and judge players based on it. Players also use it to judge each other and commentators apply it liberally in their descriptions of players.

How then should we ordinary sportspeople interpret the findings and subcategories in those thirty-odd research papers on mental toughness? Let's have a closer look.

The following is what, and who, some of these researchers studied: 160 elite athletes, ten international performers, twelve mentally tough UK cricketers, eight Olympic champions, and thirty-one elite coaches. In other words, what the world's academics are trying to tell us is that they've studied the world's best.

Psycho-what? 

When we study the best of the best, consider the following as a list of definitions associated with mental toughness: massive belief in self and one's ability; emotional control; clear thinking under pressure; ruthless pursuit of goals; operating well in chaos; not intimidated by others; unaffected by loss and failure; easily spots weakness in opponents; inspirational, popular, influential; and compulsive liar.

I would bet that, until you got to the last point, you were in agreement that this was a pretty accurate list of mental toughness attributes.

However, the list I provided above is not a list of definitions of mental toughness - those are character traits of psychopaths taken from an article on psychopathy.

At this juncture, you'd be perfectly justified in asking why on earth I would include this list of psychopathic traits in a discussion on mental toughness. What if I told you that the academics who studied mental toughness amongst elite athletes might unknowingly have unearthed their psychopathic traits and prescribed these as characteristics of mental toughness? Barring only one or two, the traits are the same.

Okay, so who are these people, and how many of them are out there?

Psychopaths are born with brain functioning that is different from 'normal' people, and this is not reversible. As luck would have it (for them), these brain differences manifest outwardly in that individual possessing many of those performance assets mentioned earlier - all of which are highly sought-after qualities for success (and leadership), and of so-called mental toughness. This is the reason for so many psychopaths achieving such high levels of success in business, as well as in politics and sport.

Prof. Clive Boddy from Middlesex University suggests that one out of every hundred people is born a psychopath. He suggests that one in twenty managers in corporate America is a psychopath, called a 'corporate psychopath' because they thrive in business environments. In industries like the media, the legal fraternity, finance, banking and politics, Boddy suggests one in five top executives or CEOs are in fact psychopaths. Research has not yet been conducted on the prevalence of psychopaths in sport, but do the math.

If this is the first time you've encountered the concept of corporate psychopaths, you may be struggling to join the dots between serial killers and successful businessmen (and athletes). The only difference between a corporate psychopath and Hannibal Lecter (Silence of the Lambs) and Co. who torture animals as children and end up as jailed serial killers as adults, is their propensity for violence. Illustrating this point, one study at the University of Surrey on thirty-nine high-level British executives compared their psychopathic traits to those of criminals and psychiatric patients. They found that business executives were more likely to be superficially charming, egocentric, insincere and manipulative, and just as likely to be grandiose, exploitative, and lacking in empathy as criminals and psychiatric patients. The criminals only scored higher than these executives on being impulsive and physically aggressive.

If you're still not quite joining the dots, remember Lance Armstrong, the cancer survivor and seven-times Tour de France champion who put both cycling and the fight against cancer on the world map! A study of Armstrong the cyclist will reveal possibly all you need to know about what mental toughness looks like.

This is the same person that the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) called 'the ringleader of the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping programme that sport has ever seen'. He cheated, lied and bullied his way to those seven titles, and when threatened with exposure, he covered his tracks, intimidated witnesses and lied to hearing panels and to the world. When the prosecution presented irrefutable evidence of his doping from twenty-six people, including eleven of his own teammates, he still vehemently denied having ever doped. The prosecution went on to suggest that some of the most shocking evidence had to do with Armstrong's vindictive, mendacious and vicious character. One report suggested, 'He comes across less like a cyclist, more like a psychopath.'

Without going too far down this rabbit hole, the following is worth noting: What sport psychologists, coaches, parents and players are prescribing as a model of mental toughness is equally likely to be the success-producing traits of highly successful and highly functional psychopaths. I have worked with a few psychopaths. I've seen the so-called attributes of mental toughness in them, which help deliver results on the field. I have seen how fans, friends and the media adore these people. But I have also seen what it looks like when their mental toughness is unmasked as psychopathic behaviour. They come across as being narcissistic and entirely self-serving, compulsive (and clever) liars, manipulators without any remorse and an inability to take responsibility for their errors. These are not qualities we should encourage as general conditions for performance.

In short, psychologists themselves cannot agree about what mental toughness is. At best they have provided a list of seventy-five subcomponents to describe the concept. There's also a case to suggest that researchers have inadvertently identified the success-producing traits of a sports version of the 'corporate psychopaths', and are prescribing those as a model of mental toughness. Although only a recently detected (and initially confusing) phenomenon, there are already a few papers published and books written on corporate psychopathy, which we might hear more about in the time to come. One final note is that corporate psychopaths exhibit degrees of psychopathy, with some possessing a greater number of psychopathic traits than others, both positive and negative.

Mental toughness as a failed concept

The second reason Gary and I were not trying to create mentally tough players relates to the judgement directed at athletes based on this. It's sad that someone is either mentally tough, or not. And if they're not mentally tough, they're 'fragile', 'weak', 'soft', 'they crumble under pressure', 'they can't handle the heat', 'they're insecure', 'they're vulnerable' or 'they're doubting'. That's how we label athletes who make mistakes under pressure.

Here's the rub. Except for out-and-out psychopaths, all other athletes, professional and amateur, make mistakes, often under pressure, and all of these so-called mistakes are frequently labelled as 'weak' and 'soft'. Almost every one of us has doubts and insecurities. I have hardly ever worked with an athlete who is fully confident, secure and ever positive. Sure, I have worked with some who are good at hiding their doubts, but their vulnerabilities and insecurities still gnaw away at them from the inside. They try really hard to protect themselves from the public perception that these normal human fragilities are in fact unforgivable weaknesses. But they all have them. The 'mentally weak' labels we place on those who fall short of our unrealistic expectation of perfection are harsh, unfair and I'd say, uneducated.

I did some of my best and least effective mental conditioning work with Gautam Gambhir, the International Test Cricketer of the Year in 2009. I worked with him up until that time, but I had little to do with him being named the world's best cricketer.

Often, when I got onto the Indian team bus, Gautam would invite me to sit next to him. What followed was predictable: 'Paddy, man, I know I just scored 100, but I should have got 200. I mishit too many balls, I struggled in the beginning, I hit the fielder too many times ... It just wasn't good enough. I need to sort things out.' He would be in mental agony about losing his wicket and about needing to fix things.

He was so riddled with insecurities, doubts and vulnerabilities. He was one of the most negative people I have ever worked with. I tried everything I knew to at least try to get him to be a bit more positive, become more optimistic, and to at least get some perspective.

We must have had fifteen sessions on the bus in one year, but I just couldn't help Gautam shift. Until I came across some research that could potentially help me understand why. It was either that I lacked the skill or knowledge to help Gautam (which could have been the case), or there were some lessons to be learned from Martin Seligman's work on positive psychology.

Positive self-talk, being positive, is very important, especially when we want people to 'believe'. It's the 'Yes, we can' attitude that defined President Barack Obama's first presidential election campaign.

However, research suggests that most people sit somewhere on a continuum between being an optimist and being a pessimist, with 100 standing for über-optimistic and 0 for pessimistic. Gautam was definitely wired towards the 'lower' end of the optimism/pessimism scale; let's say his range was from 20 to 40, with 30 being his normal. When he scored 150, he would be disappointed at not scoring 200. And when he got the ICC Test Cricketer of the Year award, he shifted to about 40, but he very soon moved back to his set point at around 30. When he didn't score runs in 2 or 3 consecutive innings, he'd drop down to 20.

No matter what we did, Gautam was negative and pessimistic. In his remarkably honest interview after receiving the ICC award, he said, 'The award does nothing to help overcome my insecurity. I can't help it.' I'm not letting out any of Gautie's secrets here either; he has openly acknowledged his insecurities and doubting mindset.

Using the popular notion of mental toughness, he was one of the 'weakest and mentally most insecure' people I have ever worked with. But at the same time, he was undoubtedly one of the best and most determined, and successful, Test batsmen in the world. Something he would prove, yet again, in the 2011 World Cup final.

So, when we tell people to have positive self-talk - this pillar or subcomponent of mental toughness - it would probably work for about 50 per cent of them, those who are lucky enough to be wired on the optimistic side of the scale.

When a great athlete who also happens to be wired as an eternal optimist has an accident, breaks their body or worse, is paralysed, they might go from being 95 on the scale to about 75. That is their low end. But they're still very high on the 'positive' side of the scale. And as soon as they accept and then reconcile with their situation, they shift back to 90 or 95 on the scale. And those people are the ones who are generally admired for being mentally tough; the eternal optimists. They become the shining light we all have to aspire to, and they are often encouraged onto the public speaking circuit where they share their optimism in an attempt to help others become as positive as they are. Audiences are inspired and motivated, but only temporarily, before the vast majority return to their normal set point, often the very next day.

Trying to engage in positive self-talk for people who naturally have more negative thoughts can be frustrating, and because they often can't get it right, can cause them to further think negatively about themselves.

In Oliver Burkeman's book The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking, he suggests taking a radically different stance towards those things most of us spend our lives trying hard to avoid, like failure, negativity and death. He makes a case for learning to enjoy uncertainty, embracing insecurity and becoming familiar with failure. We're often told to 'face your fear', to embrace it rather than run or hide from it. It turns out, we might also benefit from facing and experiencing negative emotions - or, at the very least, by not running quite so hard from them. Fear of failure is one of the world's most prominent negative thoughts. Failure will happen, so why not rather face and embrace it?
After all those sessions of trying to get Gautie to be more 'positive', which never worked, at least not for any length of time, I changed track and got him to try and accept exactly how he felt.

We made it okay to feel frustrated, negative and disappointed. Once these thoughts and feelings were acknowledged, we'd say, 'Okay. So, what do you need to do to get even better?'

Seligman contends that it is possible to learn to be more optimistic about a negative situation; he calls it 'learned optimism'. Let's use the example of a batsman scoring three low scores in a row. An optimistic approach would be to attribute it to external circumstances. 'It was unlucky', rather than the pessimistic approach of turning the mirror inward and blaming yourself by saying, 'I'm not good enough'. Next is to see it as a setback in one small area of your life: 'It's just my batting, but so much else about my game and life is great', rather than an all-encompassing negative perspective of 'I'm a failure'. Finally, and not necessarily in this order, is to see that the failures are temporary. 'This will soon pass and I'll be back to scoring runs', rather than 'I don't know if I'll ever get out of this slump', which is the more permanent worldview of the pessimist.

Because of the way they view problems, pessimists suffer 'poor form' for longer than optimists. In fact, Seligman's work suggests pessimists are eight times more likely to become depressed when bad things happen, they do worse at school, in sport and at their jobs than their talent suggests, have poorer health, shorter lives and rockier relationships. This is a tough pill to swallow, considering that over 50 per cent of people are wired on the pessimist side of the continuum. The good news is that optimism can be learned, by attributing the problem to external factors, seeing it happening in only a small area of your life, and as being temporary.

It's also worth mentioning that a dose of pessimism is healthy, especially in situations where mistakes may have significant consequences. Where optimists will charge ahead with full (sometimes unfounded) confidence and without much considered thought, pessimists will think through everything that can go wrong, take necessary precautions and come up with contingency plans. Pessimism helps by preventing us from taking unnecessary risks or acting recklessly. Any athlete engaging in a dangerous sport needs to have a healthy dose of pessimism. Too much, and they'll never get out of the starting blocks; too little, and they may not reach the finish line. George Bernard Shaw famously said, 'Both optimists and pessimists contribute to society. The optimist invents the aeroplane, the pessimist the parachute.'

Because people are different, the concepts of being mentally tough, positive and optimistic, or of being in control of one's emotions, at least outwardly, are unrealistic for everyone. M.S. Dhoni, as an example, has incredible emotional control. He never shows emotion, and he is lauded for that. Just as with being openly optimistic as opposed to being pessimistic, 'having emotional control' is sometimes seen as evidence of a player's mental toughness. But I would go as far as to say, with the greatest respect for MS the man and the cricketer, that it is not emotional control, but lack of access to emotions. MS is not wired as an emotional type. It's almost as if he doesn't have them; a performance-enhancing gift from birth. Imagine taking that trait as the ultimate characteristic of a 'mentally tough' athlete, and then try to prescribe that to someone who is very emotionally wired, like his successor Virat Kohli. Virat uses his visible and overt emotional charge to drive his success, whereas MS's success is facilitated by his lack of emotional charge.

The emotional and mental side of the game does not have generic prescriptions for performance. 'Mental toughness' is perhaps not even a generic drug. It's closer to being a placebo prescribed by coaches, psychologists and academics who don't really appreciate the art, beauty and complexity of working with athletes as individual human beings first, and as high performers second. When the placebo doesn't work, the athlete gets blamed.
Judging athletes who are not 'mentally tough', optimistic and positive, inhibits us from effectively dealing with the legitimate mental side of the game -specifically when instruction-based coaching is the preferred method.

I honestly believe that we should do away with the concept of mental toughness and replace it with something that is more real and relevant to most people. It has to be authentic to the individual and something he or she can relate to. The overwhelming majority of players lack confidence, have insecurities, doubts and vulnerabilities. So do most of us. We're human and this is normal. Let's keep it real.
With this in mind, our strategy with the Indian team was not to convince the players of how special and tough they were. The media and fans tried to convince them of that 24/7. Our job was to convince the players that they were actually human, and thus to keep things real. Enclosed in that acknowledgement were relief, understanding of the self, and the tremendous power that flowered in conditions that could otherwise easily see self-proclaimed superstars choke up.

Saturday, 27 April 2019

Why Ashwin was right and Dhoni wrong

You're all out of strikes: there's nothing in the Laws that suggests it's a bowler's duty to warn an offending non-striker before running him out writes Simon Taufel in Cricinfo 


The main talking points in an IPL often have to do with the performance of match officials, decisions being challenged, player conduct, and matches finishing well beyond the scheduled time. This season, umpires have come under increased public scrutiny due to a couple of incidents that made instant headlines and continue to make for heated debate.

R Ashwin's run-out of Jos Buttler early on in the season was fiercely discussed by all stakeholders and commentators. Ashwin said it was instinctive. Buttler said it left a sour taste. The MCC, the custodians of cricket's laws, said the Indian player was hurting the spirit of cricket, and that his actions were deliberate.

A few weeks later, another senior Indian player, in fact one of the most venerated, MS Dhoni, charged into the middle to challenge a no-ball call that seemed to be called and then revoked by the on-field umpires. Dhoni subsequently pleaded guilty to the charge and copped a fine.

Let us look at both incidents to try and understand the role of the umpires and the players involved, and who was right or wrong.

Ashwin's Buttler run-out had nothing to do with spirit of cricket

I was in India when the incident happened and I saw it on TV. Subsequently we had an MCC Laws sub-committee meeting and discussed the event. Also present on that call was Geoff Allardice, the ICC's General Manager of cricket, given that a World Cup is just around the corner.

My view on this particular issue is, it has nothing to do with the spirit of cricket. During our discussion, we spoke at length about Law 41.16. The intent of the law is that the non-striker should not leave their ground at the bowler's end before the ball is delivered. This is why the ICC has stipulated within their regulations and interpretations that the bowler can dismiss the non-striker run out up until the bowler's arm reaches the top of the delivery swing.

What I did say to the MCC was that maybe we could help people understand that this incident had nothing to do with the spirit of cricket but rather everything to do with the run-out rule (which is Law 38) by repositioning this clause about unfair advantage under that Law in future.

At Lord's in 2011 I sat on an ICC Cricket Committee meeting, across the table from Tim May, then the players' representative on the panel. May strongly advocated that he wanted to see this type of situation be under the purview of the rules governing run-out dismissals. The committee debated that at length and it was decided to tweak the ICC playing conditions so that it was no longer the back-foot landing that was regarded as the point of no-return in such cases but rather the point of normal release, which is when the bowler gets to the top of their delivery swing. As a result, the bowler would have a lot more opportunity to run out the non-striker. The representatives of the players were in favour of this type of run-out if the non-striker was backing up too far (intentionally or not).


I go back to the intent of Law 41.16, which is to ensure the non-striker stays in the crease until the moment of release. If the non-striker does not do that, he or she is breaching the Law. It is he or she who is gaining an unfair advantage.

All Ashwin did was appeal to the umpire for a run-out dismissal. He stopped short of delivering the ball and did not go through with his delivery swing. For him to be subject to adverse commentary that amounted to character assassination regarding his supposed contravention of the spirit of the game, is incredibly unfair in the way the Laws are written and the way they are to be applied.

Both the on-field umpire and the third umpire did not feel he deceived the non-striker by waiting too long before breaking the stumps within dealing with the appeal - the ball was deemed by them to be still within play.

Several years ago, before answering these kinds of run-out appeals, as umpires we checked with the fielding captain whether they wanted to continue with the appeal first. Around 2011, the captains collectively expressed misgivings about this process, saying they did not want pressure to be put on them about whether to continue with an appeal or not. As a collective, they asked the umpires to simply answer the appeal if one was made.

ALSO READ: Monga: The spirit of cricket is no substitute for the Laws

People also accused Ashwin of premeditation. My response to that would be: well, so what? Bowlers attempt to get batsmen out lbw, bowled, caught, or by any other form of dismissal. Aren't all these premeditated? So I don't see how that is a relevant argument at all.

I also found it interesting that many pundits and players have spoken about how Ashwin should have given Buttler a warning. Giving a warning is a myth; there is nothing in the Laws about it. Given that the ICC Cricket Committee and the MCC have made it clear how they want the game to be played, why is such a warning required? If the non-striker does not want to be run out at the bowler's end backing up, then they must stay in their ground until the ball leaves the bowler's hand.

From an umpire's perspective, it is a situation that is almost impossible to manage on their own, which is probably why the Buttler run-out was referred to the third umpire. It is interesting that it was referred, given that the on-field umpire didn't necessarily think the ball was dead, and at no stage did Ashwin actually get to the point of vertical delivery. It is subjective as to whether or not he actually got to the normal point of release. So it is very understandable that Buttler was given out run out.

There are several challenges in a situation like this for an umpire. It is an incredibly difficult Law (41.16) to enforce at the bowler's end. The umpire's challenge is to watch the back foot and/or the front foot, the point of normal release, the ball coming into view, and whether the non-striker is backing up. And then answer the run-out appeal, making a decision about whether or not the batsman was in their ground or short when the stumps were put down. You can imagine how difficult that would be because you can't watch everything at the same time. It is a very challenging and somewhat impractical law for an umpire to judge, especially without the support of a third umpire.The umpires should have avoided engaging with MS Dhoni when he walked on to the field to protest the call BCCI

I believe good umpiring should be proactive. You solve problems before they happen. Personally, if I see a batsman backing up too far, I ask them to come back. If I see a bowler who is getting too close with back foot or front foot, I will tell them they are getting close, and if they continue to do this, it is likely a no-ball will be called. If I see a fielder who is getting pretty close to infringing the fielding restrictions, I would remind them to be in the right position, otherwise a no-ball call is likely. Good umpiring is about maintaining a policy of no surprises and keeping the focus on cricket. That was my style, but the game has moved on a little bit since I have retired.

I was in India and spoke to Ashwin soon after the incident. I reaffirmed to him that it was unfair and not appropriate for various people to pull him up for breaching the spirit of cricket. I made contact with him to make sure he was fine and not affected by the comments, and to support him on a human level. I told him he was within his rights to appeal and to attempt to run out the non-striker.


Dhoni crossed the line

My first reaction at the incident of Dhoni going on to the field to talk to the umpires was that of surprise because one of Dhoni's great strengths that I have seen over the years is his composure and his ability to handle adversity or difficult moments with a high degree of acceptance, to consider his options and then act in a measured, controlled way.

I get that these are high-pressure moments - lots of things are riding on these games, a lot of money is involved, and there is a lot of excitement and passion within the ground and outside it. I do understand this environment, having had first-hand experience officiating in many IPL finals.

But non-participating players or even coaches and managers entering the field of play to approach an umpire is not right. MS acknowledged this by accepting and pleading guilty to the charge imposed by the IPL match officials.

I would have preferred personally that the umpires did not even talk to him, and instead asked him to go away and not involved themselves in a discussion with him at the time. It is important that umpires don't let themselves be surrounded by players, and that they make their decisions without any perception of being influenced.

ALSO READ: IPL's soft signal on Dhoni is a chance put down

From what I observed, MS seemed to be pointing out that the umpire at the bowler's end had raised his arm to signal a no-ball and he later went back on that call. Now, the primacy of the call belongs to the umpire at the bowler's end. As a point of protocol, you do look at your colleague at square leg to help judge accurately the height of waist-high full tosses and bouncers above head height, before calling them.

While the square-leg umpire can raise their arm to signal a wide or a no-ball to their colleague, they are not calling it. Let us be very clear: it is the jurisdiction of the bowler's-end umpire, with support from the square-leg umpire.

In this particular case the no-ball was signalled by the bowler's-end umpire, who stuck his arm out without waiting to confirm the height judgement with his colleague at square leg. And the square-leg umpire himself had not signalled a no-ball. So the bowler's-end umpire perhaps second-guessed himself and (then) decided to retract or discontinue the no-ball call process. He did not revoke his original call, which was for a no-ball. Had he done so, it might have avoided some of the confusion.

Adding to the confusion, the stadium announcer signalled a free hit on the big screen, which obviously left the players further unsure as to what the situation was.

I would have much preferred to have seen the umpire at the bowler's end back himself and be confident with his original call, because from the officiating perspective, normally your first call or gut instinct is the right one. The replays I have seen seem to support the original call in this case.

Be that as it may, there is no reason for the batting captain to come onto the field and contest the decision or seek clarification while the match is in progress. In this case, Dhoni did cross the line.


The unrealistic expectations placed on umpires

High-quality camera work, technological advances in television broadcasting, and the presence of several commentators at each match have allowed TV audiences as well as fans at the ground to get closer to the action. The fans are now being provided a lot more information on the game than in the past. The heightened involvement of the broadcasters and the media in matches means there is more to be shown, more stories to be told, and more to be scrutinised.

Our game is perfectly imperfect. By that I mean that technology does not solve all of our problems. It is almost replacing one set of problems on the field with another. When you add a new element to the game, such as third-umpire technology, while that might seem to solve a couple of problems, it also creates a whole list of other challenges, involving training, consistency, and accuracy of match officials.

ALSO READ: How simple is spotting a no-ball?

Technology is not perfect. Hot Spot doesn't always show a mark. Real-time Snickometer or Ultra Edge don't always show a spike. Ball tracking has an in-built margin of error. The white ball doesn't stay white. The white line of the crease gets scuffed away where the bowlers' feet land.

Even when we have up to four umpires involved in a match - two on-field, a third, and a reserve on the boundary - they all don't necessarily seem to make the same decisions for the same reasons, or they may not always initially agree on one course of action. It is part of the beauty of sport.

But the best in the world make the fewest mistakes. Still, even the best umpire in the world will not have a great performance every day. You have to bear in mind that it is the human aspect that we need to remind ourselves of here.

People expect umpires to be perfect and somehow get better. That is an unrealistic expectation. Umpires cannot be perfect, but they can be excellent. We need to be a little more accepting, and appreciate that everyone is doing their best.

Friday, 26 April 2019

Why the Indian Supreme Court Has Found Itself in an Embarrassing Controversy

There is an important question before the judiciary: Who will be the custodian of the custodians? Rajeev Dhavan in The Wire




Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi (centre). Credit: PTI




Between December 2018 and April 2019, certain controversies concerning the Supreme Court of India have surfaced:

The first concerns the dismissal of an employee for taking casual leave and protesting against her transfer.
The second surrounds the scandalising of the chief justice of India by the said employee.
Third, the remedial action taken by the Supreme Court suo motu (on its own) under the writ jurisdiction of the court with the chief justice on the bench but not passing the order signed by Justices Mishra and Khanna.
Fourth, involving the exclusive in-house procedure for high court and Supreme Court judges.

These controversies are ongoing and may in, as much as they can, put the very notion of justice on trial. Our Supreme Court has often quoted Lord Atkin’s observations in a contempt case of 1936:

“Justice is not a cloistered virtue: she must be allowed to suffer the scrutiny and respectful, even though outspoken, comments of ordinary men.”

This article is not intended to obstruct justice or bring into disrepute our justice system – with the Supreme Court at its apex – or the high office of the chief justice of India. It examines issues of due process and procedure.

Dismissal of an employee

An unprecedented controversy has arisen concerning an employee, who was transferred from the CJI’s ‘home’ or residence office, was suspended and later dismissed from the Supreme Court’s service. The charges against her included questioning her transfer, bringing/soliciting undue influence from the president of the Supreme Court Employees Welfare Association on her transfers and taking leave without approval.

Her response was that she had been transferred three times, she had gotten leave for her daughter’s function and was asked to attend office for a little while but couldn’t and the branch officer was informed, and she had spoken to the president of the employees association to find out what was happening but not to influence outcomes. After her suspension order on November 27, 2018, she was asked to appear before a departmental committee hearing on December 17, 2018, but collapsed outside the door due to anxiety and was told on December 19, 2018, that the charges against her had been proven.

The next day her husband wrote to the officer concerned to present her defence statement. However, on December 21, 2018, she was dismissed from service. In another part of the story, with which may not directly be concerned, her husband and brother-in-law were dismissed from the Delhi police on a basis unconnected with the Supreme Court; namely a prior incident of 2012 which had been mutually settled and for links with undesirables.

Also read: Why the Panel to Investigate Sexual Harassment Allegations Against CJI Is Problematic

Far from being a drop in the ocean, or a storm in a teacup concerning an employee, it concerns the administration of justice by the Supreme Court’s administration. I assume that the Supreme Court Officers and Servants (Conditions of Service and Conduct) Rules 1961 apply. Dismissal from service is a major penalty, though it is not clear from the information available whether her dismissal would disqualify her for future employment (under Rule 11).

It is arguable that such a major penalty should not have been imposed; and although formal procedures were followed, they may have been insufficient and hurried. That can only be found when we examine the record of the inquiry which statutorily would include the charges, a written defence, oral and documentary evidence, orders of the Disciplinary Authority and a report.

Thereafter, due process would have dictate whether a major penalty must be imposed – which would normally follow if there is conviction on a criminal charge or “where the Disciplinary Authority is satisfied for some reason to be recorded in writing it is not reasonably practicable to give to the Court an opportunity of showing cause before (awarding) any of the (major)… penalties…” (Rule 13).

Until we have the full record, we shall not know of the details of the rigour of the due process that were followed or the reasons for not doing so, bearing in mind that the woman had the same protection that civil servants under Article 311 of the constitution possess. For the present, the internal justice meted out to the employee seems in violation of due process and prima facie excessive. This is becoming more and more evident as information is coming out that she was not given a proper hearing and crucial witnesses were not examined at the inquiry. At the age of 35, her chances of further employment have been diminished.

Though not part of the charges, in the Supreme Court, it transpired that an FIR was filed against her on March 3, 2019, allegedly for taking a bribe from the informant (NK) who gave her a part payment of Rs 50,000 (part of Rs 10 lakh to be paid) to secure a job in the Supreme Court. She was granted bail on March 12, 2019, but the case was transferred to the Crime Branch which moved for the cancellation of her bail. In turn, she complained, later in March, of harassment by the police, writing letters to the prime minister, National Human Rights Commission and others. If this is a case of victimisation, it would raise more issues.

It could be argued that a little injustice here or there will not dent the majesty of the law. But surely the motto of any court action in its administrative or judicial side must be: “We, who fight for justice must ourselves be just.”

Scandalising the court justice

According to the law of contempt, if a person or media makes any allegation against judges or justice system which brings them in disrepute can be punished for scandalising the judiciary. This offence was invented by Justice Wilmot in 1765 in a draft order never delivered in the John Wilkes affair, but published in 1802 by his son.

Since it covers the media, it is a species of constructive contempt. It is included in the definition of criminal contempt under India’s Contempt of Courts Act 1971 (Section 2 (c)(iii)), and in any case also draws from the high court and Supreme Court power as a court of record with the specific power to punish for contempt (constitution Articles 129 and 215) and any other power in addition to the powers under the Act of 1971.

In a 1899 Privy Council case, English judges said this offence was “obsolete” for England, but may be relevant in “small colonies consisting principally of the coloured population”. This redemption for English justice was short lived and scandalising the judges was revived, but used sparingly in recent years. In India, the scandalising jurisdiction is used more frequently, despite the caution of Justice Krishna Iyer in the Mulgaonkar case (1978).

With this introduction, let us turn to our case. On April 19, 2019, the woman who was dismissed wrote to 22 judges of the Supreme Court detailing sexual harassment and sexual advances by the CJI in October 2018, giving explicit details of events when advances were made. She claimed further humiliation by being forced into apology under pressure for her insolence and that her dismissal was a case of victimisation, since the alleged major embarrassing incident took place on October 11, 2018. For our present purposes, we need not elaborate on the details.

Also read: Why CJI Gogoi Should Step Away From Judicial Work Till In-House Inquiry is Complete

What is important for our purpose is that when the media sought clarification from the CJI, the relevant response of Secretary General Sanjeev S. Kalgaonkar (apart from denying victimisation, and asserting that her family had criminal antecedents and treating the allegations against the CJI as an after thought to her dismissal) categorically stated:


“The allegations regarding 11th October 2018, as well as other allegations as can be discerned from your emails are completely and absolutely false and scurrilous and totally denied… the motive behind these false and scurrilous allegations is obviously mischievous.”

Whether this response was shared with the CJI before or after it was made is not clear, though no Secretary General would normally make such a public reply without consultation. One must, therefore, take this statement as the official response of the Supreme Court in consultation with the CJI. Hence it was the CJI’s response as well.

It is necessary to add that after the Vishakha case (1997), cases of sexual harassment are to be dealt with by a special procedure. But the Supreme Court’s Gender Sensitisation and Sexual Harassment of Women Regulations 2013 exclude complaints by employees in that Regulation 2 (a) defines an aggrieved person to exclude “a female already governed by the Supreme Court Service regulations”. This is a significant exclusion, denying the rigour of sexual harassment procedures which are applicable to non-employees within the precincts of the court but not the employees.

Be that as it may, the #MeToo movement has advanced the presumption that the complainant’s version be treated as prima facie bonafide. A sexual harassment case against CJI Gogoi needs to be moved forward.

Procedure for scandalising

We must pause here for a moment because the Secretary General clearly felt that a case of scurrilous scandalising is made out, the procedure ahead is clear. Under the Contempt of Courts Act 1971, a case of criminal contempt can only commence if the Attorney General or Solicitor General permit or if the Supreme Court does so on its own motion (Section 15 of the Act 1971). The way forward was simple. Issue notice of contempt to the woman and anyone else who repeated the alleged scandalising comments including the media. But the court did not initiate a notice of contempt nor did the Solicitor General present such a motion to the court.

Therein lies the problem. If such a notice was issued, the contempt proceedings would normally be in open hearings. Both the Mulgaonkar case concerning the Indian Express (1978) and Shamlal concerning the Times of India (1978) were about exposing the pusillanimity of Supreme Court judges during the Emergency. Except Chief Justice Beg, no one wanted this. Two of the judges (Justices Chandrachud and Bhagwati) were in line to become CJIs. Justice Krishna Iyer, behind the scenes, and in his judgment counselled restraint to avoid further publicity, which is inevitably one of the consequences of contempt hearings in open hearings. No less, the views aired at the time were that even though truth was not specifically a defence, it would be invoked against the justices.

Justice Krishna Iyer told me he was well aware of this consequence. His judgment constitutes what have come to be called the Mulgaonkar guidelines. No contempt – no controversy. After the amendment of the Contempt of Court Act 1971, in 2006, Section 13 of the Act specifically allows truth as a defence. The relevant portion reads:

“13. Contempts not punishable in certain cases – Notwithstanding anything contained in any law for the time being in force … (b) the court may permit, in any proceeding for contempt of court, justification by truth as a valid defence if it is satisfied that it is in public interest and the request for invoking the said defence is bonafide.”

This would create awkwardness in the proceedings, to say the least. ‘Truth’ as a defence is available “in any proceeding for contempt”. In our present context, it would mean that the woman would present all the detailed evidence in her favour for invoking truth as defence, even thought the proceeding would be to protect the judge, not the complainant.

This was the only remedy by and through which the Supreme Court could have proceeded, but it chose not to do so. Treating this case as a purely contempt case would have proved hazardous for the CJI.

The Supreme Court’s suo motu action

Instead of a case in contempt for scandalising, the Supreme Court processed a writ petition as a “Matter of Great Importance touching upon the Independence of the Judiciary – mentioned by Tushar Mehta: Secretary General of India”. No petition was filed. It is clear that even if the CJI was the master of roster, he could not have handpicked judges and certainly not sat on the bench.

It cannot be overlooked that Justice Gogoi was part of the four judges who protested in public then Chief Justice Deepak Misra’s abuse of his power over the roster. Chief Justice Misra had also handpicked Justice Arun Mishra, who appears to have been picked in the present case in the special Saturday hearing on April 20. The less said, the better.

For the moment, let us assume that the petition was maintainable and that either (a) someone’s fundamental right was infringed upon, or (b) that this writ was part of the undefined power of the Supreme Court as a Court of Record, which specifically includes the power to punish for contempt. But since these proceedings were in lieu of contempt for scandalising, a new procedure was evolved at the instance of the CJI, albeit on the mentioning of Solicitor General Mehta.

In the hearings of the suo motu case, the Supreme Court did not caution a censorship of details which were in the public domain but invited the cooperation of the media by stating in its order of April 20:

“Having considered the matter, we refrain from passing any judicial order at this moment leaving it to the wisdom of the media to show restraint, act responsibly as is expected from them and accordingly decide what should or should not be published as wild and scandalous allegations undermine and irreparably damage reputation and negate independence of judiciary. We would therefore at this juncture leave it to the media to take off such material which is undesirable.”

This is not a gag order, but a request to be respectfully treated as a gag: In the Sahara case (2012), the Supreme Court assumed a power to postpone reportage where criminal proceedings were pending, under the court’s inherent power as a Court of Record. The inherent power seems to be increasing by leaps and bounds. This invisible reservoir of power is slowly becoming visible and subject to diverse uses.

What needs elucidation is that the court’s proceedings of April 20 were specially held on a Saturday morning with the Attorney General K.K. Venugopal, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta and president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, Rakesh Khanna being present. What seems astonishing is that CJI Gogoi was also part of the bench, but not a signatory to the order. No person can be a judge in their own cause or hand pick a bench. At best, it could have gone to some other bench without the urgency of a Saturday hearing. Master of the roster or not, I think the proceedings in this writ petition are sufficiently tainted and should be closed.

Instead of closing this suo motu writ petition, whose sole purpose was to quiet the storm of protest arising out of the CJI controversy, on April 23-24 the Court issued notice to advocate Utsav Bains who filed an affidavit in which he asserts that there was a wider conspiracy involving a corporate figure who, along with an alleged fixer Romesh Sharma, tried to “frame the Hon’ble Chief Justice of India in a false case of sexual harassment to pressurize him to resign” and that Bains was privy to documents under sealed cover to prove this. On April 24, the bench consisting of Justices Arun Mishra, Nariman and Gupta summoned the highest officers of the CBI and police. The simplest solution would be to ask the CBI to investigate and file an information to this effect without the ensuing drama which has now become a part of the crisis.

The in-house procedure

Since the judges did not want complaints to be aired ad lib against them short of impeachment, an in-house procedure was created as a result of the agitation of the Bombay bar concerning the chief justice of Bombay in the Ravichandran Iyer case (1995). This in-house procedure was to protect public faith in high court judges. The question posed by the judgment was:

“When the Judge cannot be removed by impeachment process for such conduct but generates widespread feeling of dissatisfaction among the general public, the question would be who would stamp out the rot and judge the Judge or who would impress upon the Judge either to desist from repetition or to demit the office in grace? Who would be the appropriate authority? Who would be the principal mover in that behalf? The hiatus between bad behaviour and impeachable misbehaviour needs to be filled in to stem erosion of public confidence in the efficacy of judicial process.”

The purpose was to prevent public discussion by the media or agitation by the Bar and to protect judges by harmonising free speech rights. The judgment, therefore, explores self regulation: “It seems to us self regulation by the judiciary is the only method which can be tried and adopted.” The trajectory was an in-house inquiry following which matters could eventually be acted upon by the CJI until when the Bar was to “suspend all action”. The court said,

“The Chief Justice of India, on receipt of the information from the Chief Justice of the High Court, after being satisfied about the correctness and truth touching the conduct of the Judge, may tender such advice either directly or may initiate such action, as is deemed necessary or warranted under given facts and circumstances. If circumstances permit, it may be salutary to take the Judge into confidence before initiating action. On the decision being taken by the Chief Justice of India, the matter should rest at that. This procedure would not only facilitate nibbing in the bud the conduct of a Judge leading to loss of public confidence in the courts and sustain public faith in the efficacy of the rule of law and respect for the judiciary, but would also avoid needless embarrassment of contempt proceedings against the office bearers of the Bar Association and group libel against all concerned.”

Of course, in our case, it is the CJI who is involved. In a better-late-than-never initiative, the CJI passed the controversy to Justice S.A. Bobde (senior-most judge after the CJI), who will now assume the role assigned to the CJI in the Iyer case. Since Justice N.V. Ramana said he will not be a part of the panel, its constitution remains in question. Who will the panel report to? Surely not to CJI Gogoi? We are compelled to raise the further question as to whether CJI Gogoi was fully involved in the creation of procedure in this case.

Also read: Charge Against CJI Gogoi Should Be Handled Correctly If SC Wants to Keep People’s Faith

This procedure was also used in the Bangalore crisis and Justice Gupta (then chief justice of Kerala who inquired into it) told me that nobody wanted to depose against the judges. In the Madhya Pradesh case, such a committee was appointed against high court Judge ‘X’ who was later absolved. How would the woman complainant fare in a committee examining the case against a CJI noting that (a) the Supreme Court’s Secretary General has already taken a view that the allegations are scurrilous and (b) truth in its totality would not be a defence. I really think this in-house procedure was directed against the Bar in Iyer’s case in a particular situation and its extension is dangerous and undesirable as a clandestine in camera process.

No in-house procedure can be a substitute for a sexual harassment case.

Reviewing the controversy

This controversy is embarrassing in many respects:

I believe the dismissal proceedings against the woman employee were unfair.
The Supreme Court through its Secretary General had already taken a view that her comments were scurrilous presumably with the CJI’s knowledge since it aired his defence.

The procedure adopted on the Saturday hearing was unfair and tainted and must be closed.

If the Supreme Court felt the court was scandalised, the court should have issued contempt proceedings giving the accused woman the right to invoke truth as a defence.

The in-house procedure under the Iyer case is clumsy and unfair.

No in-house procedure can be a substitute for a sexual harassment case. The woman would have little chance and it is a moot question who would depose against the CJI under these circumstances.

There remains the question of whether during his investigation, the CJI should continue to sit in his judicial or administrative capacity. I am strongly of the view that we should continue to discharge both these functions in the confidence that he will not interfere with any procedure further. We have yet to learn the manner in which the in-house procedure will proceed.

We have seen that the CJI is likely to have known of the dismissal proceedings. He was certainly instrumental in constituting the suo motu bench. He is likely to have known of the Secretary General’s statement in his defence that the allegations were scurrilous. He had a choice to proceed in contempt as he did in the Justice Katju case, but may have felt that this might be perilous in the present case. He may have been right to pass on the controversy to an in-house, procedure, as an alternative because after the hearing on April 23, the judges of the first five courts appear to have met in conclave while hearings in those courts were suspended. The CJI seems to be in the know of the choices of procedures to deal with the crisis – each more inventive than the other.

In any case, this is a no-win situation. If the in-house procedure results in his favour, it will be sought to be questioned – but there is no forum for doing so. If it goes against him, the embarrassment will be greater, leading to resignation or impeachment.

Looking to the future

Having said this, there is a need for a judicial accountability mechanism for the high courts and Supreme Court through a constitutional amendment, as in so many countries. There must be a procedure to answer the adage Quis custodiet ipsos custodes: Who will be the custodian of the custodians.

Why Sri Lanka attackers' wealthy backgrounds shouldn't surprise us

Recent history shows that people with comfortable lives can easily be drawn towards violent extremism writes Jason Burke in The Guardian

 
Security forces at the Colombo home of the spice exporter Mohamed Yusuf Ibrahim, whose sons were among the Easter Sunday attackers. Photograph: MA Pushpa Kumara/EPA


When police and soldiers in Sri Lanka set out on the trail of the attackers who killed more than 350 people in a series of bombings on Easter Sunday, they did not expect to find themselves in Dematagoda, one of the wealthiest neighbourhoods in Colombo.

Within 90 minutes of the attack, as hospitals struggled to cope with the huge number of casualties, the security forces were closing in on a three-storey house with a BMW parked outside.

Two brothers lived there with their families: 38-year-old Inshaf Ibrahim, a copper factory owner, and Ilham, 36. Their father, Mohamed Yusuf Ibrahim, one of the most successful businesspeople in the island nation’s Muslim community, made a fortune exporting spices. The two brothers were also involved in the jewellery trade. They were both among the attackers.

When police moved in, there was another blast. It is unclear whether the top floors were wired with explosives or if the elder brother’s wife, Fatima, had set them off. The couple’s three children were instantly killed.

On Thursday, police confirmed that Mohamed Yusuf Ibrahim had been detained.

“They seemed like good people,” a neighbour told reporters from her rundown home opposite the Ibrahim family residence in the capital. 

In an interview with CNN, Sri Lanka’s prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, said the suspected bombers were upper and middle class, and were well educated abroad, a profile he described as “surprising.”

His surprise was widely shared. In the Sri Lanka, the wider region and beyond, many still find it very difficult to understand how those with comfortable lives can be drawn into extremism, and kill themselves and hundreds of innocent people.

The question has been asked many times before. In Europe, it became an issue in the 1970s when relatively well-off young men and women in Germany, Japan, Italy or the US began to engage in violent activism. With the spread of suicide tactics in the 1980s and early 1990s, it seemed more perplexing than ever.

Then came a new wave of Islamic militancy, with attacks of unprecedented lethality. None of the men who flew planes into the World Trade Center in New York in 2001 faced economic hardship. The leader of their organisation, Osama bin Laden, was the son of a construction tycoon.

One of the Easter Sunday bombers attended Kingston University in south-west London from 2006-07, where he studied aeronautical engineering, and then went on to study in Australia. From a wealthy tea trading family based near the central city of Kandy, he had attended top international schools – as had other bombers, it appears.

There are many examples of terrorists with good educational qualifications among Islamic militants. The current leader of al-Qaida, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is a qualified paediatrician, while two-thirds of the 9/11 attackers had degrees. One plot in Britain in 2007 was almost entirely composed by highly qualified medical personnel. 

A group of Bangladeshis linked to Islamic State that attacked a bakery favoured by westerners in Dhaka in 2016, killing 20 hostages, share a similar profile to the Sri Lankan bombers. Almost all were from wealthy, highly educated backgrounds.

Isis has claimed Sunday’s bombings – its most lethal attack since its emergence five years ago. The group’s leadership has a rather different composition. Many are religious clerics, or former Ba’ath party officials. But many of the volunteers who travelled to Syria and Iraq from countries such as Egypt or Tunisia were from comfortable backgrounds, too, as were many who travelled from the UK.




Sri Lanka attacks: police hunting 140 Isis suspects, says president


However, on close inspection, many of the terrorists who went to university never finished their degrees. Others earned qualifications from institutions with dubious or limited academic credibility; many British extremists fall into this category.

Mohammed Zahran Hashim, the rural Sri Lankan preacher who is thought to have been the leader of the Easter bombing attackers and was in touch with Isis overseas, had limited wealth and only a rudimentary religious education.

Both al-Qaida and Isis have attracted large numbers of foot soldiers from backgrounds that are marginal in diverse ways. This is true in the Middle East and south Asia, where minor tribal leaders, out of work craftsmen, smugglers, former militia members, minor government officials, and poor farmers’ children sent to free religious schools have all been drawn to Islamic militant ideologies.

In Europe, many of the men who carried out recent terrorist attacks in France and Belgium were petty criminals, living on the economic margins.

Taken together, this teaches us that neither education nor economics can help explain any one individual’s violent activism. The literature on radicalisation that has been produced since 2001 has yet to pinpoint a cause, and few experts think there might be one.

Instead there are many factors that are seen as creating a risk of radicalisation. When they combine, the risk becomes a clear and present danger. Terrorism, abhorrent though it may be, is a social activity. Ideas spread and are reinforced among peers, married couples, old school friends and families. These ideas are simple. They explain complex events, identities and histories through a rudimentary and binary narrative. Neither education nor wealth is proof against them, and nor is poverty or ignorance.

Is there any way for Pakistan’s Financial Bailout?


Thursday, 25 April 2019

The ugly Australian: the evolution of a cricket species

How did Australian cricket come to be synonymous with hostility, gamesmanship and verbal abuse? A year on from Sandpapergate, Jarrod Kimber in Cricinfo explores a thorny subject 


GREENVALE, Melbourne. 1993.

Something hit me in the chest, hard. Knocking me a step back. Why was this guy purposefully bumping into me?

It wasn't a normal under-14 game. This was a special event. The crowd was full of not just parents but senior players from the club. The one umpiring was a thickset middle-order batsman from the 1sts named Darren; most called him Dazza.

Mid-pitch I looked around to see if anyone had seen the bowler charge through, but no one had. So I went on batting until I ended up at Dazza's end. He whispered: "If he does that again, hit him with the bat."

It would never have crossed my mind to do that. I grew up in a tough league where everyone played hard, aggressive cricket. But I was 13 and having fun. Cricket was the thing I loved the most, and as much as I wanted to win, it was still just a game.

The next over I went down to talk to my batting partner and looked up in time to see the same bowler charging. This hit was harder. Straightaway I swung my bat, clipping him on the knee. He went down yelping.

His team-mates came from everywhere. None had seen the original shoulder barge on me; everyone had seen me whack him. Some ran at me, others went to the fallen bowler, and their captain raced over to the umpire. It was Dazza, and he smiled while pretending he hadn't seen it. So they ran to the square-leg umpire, who was their coach, and he said he'd seen it. But he'd also seen the bowler drop his shoulder into me and said he deserved to be hit.

Of the two people over 14 years of age on the field, one encouraged escalating, the other said the extra violence was justified. Welcome to Australian club cricket in 1993.

Dazza and their coach had a quick word with the bowler and me. Their coach was adamant I'd done nothing wrong. I was not as sure, but according to him, I'd been "harsh but fair." What he didn't say was the real truth: it was ugly.

Someone's pinching you at school, not once but over and over, for hours. Some are painful but most are annoying, and the frequency bothers you. You tell your teacher and they give the pincher the odd strong look, but they also make it clear you should handle this. It's just pinching. Move away, ignore it, be the bigger person, and it will stop eventually. But it doesn't, and you let it fester. With each pinch the fury within you builds.





Then there's one - not the hardest, not the most gratuitous, but the one that makes it too many, and you explode and throw a punch.

Who gets in trouble? The pincher will be taken aside and talked to about their behaviour, but any severe detentions or suspensions are for the puncher.

That's what Australia has been doing for generations. They needle until you crack. And when you blow up, they claim persecution. No one plays the moral high ground better than an Australian who seconds earlier was the instigator.

It's something Australians, especially boys, are taught from a young age. When you complain: pfft, it's just a joke. When you retaliate: whoa, you went too far. Until the moment you react, it's all hard but fair, something you can laugh about over a beer, and what happens on the field stays on the field. But when you flare up, they adopt the victim card quicker than an Australian fast bowler spits the dummy.

There have been three textbook occasions of this internationally. When Virat Kohli mentioned Ed Cowan's sick mother. Quinton de Kock talking about David Warner's wife. And Ramnaresh Sarwan bringing up Glenn McGrath's wife, who happened to be ill at the time.

In Australian cricket you are called (insert all the expletives you've ever heard here) quite regularly, where everything about your appearance, alleged sexual preferences, schooling, or the car your dad drives are weaponised. If you're not born into that, it can be hard to know how to react.

It's not like Australian cricket ethics are easy to understand. What we are really talking about here is their infamous line, which no two people ever seem to agree on. Yet it is the moral arbiter all Australian cricketers are judged by. Their line, their mythical line, their ever-changing line, is hard not to cross when you grew up in the game, but harder if you're only exposed to it once you're playing international cricket. It's a miracle the Australian team can headbutt the line, given it moves so frequently.

Australian cricketers are experts in cognitive dissonance - the ability to have two separate beliefs at the same time. In the same breath as letting you know they never walk, they'll sledge you out of the corner of their mouth about how you should have walked.

You can't win this - they were born into it. You can only be soft for failing to stand up to the pressure, or a villain for going too far. There is no right reaction. The line is wherever they want it to be; you are always on the wrong side. That is its sole purpose for existing.

"I know he's your captain, but you can't seriously like him as a bloke. You couldn't possibly like him". That was Tim Paine chatting to M Vijay as they played the second Test on India's last tour to Australia.




"Could you repeat that, please, so I can decide if it crossed the line I just drew here in the sand two seconds ago?" © Cricket Australia

In ten years of writing on Australian cricket, I've never heard a bad word about Paine. When he was brought back from the abyss for Tests, people were desperate to say lovely things about him. Jimmy Anderson recently said, "Tim Paine is a genuinely nice guy", on the BBC.

Australian cricket believes in the good-bloke rule. This is about keeping your head in (ego), being harsh but fair (knowing where the line is on your hilarious banter), and not being a dickhead (not breaking whatever local rules there are that you can't possibly remember). You can be anointed a good bloke - even if you are a woman - by someone who has that authority.

If there are good blokes, there are also bad blokes, and if you're a terrible bloke, you can be called a flog. (Look, mate, I don't have time to explain every bit of Australian culture, but a flog is someone who is really bad, like the sort of bloke who uses your ute to haul shit, fails to wash it, and does doughies on your front lawn when they return it. Or someone who doesn't share your outlook on life.) There's no commission or court you can appeal to to have your lousy reputation fixed.

The whole thing is really about fitting in. You need to pass the test of an ever-changing checklist. Often this involves personality traits that the person who decides who the good bloke is believes in.

Can you take a joke at your expense, and when you give one back, does it upset the person who joked at you? Do you drink, and do you get a round in at the bar? Will you not take offence - basically, can you handle the odd off-colour joke about (insert every part of marginalised society here)? And finally, will you complain? Because complaining, pointing out obvious logical fallacies, double standards, racism, sexism or homophobia, that's often not allowed.

A few weeks after my childhood cricket club appointed their first non-white coach, the singer Mandawuy Yunupingu was not allowed into a bar in Melbourne, since he was an indigenous man. The bar owner was afraid: "If these Aborigines saw one of their own kind in here, they would come in, booze, shoot up heroin and cause all sorts of trouble."

The blokes at my cricket club thought it would be funny to put up a sign in the club bar saying, "No black blokes allowed." When the coach came in, he was refused service, and they pointed to the sign. Almost everyone with white skin laughed, and the coach smiled awkwardly, but one other guy didn't laugh or smile. He was the only other non-white player at the club - his parents were Sri Lankan. And he was furious. He called the stunt racist, and ignored the people who told him, "Calm down, mate, it's just a joke."




It's grim in the grades: those who have played both club cricket and internationals say the sledging in the club game is way worse © Getty Images

I remember the talk around the club after that. The coach who had accepted a joke about him in good spirit was a good bloke. The man who had called out this obviously racist joke was a bad bloke. It seemed to me the guys who made the joke weren't the best arbiters of who a good bloke was.

But they were the best cricketers, or the loudest and most gregarious. Or as we'd call them these days, alphas.

Let's use a concrete example of being the person who gets to decide if someone is a good bloke. Darren Lehmann said when Stuart Broad didn't walk in the 2013 Ashes that it was "blatant cheating" and also said, "And I hope he cries and goes home. I don't advocate walking, but when you hit it to first slip, it's pretty hard." He doesn't advocate walking, so why was he complaining? Because Broad's edge was so blatant, it went to slip. So even non-walkers should walk. Except that the edge wasn't that big - it was a decent nick that hit the keeper's glove and rebounded to slip. But despite the apparent evidence of the keeper's glove and the fact that Lehmann doesn't advocate walking, Broad is a bad enough bloke that you hope he goes home crying.




Miandad v Lillee, 1981 © PA PhotosUgly Australians: a brief history

1981 Greg Chappell, Australia's captain, asked his brother Trevor to roll the last ball of the tri-series final on the ground so that Brian McKechnie couldn't hit it over the fence for the six runs needed for New Zealand to win. Richie Benaud called it "one of the worst things I have ever seen done on a cricket field".

1981 The image of Javed Miandad, bat raised, ready to smash Dennis Lillee over the head, after the two had words in the wake of Lillee obstructing Miandad while he took a run did not, thankfully, translate into actual physical violence.

1995 Curtly Ambrose had to be pulled away from Steve Waugh after the Australian swore at him in the Trinidad Test.

2003 Glenn McGrath v Ramnaresh Sarwan could have turned uglier than it actually was, after McGrath needled Sarwan with homophobic abuse and Sarwan retaliated with a comment about McGrath's wife

2004 and 2009 Two Australian players (Justin Langer and Brad Haddin, now both on the Australian coaching staff) have knocked the bails off "accidentally" and had their teams try to claim wickets.

2013 David Warner got in trouble when he took a swipe at Joe Root in a pub in the UK.

2017 Steve O'Keefe was suspended and fined A$20,000 for a "drunken rant" aimed at fellow New South Wales player Rachel Haynes.

2018 Warner again, this time in an argument that nearly led to a fistfight with Quinton de Kock in a stairwell after de Kock said inappropriate things about Warner's wife.

Lehmann also sent a tweet in June 2018 to cricket reporter Alison Mitchell. On her way into The Oval, Mitchell and fellow commentator Mel Jones had been offered "4" and "6" cards printed on sandpaper. Mitchell noted this on Twitter and Lehmann quote-tweeted Mitchell saying: "Your [sic] better than that @AlisonMitchell?" Better than what? Reporting on something that happened to her on the way into the ground?

Lehmann once called Sri Lankan cricketers "black c***s", and in the book Race, Racism and Sports Journalism, you can find him in a case study entitled "Good Blokes and Black C***s". There they quote Malcom Knox from the Age in 2003:

"Yet for Lehmann, the logic has been reversed. His defenders cannot reconcile his outburst against his Sri Lankan opponents with his reputation as a 'good bloke'. Teammates and associates have described Lehmann's slur as an 'out of character' act, committed 'in the heat of the moment' by someone who is 'universally regarded as a nice guy'. Instead, it is the Sri Lankans who are rendered villains, oversensitive and unmanly to complain".

These days we'd just call it locker-room talk, I suppose.

Yet Lehmann is not only still a good bloke (see this for proof) he's also still allowed to call out the opposition for doing things he does, or reporters for doing what they're paid to do.

When Lehmann stepped down from his coaching position, after the culture he was in charge of tampered with the ball, it was Justin Langer who took over. Langer believed in the good-bloke theory so much he had a book placed prominently in his office, The No Asshole Rule. Which is the American version of the good-bloke rule (also see New Zealand's no-dickhead policy).

At the MCG back in the day, the crowd used to abuse Langer heavily in state games. One day he turned around and threatened to beat up the guy abusing him.




He warms the cockles of Boof's heart, Dave does © Getty Images

In the 2002 Boxing Day Test, the Barmy Army decided to goad Brett Lee, whose bowling action had been subject to an ICC review in 2000, with chants of "no-ball". Langer was quick to judge: "I think they were a disgrace. These people standing behind the fence drinking beer, most of them are about 50 kilos overweight, making ridiculous comments. Gee whiz, as far as I'm concerned, it's easy for someone to say that from behind a fence. While they pay their money and all that sort of stuff, gee whiz, I reckon there's some sort of integrity in life."

On the field Langer once took the bails off as he walked past the stumps and then pretended nothing had happened as Australia appealed for a hit-wicket dismissal. Which was every bit as much cheating as using sandpaper was. He offered this explanation to the Good Weekend magazine: it was a habit. "Actually it was the most innocent thing," he said. "I swear to God, I would have done it 10,000 times. It was like a superstition. I'd just touch the top of the bails and walk off."

When Langer received the coaching job, he said, "It doesn't matter how much money, how many games, how many runs you made. If you are not a good bloke, that is what people remember." A few months ago when Australia were struggling against Pakistan, he good-bloked again, "So there are opportunities for guys in the team, and there are opportunities for guys who are good blokes and make a lot of runs."

Maybe Langer is a good bloke. Perhaps I'm just cherry-picking memories about him that annoy me. Langer and I are very different people. So we have a fundamental clash there, and I possibly hold little things against him that I'd forgive others for.

Of course, if I can do that, then Langer can too. And if it's almost like anyone can decide whether someone is a good bloke, then it's not really a proper system to judge people on.

No one experience can claim to take in all of Australian club cricket. Many will have played in Queensland's coastal Rockhampton but will never play in the mural-infested town of Sheffield, Tasmania. There have been slight generational shifts as well. The Saturday night bar is no longer the centrepiece of clubs.

But most - if not all - who have played club cricket and internationals say the sledging in the club game is way worse. When overseas players talk about their time playing for a club, they do so with wide eyes, even years later, still shocked by the treatment they received.

David Warner, one of the world's biggest sledgers, walked off the field in a grade game in Sydney when Phil Hughes' brother, Jason, went at him very hard and personally.

In my time in Australian club cricket, from '88 to '05, I saw some truly heinous things that don't happen at Test or first-class level. Once, when a legspinner bowled a double bouncer, the batsman somehow missed it, and the bowler, for no real logical reason, sent the batsman off by following him from the ground, screaming. The batsman returned and jumped on him. A brawl ensued. Another game involved a near-certain run-out for our team, but their umpire at square leg disagreed, and our point fielder took a stump and charged at him with it. I played in a game with two brothers, one on each side, where they sledged each other so viciously that they eventually swung punches. At a low-level club cricket grand final, one team decided it would be their last season together and they went nuclear with their sledging. Every over they manhandled the batsmen, threatened the umpires and opposition with violence, told the supporters they would get one if they talked back. They said they'd "f*** up" their cars, which in Australia seemed to be the point many thought was too far. This violent, sociopathic team won, and after that most of them were banned for the following season or more. One for life. But it didn't matter, because they won.



The Good Bloke: coming soon to a superhero movie near you © Getty Images

It may only be club cricket, but that is not how it feels. My father played for his team until he needed two knee replacements because of his frequent 30-over days. My uncle would toss his bat when he was out, and used his knowledge of the laws to push the limits of cricket. Once, when I was 13 and my finger was snapped at slip, I went off the field, someone got some electrical tape and taped my fingers together and sent me back out.

That is what you did. It was your club, your mates, it meant something, so you put in. You risk your body, or sledge until you get a lifetime ban.

It was about winning, at any cost.

Forget academies, development squads, school cricket or underage competitions, Australia believes club cricket makes them great. Throwing boys in among men. Amateur cricket with a professional work ethic. The baggy green is only the final thing to dedicate yourself to.

David Warner was fielding close-in during the Cape Town Test in 2014. You didn't have to see him there; you could hear him. He was on the howl.

In the first innings, when Faf du Plessis had assumed the ball was dead, he'd picked it up, and the Australians abused him for it. They didn't appeal, though du Plessis had grabbed it before it was dead, and without consent from them. At the press conference after play, du Plessis said, "They run like a pack of dogs around you when you get close to that ball."

Hence the howling. It lasted for almost all of du Plessis' second innings. He made 47 off 109 balls in 157 minutes, and the Australians howled through most of it. TV and radio both turned up the sound off the mics, often when Nathan Lyon or Steve Smith were bowling, and there were men (read Warner) around the bat. But you could see it even with the fast men; fielders coming in and acting like cartoon dogs barking at the moon.

There are various styles of Australian nicknames: descriptive, your name but shorter, random, and ironic. Warner became known as the Bull - a comment on his physicality and personality. But his nickname evolved; he became the Reverend. It happened after he got married, became a father, stopped drinking, and took his fitness seriously.

Warner no longer wanted to be the attack dog. He had matured; he wasn't the same guy as when young. The bloke who smashed Dale Steyn back into the Southern Stand and took a swing at Joe Root in a bar was now the best runner between the wickets in the world and a family man.

The Australian team didn't always need him to be that wild dog; it had others. Brad Haddin was around. It was Haddin who mocked New Zealand for being too nice when people suggested that the Australian team could be like them. This was the same Haddin who failed to alert the umpire that it was he who knocked the bails off when Neil Broom was "bowled". Not just failed to report that he'd broken the bails, he celebrated a wicket as bowled when he had to have felt his gloves break the stumps.

Peter Nevill replaced Haddin. Nevill is no one's idea of an angry man, but when the team failed, Steve Smith said he wanted Nevill to be more vocal. While he didn't want Nevill to be an attack dog - he'd be little more than a stern-looking Mexican hairless - it's clear Australia had decided they needed one.




Haddin: not nice, and proud of it © Getty Images

So when Nevill's form with the bat didn't improve, and he made some uncharacteristic mistakes with the gloves, Matthew Wade replaced him. There was little talk of Wade being the superior keeper, and until that point in the season, Nevill had made more Test runs than Wade had in Shield cricket. Their first-class records were also very similar. But Wade could be vocal.

Wade is known as one of the harder guys in Australian cricket, and he's always in the ear of batsmen - whether it's with the catchphrase of "Noice, Garry" or by sledging. Wade is often up at the stumps, arms folded, glove just across his lips, giving the batsman his advice. And Wade will do whatever he needs for a win, including when he did a Baryshnikov twirl on the wicketduring a game for Victoria, which earned him a suspension for pitch-doctoring.

While Wade was loud, in his recall he averaged 20, two fewer than Nevill. So he was dropped, and rather than go back to the quiet Nevill, they went to the equally nice Paine - who can talk, but even his sledges end up as friendly memes. It wasn't the "noise" or aggression they were looking for when they hired Wade again.

So the Bull was reactivated, and the reverend collar returned to the costume-hire shop.

Before the 2017-18 Ashes, Warner said he planned on "being vocal". During the series, England were annoyed twice by him. At first, it was with ball-tampering, which they assumed he was doing using his finger bandages. They even asked journalists to keep an eye out for it. Also, his sledging of Jonny Bairstow, which started being about Bairstow headbutting Cameron Bancroft, then crossed into other abuse. England suggested privately that it was incredibly personal and hurtful.

After the Ashes and before the infamous tour of South Africa, David Warner sat down for an interview with Adam Collins and Geoff Lemon on their Final World podcast. "You are always going to say something in the media," he said. "That's what I love doing... [being] the pantomime villain. If you want to be that person you want to be. And that's me."

Pantomime villain. That's how he referred to the role, because it's not serious to them. It is make-believe, nothing more. And if you are seen as the bad guy by a few other countries, or get the odd angry op-ed about you, then so be it. It's about the team, the cap, your mates. You do what you have to do.

When Warner was seen in his off-field confrontation with de Kock, Adam Gilchrist said on radio, "the Reverend's gone, Bull's back".

When Bancroft gave an interview about his role in the ball-tampering scandal, much of what he said was him trying to play his role as the victim. Aside from that he said one thing that showed the way Australian cricket is. "I've asked myself this question a lot. If I had said 'no', what would that have meant? If I actually said 'no', and I went to bed that night, I had the exact same problem. I had the problem that I had using the sandpaper on the cricket ball. And the problem was that I would have gone to bed and I would have felt like I let everybody down. I would have felt like I would have hurt our chances to win the game of cricket."

An Australian player messaged me when the first Al Jazeera documentary on match-fixing was released last year. "Do you know anything about this Al Jazeera thing? Can't believe any Aussie cricketers would be involved?" A few other Australian players have since shared that sentiment. They seem to think that as if by birthright and a devotion to the baggy green, they won't do anything wrong.




In the '70s, men were men and Australian men doubly so © Getty Images

Australian cricketers have gone to jail, are involved in dodgy housing schemes, and have hit their wives. They do the things that cricketers in every other society do. They're flawed human beings, but they don't seem to see that part.

And when Australians do something terrible, there's always a spin on it.

Like when Shane Warne took a banned substance - a known masking agent - right before a Cricket World Cup. But an Australian cricketer wouldn't take drugs. Except, um, that one guy, sorry, and this guy. But Warne was just vain and naïve, not someone who was potentially hiding another drug. It was like when Warne and Mark Waugh took payments from a bookie for pitch information and the Australian board hid it from the public because the team was on the way to the West Indies for the series that would make them the world's No. 1 Test team. They didn't fix a match, they just received money from a bookmaker. I assume both times the players were on the right side of the line.

People do commit crimes in Australia; not just the immigrants who cop much of the blame but born-and-bred Aussies as well. We've committed serial murder, and the place has a huge problem with domestic violence. The Australian government currently locks up refugees - including children - on the islands of Manus and Nauru, and there has been systemic mistreatment of indigenous people for much of our history.

Australia is subject to the same problems as most modern western countries. It pretends it's not a nation of immigrants, gets involved in wars based on spurious reasons, poisons the earth, and our highest-ranking Catholic, Archbishop George Pell, has been found guilty of child sexual assault.

While we might have an elevated opinion of ourselves, we're subject to the same problems as the rest of humanity.

That self-delusion is what leads to a year-long ban for an offence that others have not even been suspended for. When the ball-tampering happened, Australia clutched at their communal pearls, not so much because of the tampering but because the players were found guilty of bursting the illusion.

Walking was never a word where I played. If there was ever a conversation about it, it was usually about respecting the umpire's decision. "You are there to play cricket, their job is to umpire".

But I also remember the first time it became an issue for me. I was playing senior cricket as a 15-year-old, and I opened the batting and had eight overs to get to stumps. From the moment I took guard, the fielding side took an immediate dislike to me. For eight overs I didn't receive a ball in my half. Off one, I went to hook. There was a huge noise as the ball flew through to the keeper. They appealed, the umpire said not out, they abused him for that. When that did no good, they turned on me for not walking. A few minutes later it was stumps, and they were still abusing me as we left the ground.




If you're Aussie and you know it, shout: Jimmy Barnes and Cold Chisel at a concert ahead of the NRL Grand Final in 2015 © Getty Images

The next day's play took place the following Saturday, and when I took guard again, the sledging recommenced. For the first half hour they were just calling me a cheat. Then they upgraded to threatening violence. The longer I stayed, the worse it got. Then one of them worked out my mother was there and they suggested they were going to have sex with her, with or without her consent.

Even to my 15-year-old brain it was clear that they weren't serious about it. They were just trying to upset me so I'd play a rash shot. But it was so intense being surrounded by grown men screaming and threatening. I kept thinking: these are adults, with proper jobs, who pay taxes, run the BBQ at club events, and have wives and girlfriends who love them. And they are trying to destroy me.

The common wisdom in club cricket is that if you are playing senior level while still young, they should treat you like an adult. It's that intense working over that sorts out the real players, they say. If you survive, you are stronger. But if you survive you are also indoctrinated.

To this day I'm as sure as I can be (which as modern technology has told us, isn't much) that I didn't nick it. But that play and miss changed me. I stayed in as they abused; we won the match, and after that game I never walked. After living through that, I figured I was tough enough to survive club cricket, and I'd play to the umpire's call, and give as good as I got. They didn't get me to walk, but they turned me to their way.

Somewhere along the road, Australian fans changed from cricket fans, well turned out, polite clapping, the odd cheeky word, to more abusive and violent. Sure, there were always types like Yabba, the loudmouth Australian barracker. But you see the old photos of crowds at the MCG or SCG - everyone wearing hats; they could have been on their way to church.

The country itself was a weird mix of England, Ireland and Scotland, with the indigenous rarely mentioned. Publicly we often looked and acted English. Privately we're more Irish and Scottish. Errol Flynn was a born-and-bred Australian with only three years of study in England, yet when he talked, he spoke the Queen's. Compare how he sounded with Mel Gibson, who only moved to Australia when he was 12 and sounded Aussie as.

Somewhere between Flynn's swashbuckling and Gibson's Mad-Maxing, the change was made. Music and cricket showed it best. In the 1970s, Billy Thorpe & the Aztecs, the Angels, AC/DC, and Cold Chisel exploded with their pub rock - sweaty, bare-chested and raw. Lobby Loyde playing guitar, the cigarette hanging from his lips, Jimmy Barnes screaming not singing, and the Young brothers' staccato guitar and piss-taking lyrics. It couldn't have come from anywhere other than Australia, even if not all those musicians were born there.

At the same time in cricket you had Ian Chappell's fierceness, Jeff Thomson's power, Dennis Lillee's presence, and Rod Marsh's anger. These weren't cricketers, they were Australian cricketers. Chappelli wore his shirt unbuttoned because Richie Benaud did. But it wasn't the same. When Benaud did it, he looked like a Gap model; Chappelli made it look like war. Richie was Errol Flynn; Chappelli was Mel Gibson.

They looked angry, played hard, and gave no shits. The slips cordon looked like a bunch of blokes turning up from a pub. The fast bowlers were liked hired goons. There was facial hair, chest hair, and long hair, all of it sweaty. It was a visceral XI - you smelt it.




Why should football fans have a monopoly on in-stadium argy bargy with security staff? A spectator is ejected during the 2012 MCG Test © Getty Images

It's tempting to suggest that they changed the culture, but they were the public face. Lillee's long hair and Loyde's ciggie were just the public manifestations of what was happening in backyards and pubs across the nation. The blokes on the ground looked the same as those in the outer, who'd turn up with a foam esky full of longnecks and drink all day.

The first sign that the crowd had massively turned was probably back when John Snow, the English fast bowler, hit Terry Jenneron the head. Jenner was a tailender, and the umpire had already warned Snow for intimidatory bowling. Snow stormed off to the boundary as the SCG crowd booed him. When he arrived there, some tried to shake his hand, but one fan grabbed at Snow and wouldn't let go, pulling him into the picket fence while other fans threw pies and beer cans at him. That was in 1971.

The MCG was the worst. The vast crowds, hot weather and Christmas holidays seemed to bring out the worst in the fans. My first memory from a Test is of a member of the crowd hitting a Pakistan player as he tried to retrieve a ball. Melbourne fans threw bottles and golf balls at Mark Ealham. A New Zealand player was also almost once hit. You could have as much fun in Bay 13 (the area of the ground made infamous by the Merv Hughes stretching) counting how many spectators got thrown out as watching the game. You also had to beware the story that people would piss in empty beer cups and throw them in the air during the Mexican wave. Maybe that was not true, but on more than one occasion that story passed the smell test.

In 2002, Cricket Australia CEO James Sutherland told the Age, "It's pretty clear from the ICC's point of view that the MCG is in the worst three grounds in the world for crowd behaviour, based on the record in the last few years."

Cricket crowds are not like that in Australia anymore. The MCG and other stadiums have made it virtually impossible to find full-strength beer. But Australian cricket crowds can still be rancid.

In recent years New Zealand bowler Iain O'Brien has been called a faggot by the Gabba crowd. England's Jonathan Trott (who spent time with a psychologist to block out Australian crowds) had to listen to the crowd - including a policeman - chant "Trott, Trott, your mum's got vagina rot." The last Boxing Day Test, Mitchell Marsh was booed by the MCG, and fans were ejected for chanting "Show us your visa" at Indian players and fans.

Crowd behaviour might have changed from the violent and weird '70s, '80s and '90s, but one thing that remains is that Australian crowds are not like cricket watchers in the rest of the world. They are the closest thing cricket has to football fans.

Which arm should we start with - underarm or broken f****n arm? There was the sledging of Glenn Turner. And also Lillee and Javed Miandad fighting. Not to mention the invention of the term "mental disintegration". Do I really have to state all the incidents where Australian cricketers have behaved shockingly? The internet might run out of space if I do.




Samuels v Warne: unseemly or a marketing man's dream? © Getty Images

Sharda Ugra listed more than a few here; you can find another few from Osman Samiuddin here. And if you read any piece on Sandpapergate, you'll have found a few more. Australian cricket has always been synonymous with bad behaviour. It's a brand, or even a badge of honour.

A couple of years ago I was in a coffee shop with an Australian coach when one of the women's team players came by to talk about her next match. They were talking about one player who had played for them and had now moved to the opposition. The coach had worked with the cricketer who had moved, so he gave advice about all her weaknesses. Not one of them was technical or about how she played. They were all about her personality and perceived psychological tender spots. It was a perfect illustration of what Ugra described as "premeditated toxic confrontation, a drama scripted between balls".

And it's so deep within cricket's everyday fibre in Australia that it runs from the bottom to the top. When India captain Anil Kumble spoke of how only one team was playing in the spirit of the game in the aftermath of the Sydney Test of 2008, Sutherland responded with: "Test cricket is what is being played here. It's not tiddlywinks."

A few years later came the Big Bash stoush between Marlon Samuels and Shane Warne, where Warne walked down the wicket abusing Samuels and pulled at his shirt, after claiming that Samuels had interfered with a Stars batsman trying to run by pulling his shirt. A few balls later Warne seemed to throw the ball intentionally at Samuels from less than two metres away. Samuels responded by flopping his bat over Warne's head - like he wanted to throw it at him and at the last minute thought better of it.

Samuels was wrong to impede a Stars batsman, Warne was wrong to grab Samuels, Warne was wrong to throw the ball at Samuels, and Samuels was wrong to throw the bat. It was ugly and stupid, and both players should have been looking at long suspensions. Warne was suspended for one game, Samuels none, and Sutherland said, "To be honest I thought it looked like two teams playing in front of a very big crowd in a highly charged environment with a lot at stake. Players are entertainers, they're putting on a show, but first and foremost they're also sportsmen who are competing for big prizes, and I think whilst we can stand here and say we don't condone anything that happened last night, this sort of thing is probably something that only inspires a greater rivalry between the Renegades and the Stars and creates greater interest for the Big Bash League."

You know the problem is deep when the CEO of the board essentially says, "Hey kids, grab a bloke on the field, throw a ball at him, toss your bat dangerously. It just creates more interest. It's not tiddlywinks, you big silly."

And this is the body whose job is to police and organise Australian cricket. Instead, they have often sought to defend silly and offensive behaviour. This is the same organisation that helped cover up Warne and Mark Waugh receiving money from a bookie, who joined the Big Three so willingly, and banned three players for what was a systemic problem in Australian cricket. As Michael Holding once said, "The players are the kids, and the board are the parents." CA might be the adults in the room, but they also grew up in this society.




John Snow being manhandled by fans on the boundary was an early milestone in Australian crowds turning aggressive © Getty Images

They might now want to cleanse Australian cricket culture of the things that make it hard to market to families. And with Sandpapergate, they'll take a moment to try to be good, as they did in the aftermath of Phil Hughes' death. But they still believe in sledging, they still want to play hard, aggressive cricket. They still want to win.

Many Australians think this kind of behaviour helps them win.

''I think there's no doubt the team's performance has been affected. 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 Cricket Australia or 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.''

That was Paul Marsh, son of Rod, and then CEO of the Australian Cricketers' Association, speaking in 2010-11.

"If you keep toning us down, toning us down, you'll make us the same as everybody else."

That was Ricky Ponting, the former captain and commentator, after Australia returned briefly to the top of the ICC rankings in 2014.

Australian cricket has always been this way, hasn't it? I mean, they're the bad guys, the aggressors, the mouthy ones, those who push the laws of the game, because that is what we can remember.

In fact, it was Australia - the first country to unleash a two-man pace attack capable of hurting people - who complained about Bodyline. And they didn't just complain because they were losing - they could have picked a team of quicks themselves. They did it because they thought it was against the spirit of the game.

Part of the early Ashes rivalry was based on Australia feeling aggrieved at things WG Grace did. Like when he "kidnapped" Billy Murdoch from the Australian dressing room before a match. Or perhaps the most famous one where he ran out Sammy Jones while the allrounder was off down the pitch, gardening.

Australians were the nice guys. Victor Trumper was a shining light of all things wonderful, Bill Ponsford was a hugely respected figure in the game, and Benaud would go on to be the game's voice and conscience. And sure, there was also Warwick Armstrong, who is probably ground zero for how Australian cricket came to be known, but it's not true that Australia was always that way.

And here is the thing: Australia were still great in this nice-guy era. Until 1970 they won 46% of their Tests; the next two best were England on 38% and West Indies on 33%. Australia produced the game's greatest player and dominated the Ashes. There was no talk of mental disintegration back then, the word "sledge" barely existed, and no one tried to break anyone's f****n arm. And yet they were still easily the best Test nation.

Since 1970, Australia have won 47% of their Tests; only South Africa are higher, at 49%. Pakistan are way back in third place, on 35%. And while South Africa have won a slightly higher percentage of Tests, they have not had a reign as dominant as Australia's, nor have they won a single ICC event. Australia have five World Cups. They are unquestionably the greatest cricket nation and have been for a very long time.




The way we were: spectators at a Test during the 1954-55 Ashes © Getty Images

They were not always the most hated cricket nation. That has built up over time, perhaps because of all the winning, perhaps because they bought into their own bullshit. The fundamental lie comes in those Paul Marsh and Ricky Ponting statements that have been repeated by so many Australian cricketers and fans over the years. They believe the sledging brought success, when it was the success that brought the sledging. Australian cricketers have never been better because they've sledged; they're just better, and because of that, they sledge.

And that is in part because Australia is a remarkable sporting nation. They have dominated men's and women's tennis, had multiple No. 1s in golf, invented a new stroke just to kill at swimming, and are consistently one of the highest-rated countries in terms of medals per capita at the Olympics. They've won world titles in netball, hockey, both forms of rugby, and despite having virtually no snow, have also won Winter Olympic golds. Melbourne has had two NBA No. 1 draft picks, Albury a WNBA MVP, Queensland has won 26 Olympic gold medals for swimming, and Canberra has provided a Formula One-winning driver. Mount Isa, a place in the middle of Queensland that the overwhelming majority of Australians will never visit, has produced a British Masters winner in golf and a US Open winner in tennis.

Most countries with a population of around 20 million aren't well known, let alone well known for dominating a sport. Australia has been on top of so many.

There's a book called The Lucky Country by Donald Horne, where the author writes: "Australia is a lucky country run mainly by second rate people who share its luck." "The lucky country" is a phrase still used, although not in the original negative sense Horne meant; more that of: aren't we lucky to be from here?

Well, Australia's sports are lucky too. If you planned an ideal nation for sport, Australia would be near perfect. There have been no major wars at home, most of the country is well above the poverty line, there is space for facilities, and the weather is incredible. Then you look at how sport grew. Starting as much to take down the English as for anything else, sport became part of Australia's national identity. At a local level, communities formed around playing and watching sport.

Australia is a tough country; colonising it took hard work. You had to take your chances, back yourself, and help your mates, just to survive. Every team, from the F grade on matting through to the baggy green, still has people who will put in for the side like they are playing for something bigger - the flag, their community, their mates, it doesn't matter. Australian athletes quite often play like they have a significant cause to win for. When you play them, you aren't taking on another team of athletes, you're taking on zealots.

Years ago, during a marathon, an Australian TV commentator pointed out that the top three runners were an Australian and two world-class Kenyans. He mentioned the two Kenyans had far better recent and personal bests. Then added, "But what they don't have is an Australian heart".




Bay 13 at the MCG shows off its wit and wisdom during a 2005 game © Getty Images

They might be more talented, but we'll fight harder and longer. We overlook all the other advantages that Australians have for sport, and just focus on the way we play it, and our giant Australian-made hearts. It doesn't matter if this is nonsense, or that Kenyans also have hearts, and that they would have loved to have grown up in a lucky sports country. It matters that Australian athletes believe in this notion of the cause, and that they try to live up to it.

It is all these reasons that make Australia a remarkable sporting nation that plays sport its own way.

But working out what the Australian way is in cricket is quite tough. A few years ago Russell Jackson took a look at Jack Pollard's book Cricket - The Australian Way. It talks a lot about how Australians play cricket and essentially boils it down to a slogan: play aggressive, positive cricket.

Darren Lehmann had his own lecture series, "The Australian Way", back in 2014. Sam Perry wrote about it:

"A glimpse at a presentation delivered by national coach Darren Lehmann in 2014 to invite-only coaches is instructive […] It outlined how Australia needed to play its cricket. It encouraged attendees to implement Lehmann's philosophy throughout the country. Understandably, it skewed to aggression.

A slide headlined 'Batting - Key Points' saw Lehmann note the importance of being 'aggressive in everything you do!', that '[our] first thought is to score', and that 'team philosophy is going to be aggression and freedom going forward'. The first point of his opening slide simply said 'WTBC' (translation: 'Watch the ball, c***'), going to show that even the most elementary aspect of Australian batting now requires aggression."

So how did Australian cricket get from "aggressive, positive cricket" to "hard, aggressive cricket" and "watch the ball, c***"?

Society changed. And Australia won a lot. They won everything. They beat England into oblivion, finally took down West Indies, collected World Cups, and then fought back against India's obvious challenge to their rightful No. 1 spot.

Did they do this with positive, aggressive cricket? Yes, but they also did it by creating the first truly professional cricket environment. Academies, coaches, sports science, dieticians, psychologists and many other advantages were there for the players. They found some of the most naturally talented players of all time. But it was also about the way their less than all-time great players, from the battlers to the incredibly gifted, were kept in the machine of Australian cricket.

It would seem that in the modern era, for Australia to be great it takes a lot more than positive, hard, aggressive cricket or watching the ball.

In his column for Players Voice after Sandpapergate, former Australia coach Mickey Arthur wrote about the team:
"The behaviour has been boorish and arrogant. The way they've gone about their business hasn't been good, and it hasn't been good for a while. I know what my Pakistani players were confronted with in Australia two summers ago. I heard some things said to the English players during the Ashes. It was scandalous. And I have seen many incidents like Nathan Lyon throwing the ball at AB de Villiers in this series."
[…] "There has been no need for the Australians to play this way. They are wonderful cricketers. They haven't needed to stoop to the depths they have to get results."

That seems like positive, aggressive feedback.

***

CRAIGIEBURN, Melbourne. 1995.

A lot of balls hit me in the chest, hard.

It was a semi-final for our under-16 team. We hadn't played well but had scraped through to the finals. We were playing the best side, Craigieburn. They were a decent team, with one outstanding player. They called him Killer; I think it was something to do with his surname. To anyone who played against him, he seemed a foot taller and thicker than anyone else in our competition. The name was apt.


Australians are past masters at needling you till you blow up, and then playing the victim Quinn Rooney / © Getty Images

We batted first and I opened, because no one else wanted to. Killer bowled downwind on a synthetic turf wicket, where even slow-medium bowlers get some bounce. He was a fair bit quicker than that, and every ball came up at my body. With a bunch of slips, a short leg and a leg gully, I wouldn't last long.

So I let the ball hit me in the chest. I'd never been hit by a quick bowler before, so the first one really stung. I was winded for a moment, as Killer laughed. But from then on in, as long as they didn't hit a vital organ or bone, I could take them. After a few hits, I was turning my back and ducking when he bowled short. The ball kept slamming into my back.

Every time Killer hit me, he got more upset. He started with glares, moved on to general abuse, told me he was going to retire me and made suggestions about my sexuality and gender along the way. His anger took over when he was tired. By the time he was near his tenth over, I could barely feel the ball hitting my back. And he could hardly scream about how shit I was.

After his last ball he stood mid-pitch, winded, clapping at me.

The next over a terrible bowler delivered a half-tracker and I skied it straight up in the air to be caught. Our batsmen fell apart - even without Killer - and we ended up with only 130 to defend.

Killer, like many under-16 superstars, opened the bowling and batting. A few weeks earlier we'd played him, and he'd driven a ball over the fence, past a 30-metre park area, across a road and into a tennis court. I knew that in an hour batting he'd score most of the 130 on his own. So I sledged him.

He was a big bloke who was known for bowling fast and hitting hard. I called him an ox. I just figured - rightly as it turned out - that he'd been named versions of that his whole life. Every time I called him an ox, he swung as hard as he could. He whacked a six and I told him he was too simple to play a real shot. He played and missed and I suggested that his ox brain couldn't handle a complex delivery. He mishit into a gap and I asked him if he wanted us to dumb the bowling down for him. Each ball he tried to hit further. A few disappeared; mostly they were clunked or missed.

I commentated each one, and he swung each time like the ball was my head.

His final delivery, he swung so hard that it was incredible his shoulders didn't dislocate. The ball took the top edge and the keeper completed a steepling catch. When it was caught, Killer dropped his head and trudged off with his quick 30-odd. I followed him off for a few steps before shouting at his back, "Bye-bye, Oxy, baby."

It was graceless and pointless. Also quite unhealthy, as Killer followed me with his bat raised for a few metres until one of our players caught him and suggested he leave the field. At the time I thought it was a masterstroke. But looking back, had we dotted him up, put pressure on him other ways - and we had the bowlers to get him out conventionally, perhaps for less than 30 - the new ball wouldn't have had a chunk of leather taken out from slamming onto a footpath. Either way, we lost the game.

I'd like to tell you that my embarrassment at being this big an idiot - not to mention the potential injury I could have received - meant I never did something that stupid again.

But the next time we needed to win a game, I was that idiotic. Over the next ten years, I did plenty of similarly stupid things to rile the opposition. There were times I claimed a catch I hadn't taken, tried faux mental disintegration, and looked the other way when my team were tampering with the ball. And in that time I went from the kid who learnt it to the adult who taught it.

I thought I was playing hard, aggressive cricket, the Australian way. Now it feels different; I was playing the game the way I had been taught, and because I didn't stand up to that, I was just another ugly Australian.