There has been plenty of discussion lately on ‘the spirit of cricket’, ‘the right way to play the game’, and other abstract concepts best expressed within quotation marks. What is undeniable though, is that a difference of opinion exists – cricketers from different nationalities have dramatically different approaches to the game. From an Indian standpoint, the biggest differences in opinion have usually been with Australia. So we decided to ask Matthew Hayden on what Australian cricketing culture is all about. And yes, would the Kevin Pietersen saga have played out differently if Pietersen had been Aussie?
We begin with Pietersen. Hayden insists that Pietersen would have been picked, and treated very differently if he had been Australian. He explains that the Aussie team culture would have ‘not allowed any nonsense’ and that while Pietersen might have made some regrettable decisions, the egalitarian nature of the Australian team would have put it down to ‘young blokes making mistakes’.
Hayden also explains that there have been plenty of Australian cricketers with ‘big personalities that want to be on the front foot’, but get reined in by the group. So Pietersen would definitely have been in the team, if he was Australian.
Australian cricketing culture
We then move on to the Aussie way of playing cricket. Hayden begins by saying a lot of it is common sense – vilification of any individual is pretty clear-cut. He then elaborates – any sort of vilification on the basis of race, religion or body type is absolutely unacceptable.
‘Intimidation/domination’ however is acceptable according to Hayden. In his opinion, a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ should be a part of the game, because cricket continues to largely be a ‘one on one’ contest – between a batsman and a bowler. A large part of that agreement would include staying away from physical contact.
Hayden then points out specific instances where the ICC has made errors – most notably in the recent fining of Hardik Pandya. Pandya was celebrating his first wicket, and was fined for an overly exuberant celebration. Hayden insists that there’s nothing wrong in that – after all Pandya had just taken his first wicket on debut. What’s wrong though, is abusing a batsman on his way out – that in his book is unacceptable.
Different cultures have drastically different ways of looking at the same incident, and Hayden agrees that the line between right and wrong isn’t very solid. It’s distinctions like this that make it important to understand different cricketing cultures.
We then offer a suggestion – perhaps the best way to play cricket is ‘hard but fair’? Hayden agrees – and feels that Australia play their best cricket when they play like a ‘hungry pack of successful alpha dogs looking to dominate and fight’. If that doesn’t sound overly pleasant, Hayden provides an explanation. He insists that while Australia is a country of just 23 million people, it’s got a very proud sporting culture. Players need to compete hard for their spot in the team, and most current players only make the team at age 27/28. It’s this competitiveness, in his opinion, that gives Australia their edge.
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