The Will to Win in Australian Cricket. Outcomes

Michael Roberts

Australian cricket mirrors Australian sporting culture in that it  is marked by a relentless will to win. At the highest level of Australian cricket in recent years it has generated several outcomes. I summarize these consequences in haphazard order.

  1. As revealed recently in South Africa, it has led to ball-tampering – probably acts that have been quite systematic in the recent past.
  2. This has been accompanied by pugnacious mourning – exemplified over recent years by the on-field face and verbals of Stephen Smith.
  3. It has heightened the age-old Australian cricketing philosophy of verbal intimidation within the cricket field directed towards unsettling the opposing batsmen and securing wickets …. and a WIN.
  4. Verbal assaults have on occasions been supported by intimidating bouncer-barrages that exceed the limits set bythe  ICC … a practice that led to the unintentional killing of Phil Hughes in a Sheffield Shield match (see Roberts 2016)

The latter, Point D, calls for a special essay that will reiterate details spelt out earlier.[1] I focus here on the present contretemps and the outcry in Australian circles.[2]  

The condemnation directed at the Australian captain and vice-captain at the highest levels of Aussie politics and from both past cricketers and media personnel has been loud and clear. Such commentary is welcome, albeit long overdue.

The principal declamation has been directed at ball tampering as “cheating.” No quarrels there. The most welcome dimension, however, sis in the readiness of a few critics to refer to the (a) the drive to win and (b) to refer to the practices of “bullying’ pursued by Australian cricketers on the field of cricket.

Thus, at long last, some critics have assailed the practices of verbal intimidation that have been a standard, ingrained pursuit at most levels of Australian cricket. “To bully’ and “bullying” are negative traits in the Australian world view. That the term has – at long last – been assigned and linked to “sledging” is one of the positives coming out of the debacle and contretemps at Cape Town.

There is, however, a hitch. For decades the term “sledging” has been an euphemism embracing a wide variety of on-field verbals ranging from wisecracks and banter to acts of verbal intimidation that can be deemed “verbal assaults.” As such, the term was a blanket – one that enabled the assaults to continue.

These practices have continued for years — aided by the weak ICC regimen and weak umpiring.  These practices have thereby upset the idea of a level playing field because some sides are better at verbal assaults than other sides ….. and have pugnacious and ferocious characters and/or clever personnel versed in bar-room thrust-and-cut. That is WHY I have always refused to use the term “sledging” and demanded the punishment of sin-bin for acts of verbal intimidation.

Verbal intimidation, rendered benign by the term “sledging,” has been a standard Australian policy pursued from way back, embracing teams captained by Taylor, Waugh, Ponting, etc etc. In the South African series, it seems to have been raised to decibel levels, partly due to the pugnacious style of David Warner, the designated “chief sledger.”


Significantly, after the pavilion-step confrontations during the Second Test at Port Elizabet h the Australian team management is said to have requested (or was it a demand?) for the stump-microphones to be turned off at Cape Town.

If this claim is valid, what does this reveal? The Aussie team leadership was determined to pursue an aggressive course at Cape Town directed towards securing a win. This initial move signalled a programme of aggressive verbal assault. It was to be supplemented by ball-tampering designed to assist reverse swing.

Suspecting the latter, the South African Board and/or the team had also taken precautions: they had instructed the TV camera teams to keep close track – with multiple cameras perhaps? – of the ball. Bancock, the designated ball-tamperer, was caught red-handed …. or rather, with his hand down the pants. It is pertinent to note that, thereafter, some cameras immediately panned to du Plessis in the pavilion marking Bancroft’s action to others, while yet another camera panned-in on Lehmann speaking behind cupped hands on his microphone.

In brief, the Aussie schemers went too far and did so in blithe ham-handed manner …. And were caught out by a defensive South African counter-scheme. Kapuwa kapoothi[3] as we Sri Lankans would say.


Michael Roberts 2006: “Sin Bin for Verbal Intimidation” in Roberts, Essaying Cricket: Sri Lanka and Beyond, Colombo, Vijitha Yapa Publications, 2006, pp. 98-102.

Michael Roberts 2013: “Verbal Assault on the cricket field: ICC piss-weak, TV commentators insouciant,”  27 November 2013,

Frank Coletta of Daily Mail: ‘If I have to be a bit verbal I will’: David Warner defends his fiery exchange with Indian players after scoring his second century of the Test,” 13 December 2014,

Michael Roberts 2018: “Divine Kingship in Cricket,” 24 March 2018,

Michael Roberts 2016: “Intimidating Assault Tactics behind Phil Hughes Death by Bouncer,” 27 October 2016,


[1] This article will use my 2016 essay in more succinct manner to argue my contention that the “will to win” means excess of all types –excesses that are related. Doug Bollinger was using a combination of verbal threats and a series of bouncers in the particular over after lunch (with Hughes (already over a half-century) when one bouncer happened, by misfortune, to hit Hughes on a vulnerable spot in the neck.

[2] This article is informed by news coverage on different channels in Adelaide and also by news articles. I did not take notes when watching TV, so I cannot cite chapter and verse.

[3] Kapuwa Kapoothi = the “the fixer fixed.”

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