This is a tough piece to write.
I've always loved the Australian cricket side. I grew up with Healy, Boon, McDermott, Taylor, Slater - legends of the game, loveable larrikins who paved the way for one of the most dominant sporting sides the world has ever seen through the late 1990s and early 2000s. My summers were a staple of cricket on TV, running outside to play in the backyard with my brother until it got too hot before heading back inside to watch it on TV. As a 10-year-old we were shepherded in to the school library to watch the final session of the Sheffield Shield final in 1995 - a seminal moment for any Queenslander after 63 years of coming up empty.
Steve Waugh's 'mental disintegration' tactics never sat well with me. Maybe that's just my personality, but I believe in 'if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all'. I loved Matthew Hayden but hated his reputation as a snarling, foul-mouthed sledger on the field. I hated supporting the 'ugly Australians', and breathed a sigh of relief when other teams made themselves unlikable, for example, India with the 'Monkeygate' scandal in 2008. When captaining a lower grade club side a 'no dickhead' policy was firmly in place, sledging the opposition was not accepted.
A depressing regression
Things seemed to have died down a little on the front - the New Zealand side under Brendon McCullum and then Kane Williamson became the darlings of world cricket by playing an attractive style with a nice guy mentality, and that seemed to catch on. So, the downhill slide of the Australians over the recent Ashes and now against South Africa has been depressing. Comments from Steve Smith about Australians needing to play aggressive cricket to play at their best are fine, but aggressive need not include mouthing obscenities at the opposition. One look at Dave Warner's face after AB de Villiers was run out in the Durban Test and the tirade of abuse he directed at Aiden Markram will tell you that this is way past aggression - it's ugly, it's unnecessary, and it has to stop. If that is the behaviour that these players need to play at the best the there are serious engrained problems within the team.
And now the ball tampering. I have no words left to describe it. Can anyone else remember the vitriol that was directed towards Faf du Plessis after he was suspended ahead of the Adelaide Test in 2016 for ball tampering? Believe me, what Cameron Bancroft has done, in cahoots with Smith and other senior players, is far worse. Smith has said 'we'll learn from it, and get past it'. While I admire that they have come clean straight away, I'm sorry Steve, but you were CHEATING. You weren't just breaking the spirit of the game, you and your players literally broke the laws of the game. This is not something to just get past, this is shaking the moral fabric of the belief that the Australian public has in its team. This from the side who is apparently the keeper of the 'line' for on-field behaviour, and heaven help anyone who isn't Australian who crosses that imaginary line. This from a side who's coach was quoted ahead of the 2013/14 Ashes: "from my point of view I just hope the Australian public give it to (Stuart Broad) right from the word go for the whole summer and I hope he cries and he goes home," regarding Broad not walking when edging to slip during the 2013 Ashes in England. Is there little wonder there is no sympathy from the rest of the world for the situation they now find themselves in?
An ugly image
All this is juxtaposed to the wonderful 2019 World Cup qualifying tournament that is about the finish in Zimbabwe. Leaving aside the criminal decision from the ICC to reduce the World Cup to just 10 sides (that is a whole other rant), the cricket has been meaningful, entertaining and played in good spirits by sides whose livelihoods and status as a cricketing nation were literally on the line in every match - a beacon amongst the endless and pointless bilateral series played between the top cricket nations.
So Steve, I won't be just getting past this. Until you and your side make some serious changes, I think I'll be supporting Ireland, or Nepal, or Scotland, or Hong Kong, or yes, even New Zealand - teams that play the game in a way that makes me want to watch them, and how I believe a team should behave. Sport should inspire, encourage, foster relationships and bring communities together, provide role models - this Australian side is doing none of that.
How do you feel about this current Australian cricket team? Let us know in the comments below.