Glenn McGrath has urged Australia to reignite their competitive fire after claiming that the country’s top cricket stars are too friendly with opposition players.
The war of words that used to anticipate each Ashes contest was conspicuous by its absence in the lead up to the last series, with both camps declining the chance to fire verbal volleys at their opponents.
It is a world away from the likes of Dennis Lillee’s snarling that Australia would finish what those [English] ‘b******s started’ in the 1974-75 series.
Glenn McGrath believes Australia are too friendly with their opponents and need to be nasty
Or from an incandescent Ricky Ponting hurling abuse at the English balcony after being dismissed by Gary Pratt in the fourth Test of the 2005 series at Trent Bridge.
Or even from Michael Clarke warning James Anderson to get ready for a ‘f*****g broken arm’ in the opening Test of the 2013-14 series at the Gabba.
And McGrath believes the lack of needle is symptomatic of modern cricket.
‘When I played it wasn’t that hard to dislike someone, because you didn’t like them and because you didn’t know them,’ he tells Daily Mail Australia.
‘It was easier to go out there and play it really hard. But now all of a sudden you’re playing against your mates, so it’s a little bit different.’
McGrath recalls the days when Australia did not know their rivals well and that fed into hostility
In the opening Test of the 2013-14 series, Aussie captain Michael Clarke (right) warned England fast bowler James Anderson to be ready for ‘a ‘f*****g broken arm’
The rivalry between England and Australia was just as intense at ODI level but has dwindled
Australia’s 2018 trip to South Africa resulted in a transformation in their competitive approach, with the sandpaper scandal culminating in a reset after years of taking things to the limit.
Add to that the emergence of IPL-style franchise tournaments – in which players from different countries spend far more time together than they did in the past – and it results in closer friendships with opponents.
And while McGrath does not want to see the return of sledging, he believes that Australia need to rediscover their energy out on the field and a bit of ‘banter’ does nobody any harm.
Steve Smith (L) and Jofra Archer (R) enthralled fans in the 2019 Ashes but play on the same team at IPL level, and McGrath says T20 tournaments means players are friends now
‘I don’t want to see teams laughing and jumping around, you want to see a battle out in the middle,’ he explains.
‘You’re playing for your country and it means everything and you put everything on the line. You still want to see cricket with players going out and playing with passion and emotion.
‘You don’t want to see sledging, but banter and a bit of chat out in the middle I think shows passion and energy from the players and I have no issue with that.
McGrath believes attraction remains as vital to cricket as a contest as it ever was
The champion fast bowler took 563 Test wickets at 21.6 in a glittering 14-year career
‘Sledging should never be abusive and should never be personal, but a bit of chat I think it’s fine. Guys have to be mentally strong.’
For his opponents McGrath cut far from a friendly figure during a stellar 14-year career, which returned 563 Test wickets at 21.6 and 381 ODI scalps at a fraction over 22.
He played alongside Justin Langer during his decorated career, with the former batter making headlines this week after hitting out at Cricket Australia and members of the team following his acrimonious exit earlier this year.
‘A lot of journalists use the word “source”,’ Langer said.
Australia’s T20 World Cup ended with a whimper as they were eliminated in the group stage
Justin Langer coached Australia to T20 World Cup and Ashes glory last year, before resigning in acrimonious circumstances
‘I would say, change that word to “coward”. […]
‘They’ve either got an ax to grind with someone and they won’t come and say it to your face, or they’re just leaking stuff for their own agenda. I hate that.’
And while McGrath believes some of Langer’s comments were blown out of proportion, he says that his former teammate was correct to be aggrieved by the handling of his departure.
Langer and Pat Cummins were tasked with restoring the reputation of Australian cricket after the ball-tampering scandal of 2018
‘I guess he wishes he had more honest feedback [from the players],’ he explains.
‘That’s who he is, he wants people to be upfront with him as he is upfront with them. […] He’s obviously disappointed and rightly so with the way everything has been handled.’
The aftermath of Australia’s implosion at the T20 World Cup has been dominated by calls for a drastic overhaul of the team and by the suggestion the team isn’t liked particularly by Australians.
McGrath says Langer was correct to feel aggrieved about his acrimonious dismissal
With the exception of the game against New Zealand, the defending champions failed to attract the kind of crowds that filled the MCG for India and Pakistan games.
So, have the Aussies run out of credit with their fans? ‘I think the Australian team needs to take into consideration the public perception,’ McGrath says.
‘There’s not too long to go before the first Test against the West Indies, so there’s a little bit of work to be done.
‘At the end of the day you need that public support and they got that back after what happened in South Africa [with the ball-tampering scandal] in 2018 and now it’s about maintaining it.’
Test Match Special Live – The Ashes Special, with Jonathan Agnew and Glenn McGrath, tours the UK from April 5. For tickets and venue information visit www.fane.co.uk/TMS