Opinion: Ashes characterised by 'he said, she said' pettiness


60 days of cricket against each other within seven months has seen England and Australia's players, fans and media become like petty, petulant siblings, writes Peter Miller.

"People do not respect someone they know well enough to know his or her faults."

Familiarity breeds contempt. Ask any brother or sister about their relationship with their siblings growing up and they will give you countless examples.

By February England and Australia will have played over 60 days of cricket against each other in the space of seven months.

The teams have spent more time with each other than they have with their families. The fact that tensions between the side would reach breaking point is almost inevitable.

Then there is the approach of those who are following the game. In the press England have been ridiculed by Australian newspapers and radio stations. First there was the <i>Courier Mail</i> and its bizarre targeting of Stuart Broad for being a cheat.

This is despite him doing exactly the same thing as the Australian captain has done throughout his career, not walking. There has been a fascination with piss and pitches. Shane Warne has been telling Alastair Cook he has been captaining all wrong, until he started losing and then he had it about right.

On the English side of things there have been accusations of crassness and of the Australians being uncouth. Michael Clarke was described by one British tabloid as being a "graceless, chinless weasel". Sections of the English press have not enjoyed the rejuvenated Australian sides approach on the field. This distaste for the newly combative Australia reached a peak when Clarke was overheard telling Jimmy Anderson his arm would be broken.

Then there are the players. We are told that in the lead up to the Clarke/Anderson incident there had been words exchanged between the England bowler and George Bailey. These verbals between the two sides are only getting worse. We have seen players bumping shoulders with each other, angry words being exchanged as they leave the field, barbed comments being made in press conferences. It is pretty clear to any outsider that these two teams don't like each other very much.

It needs to be made clear that no one side has the moral high ground here. Players on both teams have been guilty of letting their emotions take over. Sledging, mental disintegration, angry stares and cutting remarks are part of the game. However, there is a new nastiness that is developing between these two sides that have been playing each other nonstop since the Champions Trophy in June.

The only part of the Spirit of Cricket that makes any logical sense is the part that asks cricketers to behave like decent human beings. It is also the one part that is being completely ignored by a significant percentage of players on both sides of the Ashes divide.

Which brings us to the fans. England cricket fans and Australian cricket fans share far more than just their love of the sport. When their side is on top they are insufferable bores, when their side is losing they are incomparable whingers. The most telling part of this is that they accuse each other of these crimes without irony while committing them for themselves.

Just as a series win in 2005 erased all memory of the previous 18 years of misery in the minds of England fans, the Australian victory in the first two Tests of this series has seen the last three Ashes series disappear from their fan's consciousness.

In the age of online communications, social networks and internet comment sections we have far more contact with the fans of other teams than in the past. The animosity that you see between the two sets of fans on any online forum is increasing with each passing match. Stuart Broad's refusal to walk at Trent Bridge is still mentioned, Dave Warner's nightclub fracas with Joe Root still referenced, Darren Lehmann's ill-advised appearance on <i>Triple M</i> radio still discussed.

We spend our time engaging in "banter", a horrific word that should be banned forthwith. With each passing day of Test cricket we grow more irritated by each other's digital company. The comments have become less about fun and more about rubbing the faces of others in the failures of their team and success of yours.

There are still 23 days of cricket left to be played between these two sides. By the time the final T20I takes place at the beginning of February it will be time for us to stop seeing each other so often. Like when you come back from a holiday with friends, we aren't going to want to be spending time together for quite a while.

<b>Peter Miller</b>