Aus­tralia shake hands but sand­pa­per stunt rubs up Lehmann wrong way

The Guardian Australia - - Technology / Sport - Andy Bull at the Kia Oval

Ac­cord­ing to PJ O’Rourke, it’s best to af­fect a limp hand­shake. “A firm, hearty hand­shake gives a good first im­pres­sion,” he wrote, “and you’ll never be for­given if you don’t live up to it.” There were a lot of hearty hand­shakes at the start of this lat­est one-day se­ries be­tween Eng­land and Aus­tralia, a gamut of clasps, claps, pats, pumps and bumps. Be­fore the start of play the Aus­tralians shook hands with the um­pires and then the Aus­tralians shook hands with each other, then the um­pires shook hands with the English, then the English shook hands with the Aus­tralians. It was, O’Rourke might say, a lot to live up to.

The hand­shakes were Aus­tralia’s idea. “It’s some­thing we want to bring in to start a se­ries, not be­fore ev­ery game,” Tim Paine ex­plained, shrewd not to overdo it. This Aus­tralia one-day team seem unusu­ally in­jury prone – they have al­ready lost their four best fast bowlers to var­i­ous strains and sprains – and it seems wise to min­imise the po­ten­tial for repet­i­tive strain in­juries. The last thing they need now is a case of politi­cian’s wrist. Alex Salmond shook so many hands dur­ing Scot­land’s in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum that he had to spend weeks wear­ing a foam sup­port.

O’Rourke also warned that “a firm, hearty shake in­spires con­fi­dence in oth­ers” and “peo­ple who go around in­spir­ing con­fi­dence in oth­ers are prob­a­bly try­ing to sell them some­thing”. Quite. Aus­tralians are sell­ing the idea that they have re­formed. Paine says they want to start “liv­ing our ac­tions”. He re­cently re­vealed that the se­nior play­ers spoke about chang­ing their be­hav­iour back when Steve Smith was cap­tain but never ac­tu­ally did any­thing about it. The hand­shakes are sup­posed show that they have changed their ways.

The Aus­tralians were aw­fully wor­ried about how much stick they were go­ing to get from the English crowds. “We think it’s go­ing to be pretty full-on,” Paine said be­fore the game. It wasn’t. Here at the Oval at least, there was barely a peep or squeak of abuse. The only time the crowd broke out into any­thing other than a bur­ble was when Paine sprinted 30 yards from the stumps to claim a top-edge hit by Jos But­tler and then spilled the catch as he fell to earth. Other­wise it was just that fa­mil­iar old thrum, the ap­plause of fans, the idle chat­ter of old friends.

Some wiseacre in­vest­ment com­pany tried to stoke it up by hand­ing out squares of sand­pa­per out­side the ground. The stew­ards took them off the fans as they came in. But a cou­ple of for­mer Aus­tralia play­ers got up­set about it any­way. Dar­ren Lehmann had a dig at the English broad­caster Ali­son Mitchell just for men­tion­ing it on Twit­ter. “You’re bet­ter than that,” Lehmann told her. Odd to see Aus­tralia’s for­mer coach stak­ing out the moral high ground since it wasn’t so very long ago he said he hoped the Aus­tralian pub­lic would “give it to” Stu­art Broad so hard dur­ing the Ashes that “he cries and goes home”.

Lehmann has a new job coach­ing Aus­tralia’s na­tional per­for­mance squad these days. The man who said he was “ul­ti­mately re­spon­si­ble for the cul­ture of the team” who com­mit­ted ball tam­per­ing is now “ul­ti­mately re­spon­si­ble” for men­tor­ing Aus­tralia’s next gen­er­a­tion of play­ers. No doubt he will be just as strict with their be­hav­iour as he is quick to po­lice the tweets sent by cricket jour­nal­ists on the other side of the world.

Un­like Lehmann, this new Aus­tralia team at least seem like they are ready to take the rough with the smooth, to ac­cept that their abra­sive style of play rubbed some peo­ple up the wrong way. Those who know him say Paine is a good man, the right sort to straighten out the team. Whether he is a good enough bats­man to be cap­tain, though, is an­other ques­tion. He had a rough day of it here. His dis­missal, hit­ting a neat re­verse sweep straight to short third man, was one of the worst in a se­ries of poor shots by the top-or­der. And it came af­ter he had pro­moted him­self above Glenn Maxwell, too.

Aus­tralia’s 214 was the low­est all­out to­tal they have ever made in a one-day game in Eng­land af­ter win­ning the toss and bat­ting first. At that point the crowd’s re­fusal to bait them seemed like an act of mercy. But then Eng­land made a mess of the chase.

It was to Aus­tralia’s credit that they ral­lied and pushed Eng­land as hard as they did. Right now they at least look like what they are, the fifth-best one-day team in the world. It is not much but still more than Eng­land, who are sup­posed to be the No 1, can say for them­selves.

Pho­to­graph: Ian King­ton/AFP/Getty Im­ages

Fans wave sand­pa­per in the di­rec­tion of Travis Head as he fields the ball dur­ing Aus­tralia’s de­feat by Eng­land.

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