Whatever the fortunes of their team, the Australians never let the standard of sledging slip.
Whether it is tasteful, or decent, is another debate, but they set out to get under England’s skin in the first Ashes Test and they certainly did that.
The Australians were well aware that the ‘headbutting’ incident involving Jonny Bairstow was a no-show, but they knew they could create an uncomfortable scenario around it.
Up to then, the sledging had been fairly general: it started with Warner describing the Ashes as ‘war’, and it was upped by Nathan Lyon hoping that some of the England players would have their careers ended.
But to make a snide accusation of headbutting – through the stump microphone – crossed another line, aiming at a player’s personal reputation; and in this case one of the more mild characters of the England team.
The Australians claimed they never wanted it to go public, but that is blatantly disingenuous. The incident, which Bancroft even admitted was slightly weird, but never malicious, had occurred four weeks previously, so the question as to why Warner would bring it up as Bairstow came in to bat is rather rhetorical.
Once they had started the fire, they turned up the heat by describing England players as ‘thugs’ and making early judgments on the culpability of Ben Stokes, who still has not been charged for his role in a late-night incident which blocked his participation in this Test series.
The result of all of this was for the England management to rubbish their own players, describing their actions as ‘dumb’ and telling the world they needed to be ‘smarter’ when in fact there was no case to answer.
The sight of Steve Smith sniggering as Cameron Bancroft wiggled out of actually saying ‘nothing happened’ has further infuriated Joe Root; which will no doubt delight Smith. James Anderson has described the Australians as ‘bullies’, which will no doubt sit well with them in the context of winning the mental war.
Smith admitted that the Bairstow comments were ‘about trying to get Jonny off his game.’ He added: ‘I think it worked with the way he got out. We were just trying to get in his head and it happened to work.’ It has affected more than Jonny Bairstow.
It’s hard enough winning an Ashes series in Australia, but England have more battles to win off the field to regain their equilibrium.
Photo: EPA/Darren England