Lack of wickets leads to sledging

"BOTH teams understand where the line is and I'm pretty sure nobody overstepped the mark," Australian captain Michael Clarke said after the first Test in Brisbane.

That's aside from the three bowlers who did so when taking wickets.

Sadly, rather than attempting to explain one regrettable habit within his team, Clarke was attempting to excuse another.

He was talking, as so many Australian captains have before him, about sledging which, in the absence of any notable wicket- taking, dominated proceedings at the Gabba.

Australia's first home Test of a busy summer featured plenty of reasons why fans remain loyal to the format - five composed centuries, fearsome pace bowling and a nonchalant 259 not out - but also much of why many turn off it - an entire day and innings lost, no result and the reappearance of cricket's most distasteful subplot.

There was nothing to like about Hashim Amla, who could well be the world's nicest man, being sledged by Peter Siddle, who couldn't.

Ditto Graeme Smith, who has captained more Test matches than anybody else in history, being targeted by James Pattinson, who has played 97 fewer Tests.

Respect is clearly an alien commodity in the Australian dressing room.

Pattinson's eventual send off of Smith was strangely reminiscent of Shane Watson's to Chris Gayle a couple of years back.

Australians are wont to use the word "unAustralian" for any behaviour they consider contrary to the national stereotype.

In this case, the behaviour of Patto and Watto should probably be described as "Australian" (or un- unAustralian), conforming as it does to the expectation of their profession and nationality.

He may have avoided a fine, but Pattinson had to be calmed down by umpire Asad Rauf - so clearly somebody did overstep the mark, Clarkey.

Far from condemning the practice, the captain referred to it as "friendly banter".

"The aggression, the intent is a big part of the way we play our best cricket and I certainly don't want to stop that," he said.

It is a sad indictment that Cricinfo's preview to the second Test, which begins on Thursday, had the headline: "Verbal battle set to resume in Adelaide" and the Michael Hussey quote: "It's good for the game to see a bit of competitive spirit out there between the two teams."

Wouldn't it be better for the game to talk up the potential swansongs of two of the best batsmen of all time in Ricky Ponting and Jacques Kallis or today's finest in Amla and Clarke?

And on the subject of unpleasant habits, back to those wickets off no-balls.

Rather than blaming umpires for doing their job accurately, maybe critics should point a finger at the extremely well-paid professional sportsman who has caused the issue by being unable to measure a distance of five centimetres.

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