Book reveals how receptionist shamed Aussie cricket team

AFP , SYDNEY

Mon, Oct 29, 2007 - Page 20

Australia's cricketers rediscovered sportsmanship after a barrage of callers complaining about their behavior reduced Cricket Australia's receptionist to tears, a new book says

Authors Gideon Haigh and David Frith were given complete access to Cricket Australia's archives for the book Inside Story and the governing body told them to produce a warts-and-all account of its activities.

"We ask the cricketers who wear the baggy green to play hard but fair and it was only logical to ask our historians to do the same," chairman Creagh O'Connor said.

The book gives insights into events that have shaped the game in Australia since 1905, using both the archives of Cricket Australia -- formerly the Australian Cricket Board -- and interviews with players and officials.

The book also details how in 2003 a receptionist shamed Australia's all-conquering cricketers into becoming better sports.

Undisputed masters of the cricketing world, the Australian Test team in the early years of the millennium alienated even some of its own fans through a mixture of excessive sledging and boorish behaviour.

Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland said he knew the unsporting behavior was damaging players' reputations, but reining it in was posing a problem.

"What became obvious in conversations with the players was that they were in denial, and they were in denial because they were insulated from the consequences of the fall-out from that sort of behaviour," Sutherland told the authors.

Cricket Australia's solution to the dilemma was simple and effective.

At a function in Sydney, officials took aside senior players including Steve Waugh, Lehmann, McGrath and Matthew Hayden and Ricky Ponting.

They confronted them with footage of recent incidents, along with comments from sponsors saying they were uncomfortable to be seen as supporting such behavior and read letters and e-mails from outraged fans.

"Most effectively, they saw an interview with Emma Hopley, the Cricket Australia receptionist for the past year, who told of how she had been reduced to tears by fulminating members of the public," the book says.

It said Waugh was soon drafting a "Spirit of Cricket" manifesto that set guidelines for the players' on-and off-field behavior.

The Spirit of Cricket program, extolling the virtues of playing "hard but fair" was launched in October 2003 and the history book says it soon had an impact.

"Instances of truculence and petulance became more noteworthy for being rarer," the authors wrote.