They’ve all sat through them. Long, wordy pre-season meetings in which Australian players are reminded of their values and obligations under the various charters, codes and policies they are signatories to. These sessions have long been seen as necessary, but a bit of a yawn – like HR compliance training at any company.
But in the wake of the Newlands ball-tampering scandal, Australia’s captain Tim Paine and coach Justin Langer are adamant that the squads to tour England and Zimbabwe for ODIs and Twenty20 matches over the next six weeks will know the difference between paying lip service and actually living out the expectations of the Australian team. In the face of an expected hostile English reception, and up against Eoin Morgan’s trendsetting 50-overs combination, this will be no small challenge.
“Justin sat us down for a team meeting last week and spoke about the Australian cricket team’s values, and what he expects,” Paine said in Brisbane before the squad’s departure to London. “It’s nothing that’s brand new, nothing the guys haven’t heard before – it’s purely about acting on what we know is the right thing to do and the right way to play our cricket.
“Justin’s big thing is about living our values. We’ve had Spirit of Cricket documents, we’ve had Code of Conduct documents, but at the end of the day they mean nothing if you don’t act on them and you don’t live by them. That’s been a huge focus for us, has been around our actions, our behaviours, and making sure we live up to the standards that the Australian cricket team should.
“So we’ve spoken about it, but getting on a plane tonight now, we get to go over there and talk through our actions, which the guys are looking forward to.”
Quite apart from all the issues to arise out of South Africa, leaving Paine as captain, Australia have been a faulty limited-overs combination in recent times, having sunk from the peak of the 2015 World Cup victory at home. Paine spoke about the balance between seeking high performance and striking the right note as a team.
“We’re going over there to win this series. We’re not going over there to make up the numbers or to be the nicest Australian cricket team ever to play against,” Paine said. “We’re going to be really competitive; at the same time we’re going to be really respectful, but we’re going there to win.
“We’re probably going to get a bit more intense spotlight from their media when we first arrive. But we’ve spoken about the way we want to hold ourselves, the way we want to behave, and I’m sure once we get there and get into playing cricket, those sorts of things will die off into the background and cricket will be the number one focus.”
Tactically, there is still much to be decided about the makeup of the side, whether it is who partners Aaron Finch at the top of the order, who between Nathan Lyon and Ashton Agar will take on spin-bowling duties, and how to get the best out of the endlessly enigmatic Glenn Maxwell. Paine said he had made a point of spending time with Maxwell, but would get into deeper discussions into the shape of the team upon arrival in England – 12 months out from next year’s World Cup.
“I’ve had a few chats with Maxy this week about where he thinks he could be of best value to this cricket side, because I think he’s, even at international level, an out-and-out match-winner,” Paine said. “If we can get Maxy playing in a role he’s really comfortable in and it complements our team, he can be really important for us this series. England are the No. 1 team in the world, and Maxy’s the kind of player who can really trouble them.
“Maxy will probably slot in somewhere around Nos. 4 or 5 – when those [batting order] changes were going on I wasn’t in this position and JL wasn’t the coach. At the moment, we haven’t got too specific into things; it’s just been about guys getting to know Justin, Justin getting to know them and the way he wants us to play. We’ve got 10 or 12 days where we’ll really nut things out about how our team sets up. I’m sure we’ll try a few different combinations in the practice games leading into the first game.”