Cricket: Taylor tries to bring calm to the storm

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The Independent Online
AFTER THE scandal and the guilt comes the coping, and Australia turned to its most eminent lay therapist to try and soothe the nation's fevered brow. Mark Taylor may have no other credentials than being captain of his country, but he cuts a mightily impressive figure. If anyone can ease the nation's time on the couch, after the revelations that Shane Warne and Mark Waugh were fined after accepting payments from a bookmaker in Sri Lanka four years' ago, it is the man from Wagga Wagga.

Therapy, at least the type Taylor deals in, does not involve hypnosis or regression: just a simple straight-talking country boy, he looks as honest from two inches as he does a hundred paces, and there aren't many you can say that about. At a press conference before the first day's play of the third Test here, Taylor's calm authority was as sensible as the previous day's revelations had been alarming.

When every man and his dog suddenly acts as judge, jury and executioner, things tend to get distorted. Gently but firmly, like a gun-dog's grip, Taylor reminded us of the human element, and what it is to be imperfect in an increasingly accountable world.

"Mark and Shane made a mistake," Taylor said. "They admitted that. As a player, I don't have a problem with either one and I've enjoyed playing cricket with them. Their records show they've been great players for Australia."

Past glory was obviously a consideration for Nike, who despite the sudden burst of bad publicity, decided to continue their sponsorship of Warne. In a statement issued yesterday, the sportswear giants made it clear that although they did condone Warne's actions, they felt he had "regretted his decision and learnt from his mistakes".

But damage is not always limited to the individual involved and one of the potential side-effects of a furore like this one is that those closest to them may also be affected. Having Mark Waugh off-colour is one thing, but team-mates, especially those who knew nothing of the scandal until it broke, must try not to get emotionally involved. It is a difficult balancing act and one Taylor addressed immediately.

"I asked all the players individually if they had a problem with Mark or Shane. They didn't and the pair have our full 100 per cent support. This will certainly not divide the Australian cricket team.

"I've also spent a few moments with Mark too. He's probably not in the best state of mind at the moment, he'd be superhuman if he was."

Crises are nothing new in cricket and the Aussies, through Taylor, are already bouncing back. "It is a nightmare but it's not my worst nightmare," he said, perhaps casting his mind back to England 18 months ago, when his abysmal form brought him close to quitting.

"Obviously there has been some damage to the name of Australian cricket, but we must also bring it into perspective. Two guys took a fast buck. No more. If they'd been involved in things like fixing matches, then that would be far more serious."

One of the few in the know at the time, Taylor admits that he must share some of the blame. He says he has thought about it a lot over the last three-and-a-half years, particularly the question of whether the Australian Cricket Board should have advised the inquiry in Pakistan about Waugh's and Warne's dealings with a bookie.

"In hindsight, yes, I think the inquiry should have been told. Had I been asked about in Lahore it would certainly have been my worst question. I would have answered it truthfully, but it wasn't asked."

Although never approached by anyone offering money or favours, Taylor has however, been involved at close quarters in the subsequent investigation. Like many, he wants the guilty brought to justice, though he does not share the pessimism of those who feel that the main evidence is likely to be discredited.

"While I was in court in Lahore, the most damning evidence came from the Pakistan players, not from Waugh."

And yet despite the obvious need for a cohesive investigation into such matters, he does not feel that an international watchdog would help to clear the mess up.

"It is a nice idea for the International Cricket Committee to have total power over what is right and wrong, but I'm not sure it will work in practice. Cricket is comprised of different countries and cultures and opinions vary accordingly."

At the moment Taylor believes it will be a full-time job confronting the present, though one he feels his team can handle. Like Australia II's revolutionary keel back in 1983, the Aussie captain has the kind of stabilising influence that many will be relying on to make good the wrongdoing of both the two players and the ACB.

As most therapists will tell you, however, little can be achieved without self- help and common sense. "I believe what the public wants most is to see good cricket and that is what we must continue to provide. That will heal the wounds quicker than anything."