For almost 20 years English cricket has been in awe of the "baggy green", the ugly-looking cap Australians proudly wear when they play Tests. For an Australian there is supposedly no greater honour, the headgear being a symbol of everything that is good in the country. The team have been known to wear it in the evenings after famous Test victories; on one occasion they were even seen donning them at Wimbledon, to show support for and to motivate an Australian tennis player.
How the England cricket team of the 1990s could have done with something similar. Cricketers are by nature a selfish breed but the grandeur of the baggy green has kept the Australians under control. Wearing it is deemed to be more important than the performance, emotion or circumstances of any individual. New Zealand, under Stephen Fleming, attempted to create something similar, inviting a great achiever from the country to present the team with their "black caps" before every Test.
But the actions of, and comments recently made by, members of these teams, many of whom have signed up to lucrative Twenty20 leagues in India, suggest the reverence attached to these garments has been nothing more than a charade, an empty gesture created to make people believe that representing their country meant everything. The baggy green or black cap appears to have a price.
Cricket Australia is understandably wary about releasing top players for six weeks so that they can fill their pockets by performing at an Indian circus. But the Australian board is equally concerned with damaging its lucrative relationship with the Board of Control for Cricket in India, the organisers of the Indian Premier League.
No international coach would want his players to play in such a tournament in the middle of such a hectic schedule – Australia are due to play 19 Tests and at least 25 one-dayers in 2008. It is his job to ensure that each player is as fit, fresh and as fired up as he possibly can be for every international match Australia play.
Tim Nielson, the Australian coach, and his selectors will be delighted that Michael Clarke, tipped by many to be the next Australian captain, Mitchell Johnson and Brad Haddin have turned down offers to join the IPL so they can manage the cricket they play and focus on their developing international careers. Rest is a crucial part of the procedure. But many members of Ricky Ponting's side are prepared to forgo a break – time off that would improve the team's chances of success – to earn millions of rupees on the subcontinent.
There are genuine safety and security issues surrounding Australia's coming tour of Pakistan but there seems greater urgency from the players to get the tour called off now that IPL contracts have been signed. The abandonment of the Pakistan tour would be convenient, giving the players extra time off and allowing them not to feel quite so guilty about playing in India.
These do not appear to be the actions of men whose sole desire is to represent their country. It is the behaviour of mercenaries desperately wanting to dip their noses in the trough. If the focus of these players was totally on playing for Australia they would not even consider placing themselves in such a compromised position. The hypocrisy of the players' union should not be ignored too. Players' representatives are constantly complaining about the volume of cricket played; now they are pushing CA to release players for more.
The most damning assessment of the situation came from Andrew Symonds, the outstanding Australia all-rounder who will play in the IPL. "The way things are heading, loyalty is really going to become a major issue, particularly when you can make more money in six or eight weeks than you can in a whole season," he said. "Who wouldn't be tempted to take a job offering more money for less work?
"They [the game's administrators] need to be able to find a way to work with the IPL so everyone's available. Otherwise you are going to have blokes retiring early or just saying: 'Look, it's not worth the heartache. I can earn more money in a short period of time'."
Jeez, Australian cricket fans must be proud of him. If the attitude of cricketers is to "cash in" when they reach a certain age, perhaps the game would be better off without them. Let them play in an irrelevant tournament in India and hand international cricket over to vibrant youngsters with a point to prove.