It is all very well for Hussain to campaign for a tougher line but in making a case for verbal abuse he is on dangerous ground

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The Independent Online
A pretty obvious truth about the present series of Test matches is that Australia are better at batting and bowling. They are tough competitors, too, but nobody should run away with the idea that this matters more than technical accomplishment.

I mention this because England's vice-captain, Nasser Hussain, appears to believe that a strong case can be made for bad-mouthing the opposition. In a passage from a book serialised by the Daily Mail, he wrote: "In the last three Cornhill Tests we have not shown the same mental strength as the Australians."

Referring to county cricket, he added: "No one is sledging anyone... the gap between this cosy little world and Test cricket is immense. The Aussies are at us all the time both physical and verbally... they are abusing you, rucking you, making it very clear that they want you back in the pavilion pretty quick."

As any number of past Test players will testify, sledging in cricket is not a modern phenomenon but to make public a clash between romantic legend and the reality of today's sporting life is to my mind irresponsible. It lays bare the bitter truth that sport is not what a lot of people imagine.

A veteran professional footballer once explained, with great simplicity and patience, some facts of life that had been kept from me. "Be careful," he said, "because there are people out there who won't think twice about doing you harm."

It is not hard to guess that there are many influential people in sport who resist the idea that a performer can afford to be compassionate. Be first is their abiding philosophy.

Bearing this in mind, you are bound to wonder sometimes what sport will look like in the future. Will it be more about attitude than performance?

Following a defeat at Arsenal on Monday, the Coventry City manager, Gordon Strachan, spoke honestly about where his team stands in the wider scheme of things, which will probably again come down to whether it can survive in the Premier League. "We can be fairly good," he said, "but only if the players work hard and have the proper attitude."

Seen from a distance, this applies to at least half the teams Coventry will come up against. Moderate ability, maximum effort and not much in the way of inspiration.

It is a description that can be applied, in the main, to the efforts of England's cricketers. A fine line in good fortune here and there but when serious questions were asked they were not good enough.

Even the best cricket brains seem unsure about the answer to this but to suppose that it rests entirely with a more militant approach sets a bad example to the game's next generation.

Frankly, I have long since rejected the idea of sports events as a matter of life and death or even a reason for disturbed sleep. Doubtless this does not fit in with popular thinking, but I am comfortable with it.

Most people who get angry about sport do so in the absurd hope that it will bring about improvement. It is a childish mechanism and they are usually disappointed.

A conclusion arrived at personally is that the steady application of organised publicity is as damaging to British sport as the removal of team games from school curriculums. It increases pressure on the performers and sets up victory as the only worthwhile objective.

A worrying thing about Hussain's remarks is that they gained the immediate support of two past England captains of quite different temperaments, Graham Gooch and David Gower. Bearing in mind that Gooch would like to hear national anthems played before Test matches, it makes you wonder what cricket is coming to.

This week saw a vulgar outburst on the field at Chelmsford when Essex and Glamorgan met for a place in the NatWest Trophy final. Stoking up hotter and hotter fires in the players will lead inevitably to repeats of that incident.

It is all very well for Hussain to campaign for a tougher line but in making a case for verbal abuse he is on dangerous ground and should be called to account by the authorities.