Australia have enough pastoral duties of their own without worrying about Leach’s emotional health. They are, remember, on a journey to rediscover winning within acceptable bounds. Hence the barefoot walk around Edgbaston (the shoes stayed on after that) and the “elite mateship” drive.
This enforced values-revaluation may well have brought about change in the win-by-any-means outlook that landed them in hot water and alienated many in their own country. But it was never going to alter the dynamic of Ashes cricket: one of the most intensely fought and enjoyable rivalries in world sport.
Smith was thought to be the more sensitive one, but has already rediscovered his Machiavellian side.
Plainly, Tim Paine’s Australia are tired of being shamed and have no wish to play the Uriah Heep part for English audiences who give them heaps. Only Warner can say whether relentless hostility has contributed to his disastrous form in this series, where he averages less than Leach. Smith was thought to be the more sensitive one, but has already rediscovered his Machiavellian side.
Declaring that playing England was “like Christmas every day” was clearly aimed at Joe Root and his sometimes passive captaincy. Claiming he “didn’t hear” Matthew Wade harmlessly sledging Jofra Archer when he (Smith) was standing a few yards away was also questionable. Memories are still sharp of Smith giggling through the Brisbane press conference in which Bancroft hammed-up the Jonny Bairstow nightclub “headbutt” incident. There has also been a creeping sense that Smith is taking the mickey out of England’s bowlers with his elaborate leaves and by throwing himself to the ground so much at Old Trafford.
Nobody needs him to be an angel and he will never return to Aussie statesman duties. They never fitted him well. His true vocation is as a run-making machine who has taken batting to another level and transformed the art of fidgeting and pirouetting at the crease. He deserves our respect and to not be booed any longer, especially when he walks back out after being felled at 150kmph, as he was at Lord’s. If he picked on Leach, though, with the spectacles routine, it would be a poor defence to say it was revenge for the England spinner time-wasting with his goggle-wiping routines.
There has also been a creeping sense that Smith is taking the mickey out of England’s bowlers with his elaborate leaves.
Probably everyone in cricket would look at Leach and see the player who stands on the alpha-male margins. Every pavilion has one. It is not that special allowances should be made; more that mocking a Ben Stokes or Stuart Broad would be rather more courageous. I should acknowledge here that England fans started the ball rolling by turning up en masse bespectacled in baldie headcaps. They made a comedy cult of Leach long before his costly no-ball alerted us to the dangers of creating fall guys under the gaze of the world.
The “Taunton Tendulkar”, as some are calling him, will now understand how cricket expects some people to be Ashes warriors, but also figures of fun. Playing both those roles must be confusing. For some weird social reason nobody can quite fathom, prime-time cricket lampoons itself half to death, while also putting heart and soul on the line.
Retaining the Ashes has been seized on by Australia as a chance to bury the guilt of ball-tampering. Glenn McGrath wrote in his BBC column: “They can now put what happened in South Africa with the ball-tampering scandal well and truly behind them.” And the English chants of “same old Aussies, always cheating” were rewritten by the winning team as “same old Painey, always winning”. Fair enough.
Maybe we should accept Australia’s claim that Rogers was the one being impersonated by Smith. What we do know is that there are many ways to overstep the mark, as Leach, with his non-dismissal of Smith, will still be reflecting on many years from now.
The Telegraph, London