Their series win notwithstanding, the Australians leave for South Africa under something of a cloud. And not because they lost the final Test by such a big margin either. The reason has to do with things other than batting, bowling or fielding skills.
The incidents which transpired on the final day left a bad taste which will linger for a long time to come. A lot of blame has been cast on Lara but the other side of the picture must be examined as well. Anybody who has a doubt would only have to take a look at a picture from the Associated Press which showed Matthew Hayden holding his crotch in an obscene manner with Lara on the ground in front of him, shortly after the two had collided. Lara was acting as runner for the injured Walsh. The doubts as to was to blame for whatever followed will be laid to rest once one has a glance at that picture.
Agreed, Lara does have a habit of shooting his mouth off. But this kind of gesture is crude. Mouthing four-letter words under their breath in order to intimidate the opposition has been a habit with the Australians for a long time and the amazing thing is that this habit has been accepted as part of what is called a gentleman's game. But these signs and vulgar gestures have no place on the field of play. The umpires obviously did not notice what Hayden did; his back may have been to the umpire.
All that followed thereafter was a result of this. If Lara chose not to get up for a minute or two after that, it is not shocking. It is not surprising. It is to his credit that he got up at all. The Australians are known to be surly when they are losing but this is a bit much even from them. They may have won the series but they have definitely not contributed much to the game in this Test.
There will be no reports on any player submitted to the ICC this time following the onfield conference between the umpires and the two captains. This is unwise because a good many do deserve to be reported and fined. Hayden needs a reprimand; Lara needs a good dose for his barging into the dressing room and questioning a dismissal in the second Test and for mouthing off to the Press on the second day of the fifth Test; many of the Australian players need to be warned about their behaviour on field.
The incidents in the Tests are not isolated ones. They come after Pakistan were subjected to a lot of slanging from the crowd while they were in Australia. Competition can never be won by such tactics and it is better that the Australians remember a quote from the grand-daddy of them all, Sir Don Bradman. When asked what he would be liked to be remembered for, Sir Don had one reply: "Aah, if I had to put it into one word? Integrity." And this was from a man whose feats at the crease have never been approached.
The upside of this Test, apart from the West Indies showing, was the behaviour of Mark Taylor and the courage shown by Courtney Walsh. Taylor showed what a captian's role should be when Glenn McGrath blew up at Robert Samuels on the second day. The explosion came at the end of an over and McGrath would obviously have been looking to get back into the firing line. But when he came back for his next over, he was ordered back to his position in the field. Taylor made it plain to him that his spell was over for the moment. This was captaincy of a high order.
Walsh did the game proud by turning in a bowling performance which would have pleased any connoisseur of the game -- and the man was carrying more than injuries than an accident victim. His team needed him, Ambrose was injured as well and Bishop wasn't exactly setting the Thames on fire. Eight paces was all he took, but the fire and the fluidity were unmatched. He ran through the Australian middle order and set up the win. His last Test in Australia is one he will remember.