Steven Smith fronted his Australian team-mates to apologise for drawing a dissent charge and fine in the Sheffield Shield as the captain Tim Paine reminded all members of the squad that they need to maintain standards of behaviour "regardless of who we're playing for", as they ramped up preparations for the Pakistan Test series.
After a period of more than a year in which the Australian team had earned significant respect for improved behaviour, while being lauded by Cricket Australia's board for making only one ICC code of conduct transgression - an audible obscenity by Adam Zampa during the World Cup - in 18 months since the Newlands scandal, standards have slipped this season with no fewer than eight code of conduct breaches being recorded across state, second XI and under-age tournaments. The pair of breaches in the last Shield around arrived from two of Australia's most high-profile players.
In addition to James Pattinson's suspension for abusive language while playing for Victoria against Queensland, Smith was fined 25% of his match fee for obvious dissent when given out caught behind while playing for New South Wales against Western Australia at the SCG. At one of the team's recurring "values" meetings, held at the start of every major assignment since Justin Langer was appointed coach, Smith told his team-mates he was sorry for raising the ire of officials and admitted he needed to improve his body language and conduct when dismissed.
"I came in and apologised to the group yesterday for getting a code of conduct," Smith said in Brisbane. "I don't think there was a great deal in it but I've copped it and I have to look at when I get out and the way I sort of conduct myself. I know lots of kids watch me play and watch all of us play and the way we conduct ourselves when we get out as well as when we're batting.
"So we have to be very mindful of that and sometimes just bite the bullet and just conduct ourselves in, I guess, a better manner at times. Sometimes your emotions can get the better of you out on the field. We're playing a game [where] everyone is trying to do their best and sometimes that happens."
The transgressions of Smith and Pattinson underline the fact that occasionally, international players are given to dropping their guard in matches not subject to major international broadcast or media attention, even though all domestic matches are streamed online in their entirety. Smith noted that, within reason, the place for letting out frustrations about a dismissal or decision disagreed with is within the dressing room itself, away not only from cameras but also spectators.
"You're going to get fines, breach notices or whatever it is, but to be honest, the feeling around the group is enough of a punishment" Pat Cummins on players staying in line
"When you get behind closed doors, go for your life, do what you need to do to let your frustrations out," he said. "Within reason - you probably don't want to punch anything. Mitch Marsh can probably attest to that. We're Australian players regardless of where we're playing and what we're doing. We sign up to values and in our contracts we've got a code of conduct there we have to play by. I got pinged and so be it. I felt I should apologise for that."
Paine said that greater consistency in behaviour across all levels of the game was something that all team members were clear about trying to achieve. "I think it's more just a reminder that we've got to set those standards all the time," Paine said. "Whether we're playing for Australia or we're playing club cricket or we're playing for our states or we're not playing cricket, there are standards we set ourselves to live by day in and day out so it's important we do that whether we're on the field off the field, regardless of who we're playing for.
"We've had a couple of instances this week but we always revisit them. We did again last night, just to brush up on what's expected and what we expect of the group. Both of those guys apologised, they know that they fell a little bit short of what we set ourselves in the Test team. And the fact that it's important that we maintain that when we go back to state cricket and lead the way there. They're disappointed with that but we are going to keep on top of it and maintain the level that we've set so far in the last couple of years."
Pat Cummins, one of the joint vice-captains, said that more often than not, the knowledge of team-mates that mistakes had been made and values not lived up to provided as stinging a punishment as any fine or ban. "It's pretty clear how we want to play and go about it and our standards we set ourselves," he said. "You're going to get fines, breach notices or whatever it is, but to be honest, the feeling around the group is enough of a punishment. You now when you've stepped out of line. He [Pattinson] has owned up to it, he'll be super remorseful and it's a good lesson for him to learn.
"We've identified five key values, and we just want to stay on top of those, so every few months it's just trying to talk about them and say 'what does this look like'. We'll break up in groups, talk about different values and also it gives us something to measure against that at the end of the series to see how we're tracking. It's run by the players, we own it, we know what standards we have to uphold, and it's a good little reminder and it's no different for the T20, one-day or Test side, if someone comes in, these are the expectations."