Australians pay their respects in Belgium and France

If the timing of the Australian team’s visit to the First World War battlefields of the Western front was coincidental with the start of a new era for the side, it was still quite fitting for the group to be humbled by newfound knowledge of history, and to get a fresh perspective from outside the team “bubble”.
A three-day tour of Western France and Belgium, culminating in the squad’s participation in the evening ceremony at the Menin Gate in Ypres, had been a discussion point for team manager Gavin Dovey and former coach Darren Lehmann for quite some time, but the Newlands ball-tampering scandal ensured that it would be undertaken by the first touring team helmed by Justin Langer.
This, in turn, provided a link to a couple of rather different Australian team trips to scenes of conflict – Gallipoli in 2001 and France in 2005 – that Langer participated in as a player. There had been criticism in 2001 particularly, as the team donned military slouch hats and re-enacted a photograph of cricket being played on Shell Green, but this time the visit was more immersive and low-key, devised to generate deeper understanding of events of more than a century ago.
The image of the national team took an amighty battering in South Africa, costing Steven Smith and David Warner their leadership positions and alongside Cameron Bancroft their Cricket Australia contracts. But the sight of a humbled successor Tim Paine reading the ode taken from Laurence Binyon’s poem “For the Fallen” at the Menin Gate, before Aaron Finch, Alex Carey, Jhye Richardson and D’Arcy Short laid wreaths, presented a contrasting picture.
“We’ve come over to have a look at the Western Front, something that’s been in motion for probably a couple of years now. We thought was a good idea for the team to come over as young Australian men to retrace the steps of some really brave Australians over 100 years ago now,” captain Paine said. “It’s been a really great exercise for us as young men to come and learn more about that, and there’s lots we can take out of it.
“We’ve seen so much stuff that I think we’d never thought we would have seen. I think it’s been amazing to go through the cemeteries and the battlegrounds and see how well they’ve been maintained. It’s been a real eye-opener, just the magnitude of it and the size of the cemeteries, there’s so much we can take away from it individually and as a group.
“As a group [we’re] coming over to England now to play cricket, we’re obviously not going to war, but I think the importance of the things we can take from the men who came over so long ago is the teamwork and the mateship and the hard work and the things they did for each other. So we’re very lucky to be here playing a game of cricket, they came over here in really trying circumstances and did their best, and I think that’s something we can take from it going to England this week.”