Stand by for a rash of red cards and mock bewilderment from Premiership footballers at the start of the season.
At last foul-mouthed abuse is about to be penalised with straight red cards ? and we can all thank Wayne Rooney for some overdue retribution.
The Football Association has started a series of meetings with Premiership managers, designed to make them aware of the new hardline attitude towards swearing at referees. This is the brainchild of Brian Barwick,the chief executive, who has largely kept his head down since taking over a few months ago.
Barwick was appalled at the abuse meted out to referee Graham Poll during February?s Arsenal v Manchester United match, when the boy wonder almost begged to get sent off for enthusiastic use of the f-word in the face of the referee. It begs the question that the official ought to have been censured for his laxity but if Rooney?s shocking indiscipline has any beneficial side-effects it will be in an increased level of respect towards referees.
But don?t assume the managers will automatically fall in line. Just because they are being told what will happen come mid-August we shouldn?t believe they?ll embrace the new dictates and get their players to knuckle down. Until the FA hammer them for public comments and blatant dissent from the respective dug-outs then their players won?t come to order.
You can?t expect the players to toe the line when their managers and coaches are windmilling their arms on the touchline, berating the fourth official and pushing the levels of honest comment to the very limit.
So we?ll have several high-profile players getting the early bath in the first month of the season for industrial language and blatant dissent towards referees while having to endure the managers moaning about the game going soft.
We?ll all have our favourites to get first go at the shower gel but keep an eye on the likes of Sam Allardyce, Sir Alex Ferguson and Graeme Souness. Until the disciplinary book is thrown at them for fostering prolonged, foul abuse the players will continue to push the envelope as far as they can.
It?ll settle down eventually after Keith Hackett, the referee?s supervisor, has crisis talks with the managers. But it would be reassuring to believe that the FA will ensure that the match officials aren?t told to compromise and turn a deaf ear. But don?t bet on it.
Referees don?t enjoy a good press and, by extension, a sensible backing from the paying customers.
It?s far easier to don the blinkers, join with your manager and players in slagging off the referee, rather than look at the bigger picture.
Without referees you haven?t got a game and shouldn?t they be helped in their aims?
And when did you last hear a manager or player admit a day later that, after seeing the relevant video evidence, they were wrong to castigate the referee? Every week referees own up to mistakes so why not others involved at the sharp end?
McGrath right for New Road
Matthew Hoggard whose comments prior to last week?s Test were considered ? incorrectly ? to be inflammatory Glenn McGrath will be a terrific signing for Worcestershire once they formalise matters this week when the Australians play at New Road.
I understand that the club is very keen to have McGrath again and so they should be. He?s a consummate professional, as he showed in the Lord?s Test, and a world-class cricketer who is humble enough to mingle happily with the punters who sit in and around the pavilion at New Road, chewing the cud.
Australia have provided some good guys for Worcestershire, with Tom Moody and Andy Bichel proving approachable and committed to the cause. It was said in particular of Bichel that if you gave him a broom, he?d be happy to sweep up in the bar after the final call of ?last orders?.
McGrath is cut from similar cloth. At times he has been petulant on the field when it?s not going his way. That stems mainly from frustration at falling from the incredibly high standards that he sets himself. But off the field he?s an amiable country boy who loves the ambience of Worcestershire.
He still has defined international aims, hoping to be the first bowler to take 1,000 international wickets. But to do that he?ll need to be playing another three years at least in both Tests and one-dayers. A full season for Worcestershire next year would be the ideal way to keep in shape, give him a different perspective from the international circus and enjoy the family life that?s so important to him.
It was instructive to watch McGrath walking around the Lord?s outfield on Sunday evening with his wife and two children. Fully three hours after taking the last wicket, with the Aussie celebrations in full swing in their dressing- room, McGrath was savouring his last day at Lord?s as a Test cricketer.
It was touching to see how much all that still meant to him but he has immense pride in performance, whatever team he represents. Unlike some foreign players signed by Worcestershire, McGrath would again give the county full value for his salary.
England players were correct to exude confidence
The hounds of hysteria have been set free after England?s comprehensive defeat at Lord?s and the smell of overreaction is pungent. That is ridiculous. There were clear signs at Lord?s that England have narrowed the gap, even though they were not firing properly on all cylinders for every session ? the minimum requirement needed to beat Australia.
England bowled them out before tea on the first day and Steve Harmison clearly has the heat on their batsmen. And parity on first innings was more or less achieved. Dropped catches in Australia?s second innings and a pitch ideal for Shane Warne after hot weather re-established their supremacy. But they were rattled at various times.
They are the better side. Last Monday, as they fulfilled media responsibilities, every Australian kept singing from the same hymn sheet ? that they just have to keep working at their game and their superior skills would be decisive. That?s why they?ll win the series.
But when England?s players exuded confidence about Lord?s the following day, they copped flak from our press in the succeeding days. It was refreshing to hear the England guys say that the fear of failure had gone from a side that had won five successive Test series, that they?d taken heart from various matches in the one-day series and that they wouldn?t back away.
I came away from that England media briefing heartened and impressed by their high morale and excitement at the prospect of stacking up against the best side in the world. For too long we had heard England captains say that if his players did well, then at least they?d compete. Not win. Here we had younger, less battle-scarred players saying, in effect, bring them on. Just what the nation wanted to hear, I thought.
Matthew Hoggard was castigated subsequently for his bullish remarks when he said that Australia?s players were getting a tad long in the tooth, particularly with five Tests to be played in just under seven weeks. Hoggard?s remarks were subsequently twirled and he was reported to have said the Australians were past it.
He said nothing of the sort. I did that interview and the national press, who had missed out on getting that sort of line out of Hoggard ? even though they had the chance to talk to him ? reproduced his quotes without attribution to BBC Radio, then gave them an extra, provocative spin.
They said that Hoggard?s opinion on Warne and McGrath was that they were too old, and that Jason Gillespie had lost it. What he actually said to me was this . . .
?It?ll be interesting to see if they can put in consistent performances for 25 days. It?ll be interesting to see if McGrath is the world-class bowler he was and to see if Jason Gillespie can find some form.?
On Warne, Hoggard claimed he ?is not the force he was? and that ?it?ll be interesting to see if he can reproduce his best. He?s having to come around the wicket instead of bowling over the wicket ? I think that is more of a defensive ploy than an attacking ploy.?
All those observations were perfectly reasonable, based on the players? birth certificates, the number of injuries suffered by Gillespie and a careful scrutiny of Warne?s mediocre bowling performances with Hampshire. What happened subsequently at Lord?s doesn?t invalidate Hoggard?s views. Note his regular use of the phrase ?it?ll be interesting to see.?
He did not couch his opinions in the provocative, dogmatic manner suggested in national newspapers. But they needed some tubthumping from the England camp and, even though delighted to get it, they then turned on the player who was simply expressing an honest opinion that few would challenge.
Yet during the Test, more than one former England captain told me that Hoggard had been injudicious. Those former players had been part of seven successive losing Ashes series. I replied that it was refreshing not to hear the weary fatalism of their era.
No one hammered McGrath for saying Australia would win this series 5-0, a view supported by Brett Lee and Ricky Ponting. That?s admired as typical Australian self-confidence. When England?s new breed show positive intent they?re dismissed as being brainless.
It?s commendable that England?s players aren?t going to tap into the view that everything in Australian cricket is wonderful and that their guys are superstars. They are superior but they?re also human beings.
They can be beaten if England post big scores in the first innings, keep the ageing Australian bowlers out in the field for a long time, keep up the positive body language of the first day, trust that Harmison stays fit and hold catches. England have bounced back after bad defeats.
These thoughts are not intended to alter my conviction that Australia will win this series. But isn?t it rather premature to veer from justifiable optimism to the sackcloth and ashes stance after one bad defeat?