Australia’s management delivers a strong wake-up call
The management of Australian cricket has been ridiculed – rightly or wrongly depending on which side of the debate you’re on – for asking its players to report to the coach, personal and collective assessments for improvements. But for Mickey Arthur and captain Michael Clarke, the objective of this situation has been to install discipline and focus into a younger, more fragile Australian squad ahead of a back-to-back Ashes series this year.
The past few days has seen a never-ending stream of ridicule, criticism, justification and bemusement of the decision to drop vice-captain Shane Watson, Usman Khawaja, James Pattinson and Mitchell Johnson for refusing to produce their “homework”.
Watson flew home to be with his wife ahead of the birth of his first child, a move that was on the cards prior to this development. For the other trio, they’ll have to sit out a crucial Test for the country as their team-mates battle to save the series against a run-hungry India.
With the Ashes series looming this summer, the news created laughter and perplexity in England and Australia respectively.
It seemed an incredibly harsh judgment on four players to be dropped for not producing, what seems to be, a mundane task for a professional cricketer whose brain is only consumed with practising a cover drive perfectly than writing improvements for performance on paper.
But Clarke and Arthur both provided robust defences for their decisions. The captain confirmed the decision was a culmination of previous failings whilst the coach re-affirmed the work-ethic he desired from his players.
Whilst on the exterior it seems an over-reaction, if you prod away underneath, you get the sense that it was time for the squad to feel the power of the hierarchy’s “hair-dryer”.
Currently on tour in India, the team has lost both Test matches comprehensively, which saw them lose the second Test by an innings and 135 runs after the Australians were bowled out for 131 in their second innings.
With two Ashes series in a year, Arthur and Clarke sense they need to send a firm message to their players to buck up their ideas in all departments (including on-the-field) to try and salvage a result in India, as preparation for an Ashes series where they are overwhelmingly not favourites.
For a squad of 18 that has an average age of 26, the actions of Clarke and Arthur seems a covert way of making the squad realise the implications of a heavy defeat in India.
It could be construed as a rallying call, with England, currently touring New Zealand, emanating a more professional ambiance.
Arthur was in charge of a highly drilled, well-performing South African side that claimed a first series win in England and against the side that he is now coaching.
The success of that tenure for Arthur was all about application, hard-work, and an unrelenting desire to win.
But he was afforded the benefit of working with a team that was exceptionally talented, and so, motivating a team was a task made a tad easier.
Now he is working with a squad that is lacking in Test match experience led admirably by Clarke, who himself seems to have shackled off any criticism from fans and emerged as a valid replacement for Ricky Ponting.
The dropping of the vice-captain plus three other players sends an uncompromising message to an Australian squad that has an average number of caps of 21, with only three players (Clarke, Watson and Johnson) reaching 50 and above in caps gained.
Watson, on returning home from India, suggested he would use the time to consider his future in the midst of negative comments by Australia’s high performance manager Pat Howard, who claimed the 32-year-old was not a team player.
Watson is an imposing figure literally, and on the pitch when it comes to facing his opposition, and an opposition in England would be happier to not have to face him.
The message has been unequivocally delivered by Clarke and Arthur to their squad, and they hope their squad will respond positively to try and build momentum for an Ashes battle that the majority say, will be a losing one for the Aussies.