Homework-gate: A mess certainly, but a necessary one
Defeats, especially when the margins are 8 wickets, and an innings and 135 runs, are always difficult to deal with. For most of Micheal Clarke’s young Australian team, it has been a harsh lesson in the subcontinent so far. Spin, Ashwin, crumbling pitches, Indian batsmen – there were already so many issues facing the tourists before the homework-gate reared its ugly head. May be it’s a bit too early to say, but with the recent developments in the Aussie camp, this Indian trip is well on its way to be officially termed a disaster.
Many former Australian cricketers, quite predictably, reacted furiously over the decision to drop the errant four, which includes the vice-captain and the best bowler on the tour. These are professional cricketers, not schoolkids, they said. A stern talk over a beer or two would do. Shane Warne, a well-known Mickey Arthur critic, urged Cricket Australia to go the traditional way and let the captain run the show.
While the ex-cricketers do have point, they need to realize that things aren’t the way they were. While in terms of ability this team is a pale shadow of its recent past, may be even the attitude of the current members is not a patch on its predecessors. Maybe for players in the era of hit and giggle cricket, such drastic steps are needed to make them value the baggy green the way an Allan Border or a Steve Waugh did.
Making a presentation or sending a text is in no way going to improve their on-field performance. It’s not that Arthur and Clarke would be expecting any path-breaking ideas from the likes of Khawaja, Hughes and Maxwell, who are on their first trip to India. But the usual ‘dont bowl short’, ‘play with straight bat’, and ‘play with soft hands’ would at least suggest that the players have reflected on their poor show and are willing to do whatever it takes to get back to winning ways. These sort of team-building exercises tend to prepare a common vision for the team and propel the whole squad towards it.
By not complying to the task given, the famous four, as Clarke said, showed disrespect towards the ways of the coach and the management.
Arthur is also not known for taking such strict disciplinary actions. During his five-year tenure as the South African coach, he was very proactive, but the reins were very much with Graeme Smith. There were difficult characters like Herschelle Gibbs, but the presence of senior team members like Jacques Kallis and Mark Boucher ensured that things never took an ugly turn.
In the Australian set up, he had Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey in similar roles, but their retirements in quick succession might have forced him to become the stern enforcer in the young squad.
Then, the statements made by the skipper and the coach also suggest that this isn’t the first case of insubordination, and the steps taken are an attempt to stem the growth of a dangerous habit. By naming seniors like Shane Watson and Mitchell Johnson, who according to Arthur are leaders within the squad, the management has also made it clear in no uncertain terms that no individual is greater than the team.
Such events are bound to have extreme effects on the team and the players, especially the affected ones, and they must ensure that it brings the team together rather than disintegrate the team. While the reaction from the vice-captain Watson has been disappointing, it was heartening to see the youngster James Pattinson accept his mistake and tender an apology to his teammates. With the Mohali Test just hours away, Clarke would be desperate to use the whole saga as a catalyst to coax a superlative effort out of his young team.
Certain situations demand tough decisions and tough decisions rarely win popularity contests. The Australian cricket is at its lowest ebb in last three decades, and with back-to-back Ashes series looming, this might just be the kick in the backside they needed.
Post Script: Wonder if Mickey Arthur would have taken such a step as an Indian coach. His burning effigies would have dominated the air time on most news channels.