It has been viewed as unprecedented, unnecessary and unjust, while others have seen it as courageous and inspired. James Pattinson, Mitchell Johnson, Usman Khawaja and Shane Wastson have all been stood down from Australia’s must win test match against India for not reporting to management on how their team can improve after 2 drubbings at the hands of their hosts. Pattinson has been Australia’s most potent bowler in an otherwise limp attack; Watson is the team’s vice-captain and a dual Allan Border Medal winner; while Johnson and Khawaja were both in contention to play their 1st tests of the tour. Watson has also now quit the current tour to be with his pregnant wife Lee and has said he is unsure of his future in the Australian test side.
Coach Mickey Arthur and Michael Clarke are obviously looking to impose a strong stance of team culture, but one would argue that a school boy punishment of not submitting one’s homework is not suitable for the Australian cricket team. On the other hand, as well paid professionals, these players have the responsibility to perform any tasks asked of them via their coach and captain.
The current drama ranks below those of World Series cricket and the South African rebel tours of the late 70’s and 80’s in terms of selection controversies, but it is by far the biggest we have seen in recent years, perhaps across any codes in the country.
With Pattinson and Johnson unavailable, Peter Siddle who has had little impact in the 1st two tests will almost certainly lead the attack in Mohali, while the final makeup of team will most likely come down to how much of a spinners paradise the curators are preparing. Mitchell Starc could get a reprieve after being dropped for the Hyderabad test, while Australia might also look to play 3 specialist spinners in a move not seen since Shane Warne, Stuart Macgill and Collin Miller teamed up as a tweaking trio.
On the batting front, with Khawaja out of the picture and Phil Hughes out of touch, Steve Smith’s perceived ability against spin bowling could see him get a call up in what could be one of the most undeserved test selections since, well Glenn Maxwell just over a week ago.
As coach of the QLD Bulls and Brisbane Heat, Darren Lehman has won the 3 major trophies on offer on the Australian domestic scene over the last 12-months – The Sheffield Shield, Ryobi One Day Cup, and the T/20 Big Bash, and he like many other former players has come out via twitter as a strong opponent on the punishment that has been dished out to the quartet.
Lehman, a dual world cup winner, comes from an era of Australian cricket where culture and success went hand in hand, and this is something he has built in the sunshine state. When Australia was thumped 3-1 by England during the 2010-2011 Ashes, Coach Tim Nelisen and Chairman of Selectors Andrew Hilditch were sub sequentially sacked as a result of the Argus Report. Many already have Lehman’s name pencilled in for the head coach job in 12-months’ time should we see another debacle occur in the upcoming 10-Ashes tests.
Every ex-player, administrator and journalist has given their opinion on the current drama, but we are yet to hear from the players themselves. James Pattinson is a fast, aggressive and passionate fast bowler, and has been one of the only shining lights for the tour; Usman Khawaja was on the verge of a comeback to the Australian team after 14-months out of side; while Johnson and Watson are both senior squad members. Why would these players jeopardise their places in the Australian team and careers and test cricketers on such an important tour, and in such an important year?
There are a few reasons why this may have happened: 1) the players did not think it was important. 2) They did not agree with the approach taken by team management. 3) They did not care. 4) There is an underlining culture issue in the Australian side that the public is not aware of. If the answer is 3, then these players will not be representing Australia again, but this surely is not the case. The Baggy Green cap is the most sacred and respected symbol held in Australian cricket, and it is hard to imagine a situation where players are not doing everything asked of them to play a test match against what is one of their fiercest competitors.
Cricket Australia Pat Howard has described the situation as the straw that broke the camel’s back, referring to ongoing issues within the group but without going into detail on previous misdemeanours by any of the individuals concerned. One can only assume there is something happening behind the scenes, but assumptions can often lead to trouble, and it is best served if Cricket Australia goes into more detail about the current situation to at least give fans a reason to watch the last 2 tests.
Last week the cricketing world was laughing at the weak performance put forward by the Australian team, this week it is their hierarchy that is being mocked. Clarke and Arthur are obviously hoping this latest scandal will galvanise their troops and they will come out the other side a stronger, tougher unit. Time will tell if this is to be true.