They are in a dire run of form, their media have turned on them, their former players have been openly critical and one of Australia’s star batsmen has been dropped after launching an unprovoked attack against an England cricketer in the early hours of Sunday morning in a Birmingham theme pub.
David Warner, one of several Australian cricketers under pressure before the Champions Trophy one-day tournament and back-to-back Ashes series, threw a punch at the English rising star Joe Root and struck him with what was described as a “glancing blow” following a late-night altercation over a fancy-dress wig.
The green-and-gold wig can now be filed alongside posters for a “Mad Midget Weekend” in Auckland (Mike Tindall, Rugby World Cup 2011), a pedalo in the Caribbean (Andrew Flintoff, Cricket World Cup 2007) and a dentist’s chair from a Hong Kong bar (Teddy Sheringham, Euro 1996) in the archive of pre-tour sporting infamy.
However, these were English crises. The Australian’s late punch amounts to a role reversal of epic proportions, leaving their touring cricketers in turmoil and their fans at home fearing the worst before a crucial sporting summer.
With the country already reeling from a disappointing showing at the Olympics and a damning report that claimed doping was endemic in Australian sport, the turmoil in their once all-conquering cricket team has led to uncharacteristically gloomy introspection in a country for whom sporting success is a key part of the national psyche.
The scene was Birmingham’s Walkabout, one of a chain of Australian theme pubs across the country. The bar’s manager described a “small altercation” in which Warner is believed to have taken exception to Root pretending the wig was a beard and snatched it from him. He then aimed a punch at Root, the 22-year-old Yorkshire batsman who is nicknamed the Milky Bar Kid by his county teammates and has made a swashbuckling start to his international career.
It was claimed by sources close to the player that Warner believed Root was poking fun at the bearded South African batsman Hashim Amla, who was not present, but England and Wales Cricket Board insiders strongly denied the suggestion.
They said Root, who had only been in the bar for a short time, had placed the wig on his chin because he is regularly ribbed in the dressing room about his ability to grow a beard and that Warner came from nowhere to snatch it away before aiming a punch at him. Australia’s Clint McKay ushered Warner away, while Stuart Broad protected his young England teammate.
All four were in the bar between 1:30am and 2:30am when the incident happened, following England’s victory over Australia in their opening match in the one day Champions Trophy. However, while the Australia players were in the club’s VIP section, England’s players were at the bar.
John Creighton, the bar’s manager, said that none of the players had been drinking to excess. He said Warner, who was “quite familiar” to their bar staff after visiting the pub regularly, settled the bar tab.
However, Warner, dropped from Australia’s team to play South Africa at Edgbaston on Wednesday, had to explain his actions to Cricket Australia officials after being formally charged with breaking its disciplinary code. Before the tour started, he had already been disciplined and fined after becoming embroiled in a Twitter war of words with Australian journalists Robert Craddock and Malcolm Conn.