Australia’s preparations for their Ashes double-header against England have been plunged into turmoil after four players were axed for not doing a homework assignment during the tour of India.
Vice-captain Shane Watson, James Pattinson, Usman Khawaja and Mitchell Johnson were all suspended for one Test late on Monday in what Australian media called “one of the most sensational days in Australian cricket history.”
A shattered Watson opted to return home and suggested he may quit Test cricket altogether.
Trailing 2-0 in the Indian Test series, all the players had been told to prepare feedback on how they could improve and were given five days to deliver it, but four failed to meet the deadline and paid a heavy price.
Skipper Michael Clarke said the players had shown a lack of respect for coach Mickey Arthur, with their axing the culmination of a general slide in attitudes on the Indian tour.
In a video statement released by Cricket Australia, an exhausted-looking Clarke made it clear it was not an isolated incident.
“It’s a lot bigger than that. There’s been a number of things on this tour that have not been up to the standard we would want as an Australian cricket team, hence our performance,” he said. “We can’t accept mediocrity here. This is the Australian cricket team.”
“Four of our players did not adhere to what is required from them, and that is unacceptable if you want to be a part of the Australian cricket team,” he said.
Watson, 31, was due back in Australia yesterday, leaving Clarke desperately short of experienced heads after the recent retirement of Ricky Ponting and Mike Hussey.
“Any time you’re suspended for a Test match, unless you do something unbelievably wrong, and obviously everyone knows what those rules are ... I think it is very harsh,” Watson said.
With Australia due to play five Test matches in England in July and August before the two sides go head-to-head again in Australia in another five-match series starting in November, former players strongly criticized the decision by Arthur and Clarke.
“Adults we are, not schoolboys,” tweeted Darren Lehmann, seen as a future Australian coach.
Former captain and selector Allan Border was equally astounded.
“What are they on, a schoolboy tour?” he told Fox Sports. “I don’t see the logic in this. It is way over the top. It seems too strong a measure for coach and captain to take.”
However, Cricket Australia general manager Pat Howard said the latest incident was the “straw that broke the camel’s back,” without providing any information on previous discipline breaches.
“You can only get your last chance so many times,” he said in Brisbane, adding that the board was fully supportive of Arthur and Clarke.
“It’s a high-performance culture that we’re after and they’ve made a pretty big stance on what the minimum standard is. I fully support what the management had to do,” Howard said. “If you want to be No. 1 in the world, you have to fight harder, have high standards and that’s what they have asked for.”
The Australian newspaper was not impressed, saying it was “an all-round mess.”
“These are calamitous times for Australian cricket and there’s more to this than meets the eye,” the broadsheet’s cricket writer Peter Lalor said. “There is every chance Shane Watson may not play another Test for his country.”