After 24 hours of the most withering abuse directed at Australia’s cricket management for excluding Shane Watson and three other cricketers from the Test team, the tide turned yesterday with a flurry of support for the “line in the sand.”
Australian cricket was plunged into crisis on Tuesday after Watson, James Pattinson, Mitchell Johnson and Usman Khawaja were banished from the team for the third Test in India, for failing to provide their thoughts on how Australia could improve.
Former Test greats lined up to pour incredulous scorn on coach Arthur and captain Michael Clarke for taking such strong action for an offence likened by many commentators to a schoolboy forgetting to do their homework.
Watson, the most senior of the players and the team’s vice captain, arrived back in Australia to be with his pregnant wife late on Tuesday and dubbed the punishment “extremely severe.”
The 31-year-old sometime all-rounder’s assertion that he still wanted to play Test cricket for his country was reassuring, with back-to-back Ashes series coming at the end of year.
After the recent retirements of former skipper Ricky Ponting and Mike Hussey, the prospect of losing a third top batsman, albeit one as injury-prone as Watson, for such a trivial offence was startling to many.
Word from team management on the sub-continent that the punishment was not isolated, but the culmination of a build-up of minor disciplinary issues, helped start the turning of the tide.
Arthur, in his blog on the Cricket Australia Web site, said his team had given a fair amount of “laxity and flexibility” to the players, because of their youth and inexperience.
“This decision was about sending a strong message that it is about time all players had some accountability for their actions,” Arthur wrote. “Being late for a meeting, high skinfolds, wearing the wrong attire, back-chat or giving attitude are just some examples of these behavioral issues that have been addressed discretely, but continue to happen.”
“If we’re deadly serious about getting back to No. 1 in the world, all players need to raise the bar and lift their game. This is a line-in-the-sand moment. A point we’ll look back on in a couple of years’ time when we’re back to No. 1 in the world and say was a defining moment,” he added.
Well-respected cricket journalist and author Gideon Haigh had already laid out his views in a column entitled “Coddled boys who expect it all laid on,” in which he said it was no surprise that Watson had been one of those punished.
“Probably more coaching and management resources have been poured into him than any cricketer of his generation — for the dividend of two centuries in 40 Tests,” he wrote in the Australian. “He is a handsome player of abundant talent. He is also wealthy, pampered, immature and self-involved. That’s what a life in modern professional sport can make of you.”
Richard Hinds in the Age said the failure of the quartet to perform the simple task of offering, via e-mail, their opinion on team improvements would invite questions as to whether they would follow more important instructions.
“If it has a positive impact on long-term performance, this might be considered a vital moment for a team in transition,” he wrote.
“One that has struggled to adapt to an age when a team is a collection of similarly gifted individuals with often different outlooks. Not the joined-at-the-hip band of mates who wouldn’t dare shave a hair off a moustache for fear of being considered a freak or a lone wolf,” Hinds added.
Clarke has shown a marked ruthless streak in his bid to take Australia back to the top of the world rankings since assuming the captaincy in the wake of the 2010-2011 Ashes drubbing.
Far from being forced into a conciliatory position by the abuse he has suffered over the last two days, the 31-year-old was strident in his view that punishing the four players was the correct decision.
“This game owes us, the players, nothing. We owe it everything,” he wrote in his column in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph.
“It’s time we showed it the due respect for all the opportunities it has given us. I hope that in time this will be viewed as the boot up the backside we needed,” he added.