It has been no secret the Australia camp has been enduring turbulence on and off the field, Michael Clarke’s side having lurched from one low to another in the Test series so far with contentious selections adding to the paucity of talent to challenge India on turning pitches.
But the team management dropped a bombshell on Monday after announcing that vice-captain Shane Watson and three other players have been axed from the Mohali Test starting on Thursday, of all reasons, for not submitting self-assessment reports suggesting a way forward for the team in distress.
A furious Watson left the team in a full-blown crisis and threw his own career into jeopardy, when he abandoned the tour, storming out of the team hotel after slamming the decision.
The three were no pushovers. James Pattinson is the leading paceman, Mitchell Johnson is the most experienced and batsman Usman Khawaja was in the running to replace the misfiring top order batsman Phil Hughes. But the punishment for Watson suggested serious differences within the squad bordering on rebellion, and that his testy relationship with Clarke had completely broken down.
Coach Mickey Arthur made the media announcement, leaving everyone stunned. The South African didn’t mince words.
“We’ve given this group, which is obviously new, every opportunity to conform and to create the culture and attitude we want from the Australian team and suffice to say these players did not meet the standards,” Arthur said. After the second Test, the players were given five days to make presentations, in person or in writing. There were reports that Pattinson and Khawaja simply forgot!
The decision was taken by Arthur, team manager Gavin Dovey and skipper Michael Clarke to enforce team discipline. But the picture became clear when Watson quickly left the training field while the others took part in the drills that lasted almost three hours.
Watson has had a tense relationship with Clarke, his refusal to bowl due to a weak calf and keenness to return as opener, adding to the problem. Questionable team selections have added to the stinging defeats in Chennai and Hyderabad. In Chennai, Nathan Lyon did not get the support of a second spinner. And when Maxwell was included in Hyderabad, Lyon was axed. The off-spinner then questioned Arthur for saying he had technical issues. Hughes’ personal coach, Neil D’Costa, had said the Aussie preparations for the tour had left the batsman unprepared for the spin test.
But Clarke subsequently made it clear that several incidents had brought things to a head. The skipper claimed some players had not followed team requirements like fitness assessments taking advantage of the break between Tests, which smacked of indiscipline and a lack of commitment.
Arthur described it as tough but said the management would not rescind the decision. He said the decision was justified even if it leaves the tour hanging in balance.
“There is no way they can come back even if they apologise. We should take the series out of the equation. It’s about the team and about Australian cricket. It sends a message that if you want to play for Australia you can’t cut corners.”
|Coach Mickey Arthur plays hardball|
"This is a line in the sand. We pride ourselves on attitude. We have given the players a huge amount of latitude to get culture and attitude right. We believe that those behaviours are not consistent with what we want to do with this team, how we want to take this team to be the best in the world. I believe those four players unfortunately did not meet my requirements so those four players are not available for selection for this Test match.
‘It’s extremely tough to sit here and make that decision. I wish it wasn’t the vice captain, I wish it wasn’t Shane Watson and Mitchell Johnson. They are leaders within the team and are very professional with the way they go about their business. But this was a moment where we had to make a statement irrespective of who the players were. This has been the toughest decision that myself, manager Gavin Dovey and captain Michael Clarke have ever had to make.
"I wanted three points from each of them technically, mentally and team as to how we were going to get back over."