12 March 2013

Too harsh in the public eye given the evidence

Over the last 24 hours Australian Cricket has gone from a wobbly Indian tour on the field to a horrible atmosphere off the field. The axing of Shane Watson (vice-captain), Mitchell Johnson, James Pattinson and Usman Khawaja has shocked not only Australian Cricket supporters, but cricket fanatics in general.

Public outcry has been to sack Mickey Arthur based on this decision. This is definitely jumping the gun. I think this whole ordeal needs to be looked at with some perspective, much like our performances during the first two Tests of the Border-Gavaskar series. We need the best team on the park and the timing for such a drastic decision is worrying.

The Australian sports landscape isn't in great shape with all the drug inquests which brought about some worrying results, notably regarding AFL (Australian Football League) and NRL (National Rugby League). The timing of this news adds to the burden of current negativity in a country with such a strong and proud sporting culture.

Let me begin my look into this matter.

The first problem was the way the statement was delivered to the media from Arthur. We were left with the impression that these players had simply been dropped for not completing a "homework" assignment to assess how they can improve as players with the series going forward. They had four days to finish the assigned task, which was to be handed into the coach by whatever means were easiest for the players.

In modern day professionalism with high salary packages and rewards beyond your trade on the cricket field, this was not a big ask and should have been done. The team is currently needing a morale boost and this was clearly something Arthur and Clarke felt was a necessity as the team eyes an improvement for the 3rd Test. Maybe players have too much being spoon-fed to them nowadays, but it's still not a big ask.

Some have said that these blokes aren't admin boys. Their job is play cricket and improve via practice. Yes, I agree, but if a task is asked of you to require some application off the field to assess your own game, that falls under the job description in my opinion. The four players should have done it. I am interested to know what were their reasons for not submitting it in time. Forgetfulness or more pressing matters?

The reasons for the players not following through with orders should give better perspective on the standings on relationships with top management.

Yes, at first this is all we were informed about. Four players were dropped for not handing in a self-assessment form for improvement heading into the 3rd Test.
Therefore, to drop four quality cricketers on this basis in indeed bloody harsh if you ask me!

This is what we were told by Mickey Arthur and the bomb was dropped amongst the public. The media then took off with former players expressing their disgust and shock with the decision. Understandably we were seeing mixed opinions but the majority of us were obviously concerned that such drastic measures were taken.

The story went a step further, leaps further when Shane Watson announced he was leaving India to head back home. Immediately those who don't follow the players lives away from the game too closely were left to believe it was the decision that resulted in Watson calling it quits and that something bigger was going on.

However, Watson and his wife are awaiting the birth of their first child. His wife, Lee Furlong Watson, is in the final stages of pregnancy and it would seem some perspective was clear that the time was best spent with her rather than watching cricket from the sidelines. It's a special time is ones life and priority kicked in.

The fact Watson will be reassessing his future as a cricketer is a big cause for concern as to what this decision from management has done.

Pat Howard, Team Performance Manager, has stated Watson's commitment was questionable. Another indication that there is more to the story, but as a two time Allan Border Medalist, Watson has a vital position in the side, even though his Test performances remain inconsistent and tougher for him on a personal note given he can't bowl anymore. Howard also indicated that there's a lot of patching to do between Watson and Clarke with their relationship. 

"There's an individual aspect. That's a hard one to measure. I know Shane reasonably well. I think he acts in the best interests of the team sometimes. That's probably a better one for the players and the team to judge," Howard said.
"You don't get to pick and choose. The standard of the team is set, not playing under your own conditions. The first criteria to playing for Australia is wanting to play for Australia."
So, this picture immediately makes you either believe it was a fair move to drop the players due to slack discipline and disrespect to the Coach and Captain, or you will have felt the punishment was way too harsh for the information presented to us, which is how I felt. I am all for respect and good sportsmanship but was  still over the top.

Michael Clarke then came out to clarify it was a series of incidents that resulted in such drastic measures being taken. The players showed a lack of respect according to Clarke and in a time when the team needs to exercise strong discipline and off-field ethics, as well as on the field, this was unacceptable and a line was crossed.

I was convinced there had to be more to the story to drop your vice-captain, second in command to Clarke, and drop three other players who were surely all under consideration for the 3rd Test. Based on this, I eased up in my opinion but not being internally involved in the time, from the outside it still seemed harsh.

The important statement of Clarke's to read into is below (*Source: ESPN Cricinfo)

"I want the public and the media to understand, don't get me wrong, it's not just about one incident. Firstly on this tour our performances have been unacceptable and there has been some stuff off the field [that has been unacceptable] for the standards an Australian cricket team needs to present itself to achieve what we are trying to achieve ... I know it is a tough day, a really tough day and it's a tough decision, but at the end of the day if people are not hitting those standards there are going to be consequences.

"Our head coach gave us two days off after the second Test, it was about freshening yourself up, get your rehab [done], your recovery, do what you have to do, get everything right for the next two Test matches, because the next two Test matches are as big as you might have in your career and you have an opportunity to turn this series around.
"We were asked to do one thing from the head coach. It was giving information back to the head coach about not only improving your game - what you've learnt from the first two Test matches - but also how can you help this team turn things around and have success.
"It was a very simple task. Yes, it took a lot of thinking because you had to look at your game and where you thought you could improve, what you had learnt and what you could do to help this team level this series. In my opinion, for the four players to not do it, not only does it let the team down, it also shows a lack of respect for the head coach and in the Australian cricket team that is unacceptable."

Unfortunately, the additional reasons and poor standards leading to the dramatic decision to drop them was not made clear to the public. This lack of transparency is going to hurt Australian Cricket and the public will still be confused and angry with the decision, given you had to read into Clarke's statement to realise there is indeed more to the story.

The reason alone given by Arthur to drop the players is harsh and I am sure many feel there were other ways to hand down punishment for the incident. With a series on the line and Australian Cricket not in the best shape I am not sure this was not a decision wisely taken to ensure the morale and unity within the side be maintained or uplifted. Instead we have the public now up in arms and shaken even more ahead of the next match.

The Coach may have taken a bold step, but it will be a long road for Arthur to win back the public support. Honestly, I think this move has cast a dark cloud over his future as Australian Coach. The public relations handling of this matter is questionable and while there is probably a policy that somethings don't leave the change room, this is a move that has resulted in cricketers being dropped for reasons unheard of. We are now in a state of deep concern and worry over the state of our team.

Andrew Symonds comes to mind in all of this.

Roy was a personal favourite of mine and his whole character was just so classic. He seemed like a good guy to have around the team. The sad side of Roy's story is he had problems that affected his commitment to the team and resulted in his career with Cricket Australia coming to an end. It got to the point where his love for the game was lost as well.

He drove himself to it though as he had warnings issued for his behavioural problems and even when punishment was handed down, it was within good reason and guidelines were followed. In the general public we knew of Roy's personal battles and it was a bit easier to accept the punishment handed down. His offences were relatively serious in the sporting world. 

In this case with the four players it seems as though things weren't that bad on their character checks. It also seems we didn't have any obvious indication that these guys were stepping out of line. So to all of a sudden hear they were dropped was indeed a massive shock and it's fair enough that we feel gutted at the decision.

There's still more to come out of the story but as far as I am concerned the decision was too much. It may have seemed the right thing to do in Arthur and Clarke's mind to cement what their vision is for the team and the value and discipline required to be in the Australian team. The catch though is I feel this will have implications for the team and disharmony will be ever-present in Arthur's reign unless the team can pull out some ridiculously impressive performances.

Arthur and Clarke are judged on their performances and results. As a result, good performances from here will ease the tension. This recent move is a sign that they mean business and are under a heck of a lot of stress and pressure. My concern is they, more so Arthur, have a steep hill to climb now and the fall from the other side may be a long one. The public will not be easily convinced.

As a cricketer, Michael Clarke has high standards as he spent a fair amount of time around the great team of the past and succeeded as a youngster, having also dealt with being dropped. Therefore, I would have to have some belief that this decision is to ensure a tougher nature is present in the team and that he will succeed.

One of the culprits, fast bowler James Pattinson, took accountability for his misdemeanor and said that he feels this will be good for Australia in the long run. Can only hope his optimism will be validated and that his attitude was in a bad place to accept this.

"The easy thing for me was to make excuses and say it's a harsh punishment.
"But the reality is it's not - it's part of playing cricket for Australia. You've got to do everything right. It wasn't hard for the other 12 blokes to get it in on time and they took the time out to really reflect and do what's best for the team whereas we four didn't. Right now I'm still hurting about it but in the long run I think it's going to make us a better team."

Accountability is so important as these are professional cricketers. Hard decisions must be made and justified punishment must be handed out. If Arthur and Clarke feel it is justified with more behind the scenes incidents, so be it. If accountability could be taken to learn from their (the four players) mistakes but not at the expense of being dropped, then I'd have been able to easier accept that. This is not protection for these players, but rather Australian Cricket's landscape. By the same token it may send a warning sign out to "up your standards".

Ian Chappell said this will damage team morale. Having looked over things on paper, heard and read enough opinions, I am inclined to agree with Chappelli. It's not so much about this short-term decision, the frustration we have four players axed who could have contributed to a vital match, but rather the negative impact this will have on the culture of Australian Cricket going forward. This includes; players, supporters, shareholders, former players and the management/coaching staff.

Only sublime performances will rectify this in the short-term. Such a major pity as things were supposed to get better, not worse, not as messy as this. It's a very disappointing situation and numbing. I hope it really does go a lot further than an assignment not being submitted.

In conclusion having looked at everything, it is clear there is more to the story. Seeing as I, as a supporter, have to go on my get feeling, where my loyalties lie and what information I have been fed, I back the players. I think this punishment was harsh and Australian Cricket did not need this right now.

The biggest question though in terms of cricket itself. Will we have the best XI on the park? That should remain decision number one over and above everything.

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