Four players axed: Australia takes the Mickey

By Ant Sims 12 March 2013

Mickey Arthur had a drastic response to players not responding to so-called team orders. After a drubbing in their second Test against India, the Australian coach instructed the players to find three key points which could help them improve their game. Four players didn’t comply, and were axed. By ANT SIMS.

Shane Watson left Australia’s tour of India with two Tests still left to play after the vice-captain was told that, along with three other players, he wouldn’t be considered for selection for the third Test after they ignored team orders.

Cricket Australia has insisted that Watson’s departure had nothing to do with his axing and he was instead leaving to be with his wife, who is expecting their first child. The baby was due only after the Indian tour and Watson had been given permission to leave earlier should it be required. CA didn’t comment on whether Watson would be returning for the fourth Test, which starts on Friday next week.

Watson, however, has spoken out against his axing and certainly doesn’t seem to be corroborating the baby story. Watson, upon leaving for home, admitted that he was considering calling time on his Test career and felt that the decision to drop him was “harsh”.

“Any time you are suspended from a Test match, unless you have done something unbelievably wrong and obviously everyone knows what those rules are – I think it is very harsh,” he said.

“In the end I have got to live with it. That is the decision they have made and at this point in time I am at a stage where I have to way up my future with what I want to do with my cricket in general.”

He added: “I am going to spend the next few weeks with my family and weigh up my options as to exactly which direction I want to go or keep on.

“I am going to have to sit down and work that out with my family. There are a lot more important things in life. I do love playing cricket and that passion is still there and I feel I am in the prime years of my cricket career.”

Three other players – James Pattinson, Mitchell Johnson and Usman Khawaja – were told by coach Mickey Arthur that they would not be considered for selection after they failed to submit “three points”, requested by the coach, on how their individual performances and that of the team could improve.

After two losses on the trot, including an innings defeat in the second Test, Arthur requested on Tuesday night that the players complete the task by Saturday evening. The coach said that players could relay their messages via text message, email or by slipping a note under his door. By Monday morning, four players had failed to comply and after a meeting between management, which included skipper Michael Clarke, it was decided that a “line in the sand” moment had been reached.

“After Hyderabad, the whole team was really hurting, we were discussing ways of getting back into the series,” Arthur said. “We were particularly aware of where we were as a team and how we were going to get back. I asked the players at the end of the game to give me an individual presentation. I wanted three points from each of them technically, mentally and [as a] team on how we were going to get back over the next couple of games, how we were going to get ourselves back into the series,” Arthur said.

The coach compared the rash decision to something England did when the Kevin Pietersen text message saga broke last year. Pietersen was axed from the squad after it was reported that he had sent text messages to the opposition slating his captain and giving advice on how to get him out. Although the ECB admitted they had never actually seen any of the messages, Pietersen was dropped for England’s final Test against South Africa. The hosts subsequently lost the Test and the series and while Pietersen has been reinstated since then, it seemed an impulsive and irresponsible decision.

It’s not the first time that Clarke has played a role in ousting players, either. Simon Katich had previously admitted that that a dressing room bust-up with Clarke played a part in his career ending, while Andrew Symonds was equally vocal about his stance towards the now-Aussie skipper. While Clarke might not have been the catalyst in this instance, being in cahoots with dropping his side’s highest wicket taker of the series (Pattinson with eight wickets), does again raise questions about Clarke’s leadership and man management skills. There had also previously been rumours about a rift between Watson and Clarke, but the skipper denied such reports and insisted that his relationship with the vice-captain was “as close as he could ask for”.

While presentations and requests from coaches on how players can better a situation are not uncommon in international cricket, players not responding to such instruction isn’t. It’s simply not within the nature of some players to act like a high school child responding to a homework request, and they would much rather talk face-to-face about the situation when prompted.

Arthur admitted that both Watson and Pattinson were “going to talk to him about it on Monday” while Johnson and Khawaja apparently “forgot” about the tasks, but the coach insisted and repeated that the decision had to be ruthless – and although he has never questioned Watson’s dedication to the side, Arthur said that there could be no exceptions and that a “statement’ had to be made irrespective of who the players involved were.

There is no doubt that Arthur will be under pressure to perform and that he would want the best eleven on the field at any time. While there might be further underlying issues to the scenario, he has not made those public, which makes his press conference where he announced the decision even more baffling. Such public shaming of players is only likely to cause more friction.

With an Ashes series in England just a few months away, succumbing to pressure and this kind of reactionary response is the last thing Australia needs.

Australia has just thirteen players at its disposal for the second Test against India starting on Thursday, and Matthew Wade is in doubt with injury – meaning Arthur could find himself with just 12 players to choose from.

Available players: Michael Clarke (capt), David Warner, Ed Cowan, Phillip Hughes, Moises Henriques, Glenn Maxwell, Steven Smith, Peter Siddle, Mitchell Starc, Xavier Doherty, Nathan Lyon, Brad Haddin (wk)

Doubtful: Matthew Wade (wk)

Out: Shane Watson, James Pattinson, Mitchell Johnson, Usman Khawaja DM

Photo: Australia’s David Warner (R) walks off after making 90 runs in his innings against Sri Lanka during their Twenty20 international cricket match at the Homebush Stadium in Sydney January 26, 2013. REUTERS/Steve Christo


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