In a desperate attempt to enforce discipline, the Australian cricket team management stunningly ruled four cricketers out of contention for the third Test of the series against India starting here on Thursday.
Vice-captain Shane Watson, James Pattinson, Usman Khawaja and Mitchell Johnson were punished for not submitting their presentations to the team management following the innings defeat at Hyderabad in the second Test.
Coach Micky Arthur, manager Gavin Dovey and skipper Michael Clarke comprised the committee that took the debatable decision. Arthur maintained a determined countenance as he explained the philosophy behind the action ahead of a crucial match.
Khawaja and Johnson, both in the reserves thus far, were in line for selection but would now have to wait for the last Test to earn a slot in the playing eleven. For Pattinson, one of the few performers in the series thus far, the decision must have been shattering.
Watson later flew home to be by the side of his wife, who is expecting, even as Brad Haddin left for India as a cover for injured wicketkeeper Mathew Wade. The team management’s far-reaching act, however, came in for a scathing criticism by some former stars on the mode of punishment.
Australian great Allan Border was livid, “I’m surprised that’s the penalty for something so mundane. It seems like it was on a schoolboy tour or something. It’s an over-the-top reaction.”
Compatriot Dean Jones felt “implications from these actions are serious. I feel it is deeper than it appears. Australia are in trouble!”.
Former England skipper Michael Vaughan remarked: “What is going on with Aussie cricket? Didn’t realise you had to do an essay to get a selection these days.”
Captain Clarke later told a website, “We were asked to do one thing from the head coach. It was giving information 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.
“We can't accept mediocrity here. This is the Australian cricket team. Maybe, I am biased [but] there is a big difference between this team and other cricket teams. If you play for Australia there is a lot that comes with that and standards, discipline, culture and that is all a big part of what we are talking about here. 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.”
The development was in keeping with the Australian image of paying importance to the team’s interest and not encouraging star culture. It did not deter Arthur from acting despite Australia suffering ignominious defeats in the first two Tests in Chennai and Hyderabad.
“It’s been a tough day,” said Arthur. “At the end of the (last) Test match we discussed the way forward, discussed how to get ourselves back into the series and I had asked all the players to give their presentations to me on how they can contribute for us to get back into the series. Unfortunately, four guys did not send me their reports and hence the management team made the decision that they are not available for selection for this Test match.”
Dwelling on the issue, the Australian coach explained, “It is pertinent for me to say that we have given this group every opportunity to conform, create the attitude that we want from an Australian cricket team.
“Suffice to say that this team did not meet the standards that we had set ourselves and some stringent goals to be the number one in the world needed to be taken.
“That comes with an attitude, a culture and a behaviour pattern that goes with the best in the world. We needed to change the attitude and the behaviour.”
All are upset
The four players, according to Arthur, were all “gutted as I am; all are very upset. They realise they had done a wrong thing.
“It was tough taking such decisions but it was needed to bring a change in the attitude and culture. If you want to play for Australia you can’t cut corners. You have to be performing to the best of your abilities all the time, on and off the field.”
“The sanction is only for this match,” Arthur informed.
Looking ahead, Arthur observed, “We are playing an Indian team which is at its best; very formidable in its own backyard.
“I would be disappointed if we came to India and India did not create such conditions for us.
“Coming to the sub-continent was a real cricketing challenge for a lot of our players and they have found out how hard it can get; likewise, when India goes to Australia.
“The key is to learn to win away from home. That’s what makes you better.”