Few days pass when there is not an unusual story in cricket but there has rarely been one so odd as the tale that emerged from the Australian dressing room this week.
It had lost two Tests in a row in India, the coach Mickey Arthur set it a task to explain why it was performing so badly, and four players failed to respond to this request — including the vice-captain Shane Watson who promptly went home, as planned, to be with his pregnant wife.
The rest of the refusniks were suspended, leaving the side with only 12 players for Test No. 3 and Arthur claiming that it was not just their refusal to do their homework that brought them to justice.
He said: “Being late for a meeting, high skin folds, wearing the wrong attire, back chat, or giving attitude are just some of the examples of the behaviour attitudes that continue to happen. If we are deadly serious about getting back to No. 1, all players need to raise their game.”
It sounds what the Aussies themselves call “very un-Australian” but it is also un-South African and I imagine that Arthur, raised in the high standards set by Bob Woolmer when he was their coach, must have been astonished by this lack of drive.
Australian cricket — the nation’s major sport, its pride and joy — is in chaos. Oddly, there has been no response from Cricket Australia, even though there has been a flood of comment from all quarters and, of course, from the 20 million true blue Aussies, propping up bars, swigging back their favourite Chardonnay and munching on their crocodile steaks.
Maybe Cricket Australia is waiting for the tour to finish lest it causes more havoc in a side already at its lowest level in years. Not much sign of leadership in a crisis but I guess it is in shock too.
I wonder if the bosses also grasped the essential fact that Australia’s team had been destroyed not just by the Indian spinners and its revolt over extra written work — which, let’s face it, tried to turn brawny cricketers into the pupils at a creative writing course — but by its own pension plan.
In the last eight years since it first lost a grip on the Ashes — sorry to mention that but a much-maligned Pom cannot resist a small return for the sarcasm that came his way during the 1990s — it has lost a whole team of great players.
Hayden, briefly the world record-holder, Ponting, captain and fighting No. 3, Warne, McGrath, two of the greatest bowlers of all time, Gilchrist, perhaps the finest batsman-wicketkeeper; and these are just the most obvious match-winners to hang up their pads, bats and helmets recently.
The same problem destroyed England after the 1989 Ashes defeat and the West Indies when its great players — Haynes and Greenidge, Richards, Walsh and Ambrose — left the Test scene. England found Andrew Flintoff and Michael Vaughan; and Duncan Fletcher showed it the value of discipline, although he did not set any extra homework.
Arthur, trying to squeeze the last drop of talent from the small fry left in his squad, must have realised that he could not restore greatness in a flash and he could not just sit there and hope for the best.
At least he has exposed those who were clearly not following his code of conduct and that alone may go a long way to bringing Australia back towards the top. Sadly, he may have sacrificed the Ashes at the same time. Excuse me if I giggle.