I wasn't sure what to think or believe about this week's crisis in Australian cricket. (This isn't to say that there's a crisis every week, although, at the moment, it might seem like it.)
My initial reaction was that Arthur and Clarke had been heavy-handed, although Brydon Coverdale's nail on head piece on Cricinfo, led me to re-consider my initial view. It seems, from comments made later by Clarke, that the failure of the four players to 'hand in their homework' on time was the straw that broke the camel's back. And James Pattinson, in an admirable display of contrition which I'm naive enough to believe was genuine, appeared to have learned a lesson of sorts, although, as the team's best bowler, he was always destined to return to the side at the earliest opportunity. For Watson, who high-tailed it back to Australia to be with his pregnant wife while muttering about the injustice of it all, and Khawaja, and Johnson, the future is a deal more uncertain. All are cricketers of talent, that much is beyond dispute, but all have histories of under-performance, and, in at least Khawaja's case, this apparently wasn't the first time they'd failed to meet their disciplinary obligations.
For all of them, time will tell. This is about something bigger.
It is trite and obvious to say that this wouldn't have happened a few years ago, when Australian were one of the greatest teams in the game's history. For one thing, individual and collective navel-gazing is less likely to be demanded when sides are winning, and, if it is, players are more likely to respond positively. They will be happier and more relaxed because they are winning and they are likely to be more conscious of the need to preserve their place among a privileged elite. It would be a surprise if the Australian cricket team, beaten from pillar to post by Dhoni, Pujara and the rest over the past few weeks, currently feels much like an elite.
In an extension of this, one of the earliest and least surprising reflex reactions to the news came from people asking whether the likes of Viv Richards or Shane Warne would have come up with their three suggestions for improvement in the prescribed manner. Well, no, they probably wouldn't. In fact, in Warne's case, he definitely wouldn't, even if he's recently developed the waning, raging, retiree's addiction to putting the world (or at least his country's cricket system) to rights. Things were different then, and, if John Buchanan had asked Warne to do such a thing, the reaction would doubtless have been short and not particularly sweet. And he would still have been picked for the next Test.
Last week's affair had as much to do with a national cricket culture's confusion and uncertainty about what to do in the face of decline as the errant actions of a few individuals. When your cricket team has been as fecund and impregnable a source of national pride and cultural identity as Australia's was a few short years ago, people start scrambling for excuses and solutions once the inevitable regression and decline sets in. And a relatively new, foreign, coach, will feel the dead weight of past glories all the more and consequently try harder to free himself and his charges from the pressure imposed by the hand of history. And things can seem even worse when your hopes have been raised by illusory and often facile successes which led you to think you were making progress. Cleaning up Sri Lanka in home conditions is one thing, meeting India under roasting skies with a hand of inadequate spinners and floundering batsmen, and with twin Ashes series against better equipped opponents on the horizon, is very much another.
This is an uncertain time for Australian cricket, and Australian sport. The customary narrative, which a generation or more of Australians has grown up with, is that Australia is good at sport. When it comes to cricket, they are among the best. In fact, they have often been the best. Now they are not, and with every fresh stroke of Shikar Dhawan's bat, or each time Phil Hughes is dismissed in clumsy circumstances, renewed doubts and uncertainties raise their heads.
It will take more than three bullet pointed ideas to put them to rest.
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