The crisis Australia were plunged into after four players were axed from the team for the third Test against India in Mohali for failing to complete an assignment stipulated by Mickey Arthur, the head coach, deepened late on Monday (March 11) when Michael Clarke, the captain, revealed that the extreme step had been taken as a result of repeated infractions.
“As Australian cricketers, we’re expected to maintain the highest of standards. And in the case of the four players stood down from the third Test here in India, those standards have not been met,” Clarke wrote in his syndicated column that appeared in the Herald Sun, among other newspapers. “This was not an isolated incident. As a team over the past couple of months we have not reached the standards expected of us as Australian cricketers. This is the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
However, Clarke chose not to spell out exactly how the required standards were not met, and did not shed light on the incidents that built up into such an unsavoury climax.
Clarke explained that every member of the Australian team had been given two days off after the loss in Hyderabad to introspect on what had gone wrong, recharge their batteries and return with suggestions on how things could be turned around, both individually and as a group. As Shane Watson, the vice-captain, Usman Khawaja, Mitchell Johnson and James Pattinson had failed to revert to Arthur with their inputs, the management decided to “draw a line in the sand”, sending out the strongest possible message.
Clarke insisted that in failing to comply with Arthur’s instructions, the four players were guilty of being “disrespectful toward the coach”, but was hopeful that there would be a way back from the fiasco for Watson, a key member of the team. Although he has not had the best of times with the bat, scoring only 77 runs from four innings at an average of under 20 in two heavy defeats, the team would have looked to Watson to fire if they were to claw their way back in a series that they trail 0-2.
“A lot of people will ask about Shane Watson and the vice-captaincy. I absolutely believe he can bounce back from this and be the Australian vice-captain again,” said Clarke. “Watto is one of the best players in the world when he is at the top of his game. We didn’t consider the names of the individuals when arriving at this decision but made a call in the best interests of the team.”
Watson, who flew back to Australia after being axed, was set to be with his wife Lee Furlong for the birth of their first child. While Watson’s paternity leave was already approved, the baby was originally not due till later in the series, and he made it clear that being axed precipitated his decision to leave the tour. “Any time you’re suspended for a Test match, unless you do something unbelievably wrong, and obviously everyone knows what those rules are … I think it is very harsh,” Watson was quoted as saying by the Sydney Morning Herald.
“At this point in time I’m at a stage where I’m sort of weighing up my future and what I want to do with my cricket in general, to be honest. I do love playing, there is no doubt about that, but at this point in time I’m going to spend the next few weeks with my family and just weigh up my options of just exactly which direction I want to go.”
Watson has been an integral member of the Australian team in all three formats of the game, and for the Test vice-captain to be contemplating his future in the format widely regarded as the pinnacle of the sport, was an indication of just how deeply the crisis had affected those involved.
“There are lot more important things in life – I certainly do love playing cricket and that passion is still there and I feel like I’m in the prime years of my cricket career,” said Watson. “From that perspective I still feel like I’ve got a lot to give. But from a holistic perspective I’ve got to sit down with my family and decide which directions they are.”
At this stage it was unclear whether Watson would rejoin the team for the fourth Test in Delhi.