Australia's tour of India went into crisis mode on Monday with the team management axeing four players, including vice-captain Shane Watson, from the third Test in Mohali for ignoring team orders following the defeat in Hyderabad. The other players are James Pattinson, Mitchell Johnson and Usman Khawaja. Hours after that announcement by the coach Mickey Arthur came news that Watson was heading home, though Cricket Australia insisted it was connected with the birth of his first child.The baby was due shortly after the end of the Indian tour and Watson had already been granted leave to fly home early if required. A Cricket Australia spokesman said that process had been "accelerated" due to a change at home and that it was yet to be confirmed whether Watson would return to the tour ahead of the fourth Test, which starts in Delhi on Friday next week.The four players were told by Arthur of the unprecedented decision on Monday morning. After the Hyderabad loss, inside three and a half days, Arthur asked every member of the squad to let him know three points on how their individual performances and those of the team could be improved.The players were informed of the task on Tuesday night and were asked to ensure it was done by Saturday evening. Every other player completed the requirements, either by emailing or texting Arthur their points or by slipping a note under his door. However, as of Monday morning the four players had neglected to comply. Arthur, captain Michael Clarke and team manager Gavin Dovey met and discussed how to handle the situation and decided that it needed to be a "line-in-the-sand moment"."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 team as to how we were going to get back over the next couple of games, how we were going to get ourselves back into the series."Unfortunately four players didn't comply with that. We pride ourselves on attitude. We have given the players a huge amount of latitude to get culture and attitude right. We believe that those behaviours with what we want to do with this team, how we want to take this team to be the best in the world, teams that are the best in the world have best attitudes and best behaviour patterns and a good, hard, ruthless culture. I believe those four players unfortunately did not meet my requirements so those four are not available for selection for this Test match.
"That's a line-in-the-sand moment. We have given these guys absolute clarity. We have given this team a huge amount of time to buy in with what we want to do for the Australian cricket team. We have given a vision to these guys that is spelt out. We've given an expectation that is spelt out and although this incident might seem very small in isolation this is a line-in-the-sand moment for us as a unit in our quest to become the best in the world.
Discipline is essential within a team environment; even a team of self-believing superstars. No individual is bigger than the team. We've attended any number of management presentations over the year where we've been told that "There's no I in TEAM".
Mickey Arthur and Michael Clarke have indeed drawn a line in the sand, but it has gone down like a cup of cold sick with the players who are being disciplined. And at least two former Australian players have criticised the decision; BBC Sport reports:
Ex-captain Allan Border told Fox Sports News: "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."
Mark Waugh added: "I've never heard anything so stupid in all my life. It's not under-sixes - this is Test cricket."
We agree and disagree with Waugh. This is indeed test cricket. But if players fail to do something that team management specifically requests them to do, there must be consequences. Johnson, Watson, Pattinson and Khawaja have found that out, to their cost.
It's desperate times for Australian cricket. The away-and-home Ashes series loom large, but the team is on a downwards spiral. The loss against India at Hyderabad was especially galling, as Australia capitulated twice against an Indian spin attack which is pretty average when compared to previous Indian spin attacks.
The smart money now would have to be on England to retain the Ashes; at least in their home series. But if nothing else, Michael Clarke has revealed himself as a captain prepared to make tough decisions; that's about the only positive to emerge from this debacle.