It wasn’t by coincidence that Mickey Arthur described Monday’s stunning development in India as Australia’s ”Kevin Pietersen” moment.
The standing down of four players – including vice-captain Shane Watson – is the head coach’s undeniable statement that enough is enough. It has already echoed around the cricket world.
Unlike England’s punishment of Pietersen for those text messages, the South African has turned the blowtorch on an under-performing Australian squad.
Known to be intolerable towards bad attitudes or players who put themselves before the team Arthur spelled out a few home truths.
At home it was met with incredulity. How could professional sportsmen be treated as children? How can they be sacked for not completing homework?
The quartet’s failure to complete the task asked of them – to deliver a presentation, by email or in person, explaining their virtues – was simply the trigger.
The attitudes among some had been slipping before this assignment was handed out. Not all players are completing the ”wellness reports” that they are meant to fill in every morning, and the management team – Arthur, captain Michael Clarke and team manager Gavin Dovey – argue discipline has been on the slide for some time.
If the dumping of the four players seems rash, then consider this: How difficult is it for a full-time athlete, with lots of free time every day, to do what they are asked?
This is tough love of the most brutal kind – declining someone a Test cap is basically an indictable crime to a cricketer – but on this occasion it is the players that must be held accountable.
Requesting players to put together arguments about their selection and value might seem wacky to many. People might scoff at the wellness reports too.
But whatever the case, this point is inescapable. The players in question have not done what they were told. If Australia was leading 2-0, coming off a big victory in Hyderabad, maybe things could be different. Maybe Arthur, Clarke and Dovey – a former England rugby team manager and qualified lawyer – could have forgiven some slackness here and there.
Yet with the Australian team in such a bad way less than four months away from the Ashes, they have taken appropriate action.
The ramifications are potentially enormous. Arthur is under no illusions about how big a step it is to stand down players for a Test when the indiscretion does not involve a nightclub, a trip in a paddy wagon or a swing and a miss at the coach but even he might be surprised when he hears Watson, who left India on Monday night, is considering quitting Test cricket.
Australia will slap together a makeshift XI on Thursday but the match itself may be just a sideshow. Arthur hopes this will be a turning point – his ”line in the sand” – but how Australia can drag itself out of this mess quickly is anyone’s guess.
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.