The decision by the Australian selectors to omit Shane Watson, Usman Kwawaja, James Pattinson and Mitchell Johnson from the third test in Mohali, India after failing to deliver feedback on recent performances has largely been met with bemusement by the media and by ex-players. Criticism has been levelled at Coach Mickey Arthur and Captain Michael Clarke for the severity of the punishment that has been viewed to strike a division in the team; one between the players and the upper echelons of cricket Australia- the captain and the team's management.
The critics have chosen to focus their response not on what the players actions represent - failing to adhere to the coaches and captains orders - but rather, have judged the incident in isolation; a coach overreaching in his role as player manager by suspended four key players for not doing their 'homework'. This stance fails to account for Australia's growing pains.
The Ashes defeat in 2010-11 was a salient point in the recent history of international test cricket. For the first time in many decades, Australia had become a 'normalized' cricketing nation. Their top order was imperfect, their middle order susceptible to collapse, and their bowling attack lacked the consistent sting of yesteryear. It was a mark that Australia would emerge, indefinitely, weaker after the reign of Ponting than that of any other time in the modern era.
Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey's retirement over the Australian summer has left an unnerving and anxious feeling in the pit of many Australian's stomachs. Too recent is the memory of Michael 'pup' Clarke's phenomenon century on debut in India in 2004. He seemed as though he was a kid amongst the giants of cricket; Langer, Hayden, Ponting, Gilchrist, Warne, McGrath - to name a few. Suddenly, it feels as though the rug has been swept from underneath their feet.
The current side is still in its infancy, barren of the excellence that preceded it. Crucially, this is why the decision to suspend the players makes good sense. Great players retire from sport all the time, and when they do they leave a legacy. A winning culture and a ruthless ethos are arguably the biggest determinant in consistently winning test cricket.
Viewed in this light, the decision that has been made is hardly surprising. Arthur and Clarke are trying to salvage a culture and ethos that has been at risk of falling apart - if it hasn't already - since Clarke took over as captain. It would appear that this incident was the straw that broke the camels back with a string of similarly related incidents and poor attitude over the past couple of years.
Of course, Arthur, Clarke and the team manager are not without blame. They must ask themselves how they got into this position that has led them taking disciplinary action in the middle of an uninspired Indian series, and four months out before the Ashes.
Going forward, Australia must retain that winning mentality that they held over international cricket for all those years. It will take players such as Shane Watson from stop playing the victim to return as a strong leader within the team. Or, it will be the injury-plagued James Pattison to capitalise on his potential and emerge as the next best quick in the game, perhaps it will be Mitchell Johnson finding consistency again to return to the dynamic cricketer he can be with both the bat and the ball. Maybe, it will be the levelled-headed temperament of Usman Kwawaja that cements the pivotal role of no.3 that strengthens and establishes the batting order.
Australian test cricket is far from dead, now more than ever they have the chance to nurture a young side with tremendous talent. Finding a balance and developing a culture that allows these players the self-autonomy to thrive but also keeps them focused in check will be vital for the Australian test cricket in years to come.Suggest a correction