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March 15, 2013

Australia's troubled tour

The most bizarre of punishments

Matt Cleary
Some of John Buchanan's "team-building" and "self-improvement" exercises didn't quite cut it with Shane Warne  © AFP
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Years ago, when the opinion first festered beneath Shane Warne's peroxide roots that a coach is what should take the team from hotel to ground, John Buchanan took the Australian cricket team on a mystery trip into the wilds outside Dunedin on the South Island of New Zealand.

In a pair of mini-buses the party travelled over hill-and-dale, around the wild surf coast, past bathing sea lions and other creatures on a secret trip with an unstated destination. What could it be, wondered the players. Why would Coach Buck take us out here into the bush?

When it emerged that Buchanan had led the team off on a horizon-broadening exercise to gaze upon a rare albatross rookery, the species of bird with the largest wingspan in the world - and that so they rare was it they couldn't find said rookery - Warne revolted. That is it! Enough! For Warney, whose ornithological interests extended to what sauce he'd put on his Chicken McNuggets, it was beyond the pale.

Since that tour - Buchanan's first as coach - Warne put up with plenty of "team-building" and "self-improvement" exercises. He put up with written assignments about World War 1 and musings on "war art" or some bloody thing by some bloody ancient Chinese bloke, Sun Zoo.

He would cop all that, Warney. Though he never wrote a single word. But he copped it. But he wasn't copping bloody bird-watching.

And so Warne hopped back into the driver's seat of one bus, revved the engine and said to anyone who'd listen, I'm going back and anyone who wants to come, get in.

And so those team-mates (about half of them) who shared Warne's views about albatross rookeries (or who just fancied buggering off back for a beer) drove back to the hotel where they, presumably, headed off to play golf or gave money to the Casino or drank Warney's favourite Midori and lemonade, a drink so sickly-sweet it could slaughter a murder of crows.

Those who stayed on for Uncle Buck's bird-watching tour drove around the windy roads for another half-hour before coming to the rookery and finding it closed, Buchanan tells ESPNcricinfo.

"I tried to convince the group with me that some seagulls circling above us were albatross and that the only reason we could see them - as they were miles up in the air - was because of their immense wingspan and size.

"No one bought that one. But it was a heck of a trip to relate what sometimes happens on tour!"

But to sack blokes from the Test team for it? It's more over the top than Liberace's poodles in a boudoir for rich people's poodles

Justin Langer loves that improve-yourself-with-knowledge stuff. For earnest, high-achievers like Langer who'd punished themselves to achieve what they had, the be-the-best-you-can-be stuff is gold. Langer built a career on it, wrote a book of homilies and inspirational quotes called "Seeing The Sunrise" (though not, unfortunately, "Seeing The Albatross Rookery of Dunedin").

But Warney? As they say in Oz: "Yeah. Nah." Not one for extra-curricular activity, Our Shane. Never was. Never will be.

The point is - and of course we're leading into the Australian team's current affair with homework (that's unsurprisingly had "gate" added to it by sub-editors with less imagination than the guano of an endangered gannet) - is that people are different. And that different strokes work for different folks.

For mine - and I could find a thousand schoolteachers to back me up, I betcha - catch-all rules for everyone don't work. As Buchanan found out, the coach has to be like the boss of the United Nations, dealing with various countries. Most of them are as easy as Belgium - sports nerds who've found a path. Some are like America and need their ego stroked. And some like North Korea and Colin "Funky" Miller you just can't work out. It's telling that Buchanan never made his written lessons compulsory.

Mickey Arthur appears to have done so, though. And so he and Michael Clarke have dropped blokes for not completing … homework.

That's a new one isn't it? It's as obscure as being dismissed Timed Out. Not dropped for not taking wickets or not scoring runs. Not for being injured or even rotated out. Not even like old mate Symo who turned up for an ODI against Bangladesh drunker than Doug Walters on his birthday.

No. Dropped because they didn't complete … homework.

And so I say … (calm blue ocean, calm blue ocean) … this: What the hell is going on?

Dear sweet Superman, Moses and Mr Lillee, is this fair dinkum? Have they really stood down four blokes because they didn't do an assignment? From the Australian Test team? A team down 0-2 in a four-Test series in India? One of them the best quick bowler, the other vice-captain, and the other two knocking on the door?

There's a very fine rugby league commentator in Australia, a man by the name of Phillip "Gus" Gould, whose signature catch-phrase would be apt at a time like this.

Tell 'em, Gus: "No, no, no, no, no, no, no."

Now, I like Mickey Arthur. I like Michael Clarke. I reckon they're a fine coach and captain combination who have piloted the Australian cricket team with relatively fair success across a period of resignations, rebuilding and flux. Two months ago, Australia beat Sri Lanka in a Test series 3-0. They lost to world No.1 South Africa 1-0 and arguably had the better of more sessions. A year ago they whipped India 4-0. There's no Michael Hussey or Ricky Ponting, and the fast bowlers aren't fit.

They're doing plenty right. But to stand down men from the Australian Test cricket team for not completing a written assignment … I dunno. Does the punishment fit the crime on this one?

For mine, Gus can tell 'em again: No, no, no, no, no, no, no."

Now, Clarkey makes a fair point about a "line in the sand" as postulated in his "interview" with Cricket Australia media man Matt Cenin. And there appears to have been a build-up of things and a lowering of standards across the board: lateness for meetings, wearing the wrong sort of shirt. That sort of stuff.

But to sack blokes from the Test team for it? It's more over the top than Liberace's poodles in a boudoir for rich people's poodles. It's a coach and captain seeing attitudes slipping and saying: "We're in charge. And you best do what we say or the consequences will be thus." It's a thing about leading: you want respect for, as Eric Cartman would call it, your "authoritah".

Wonder how Warnie would've copped it? Or whether they'd have dropped him in the first place?

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Matt Cleary writes for several Australian sports and travel magazines. He tweets here

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by Ozcricketwriter on (March 16, 2013, 7:11 GMT)

The problem is that they said that it was also based on previous poor behaviour. But that previous poor behaviour wasn't necessarily by these 4 players. As one report stated, the previous poor behaviour was by Warner, Hughes and Pattinson, not by Watson, Khawaja or Johnson. So while Pattinson's punishment was fair enough, in that respect (except that he is the best player), Watson, Khawaja and Johnson were in effect punished for the poor behaviour of Warner and Hughes. And Watson, the guy with the squeaky clean image, also had his image tarnished further by some nasty comments by Pat Howard, claiming his teamwork was in question. If Pattinson was dumped, for breaching team rules twice in a row, fair enough. Pattinson himself says it is fair enough. But for the others, no, especially not Watson. Big time no.

Posted by cricktarian on (March 16, 2013, 5:50 GMT)

Apart from the debate whether the punishment imposed was fair or unfair, just examine the situation by putting yourself in place of a captain and a manager. Does it feel OK to treat all the same (the ones who did the given job against those who rejected). I think it shows the attitude. If you have an objection about an assignment debate about it, discuss it, make your view point heard. But when something is decided by the majority of the team you are supposed to respect the decision no matter how great player you are.......

Posted by   on (March 15, 2013, 23:59 GMT)

I didn't read the whole article just went through the first part and I don't agree with any thing from these coaches. The first thing you need a cricketing coach who had played at the Tests and ODI cricket and understand it very well. Who knows what to do in a particular situation. The one who knows what are the feelings of a batsman in the middle and of a bowler while bowling and what they need to do. This sort of person needs to be a coach. Micky Arther was an ordinary first class cricketer, how he can understand Tests, ODIs and T20 cricket? How their performance manager understand cricket and how is making opinions regarding players weather they are team men or not? They all need to be removed and need proper cricketers to be coaches and in the management. How they can drop players because they didn't complete a form which was their home work.

Posted by David_Boon on (March 15, 2013, 22:26 GMT)

This whole debacle is so very frustrating. It's professional sports, heck it's representing your country, above professional sports. Being subservient to authority it not a prerequisite needed to play well. Just teach the players how to play square drives and bowl an outswinger Mickey, stupid assignments you learned at business school are wasting everyone's time. Also, the first thing you learn about culture is that it is only ever organic - you can't force it. When will CA realise the problem is at a management level? Just let the players play.

Posted by bobmartin on (March 15, 2013, 18:12 GMT)

To answer the question "Would they have dropped Warnie ?" I think the answer is "Yes definitely" If they're as incompetent as they appear, they wouldn't think twice about the consequences.

Posted by   on (March 15, 2013, 16:02 GMT)

"authoritah" is surely a double edged sword. Needs to be used with utmost caution, if at all. Works best when shown but niot used.

Posted by KingOwl on (March 15, 2013, 14:33 GMT)

Will they have dropped Warne? The answer is easy. Absolutely not. Because whatever his views about coaching, he gave 100% and was effective on the field. He did not have to write about how to improve himself because he was better than everybody else (except Murali). The less talented, the mere mortals, have to work hard, very hard. If they don't, they are not going to be good enough. That's the lesson, which the coach and captain wanted to impart, I am sure.

Posted by milepost on (March 15, 2013, 13:46 GMT)

Agree entirely with the article. As a fan I feel totally disrespected that the best team is not playing when we are 2-0 down in the series and now looking at another insufficient 1st innings total. No surprise Hughes failed again, he is a deer in headlights. You can't put square pegs in round holes. Buchanan got an awful lot of stick but he knew that and was highly successful. Before anyone starts carrying on that he coached a super team of champions, remember many of them had modest beginnings and all of them were made in test cricket - they didn't arrive there as champions.

Posted by Green_and_Gold on (March 15, 2013, 12:50 GMT)

I feel this action also punished the guys that did the work asked of them. If Hughes fails in the second innings then thats runs lost and the other 10 have to suffer for it. If Sidds and Starc dont take a swag of wickets then again the team is suffering cause pattinson isnt there. I have no problems with dealing with issues however i am left wondering if this is the best way they could have dealt with the situation.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Matt Cleary
Matt Cleary reckons he watched more of the 1978-79 Ashes series than any eight-year-old. Despite this punishment - Geoff Boycott batting for days - Cleary was hooked. As a journalist he's written about sport, travel, beer, wine, swimming with stingrays in the Alice waters of Bora Bora, and touring Australia on a four-month lap, playing golf. Yet he counts doing ball-by-ball commentary for ESPNcricinfo as the most fun he's had with a keyboard. He writes for several of Australia's sports and travel magazines, notably Inside Sport, Inside Cricket, Golf Australia and Rugby League Week. @JournoMatCleary

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