Australia's troubled tour March 15, 2013

The most bizarre of punishments

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?

Some of John Buchanan's "team-building" and "self-improvement" exercises didn't quite cut it with Shane Warne © AFP

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?

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

Comments