Controversy may have given England advantage - Buchanan
Former Australia coach John Buchanan believes the axing of four Australian players for failing to complete a task during the tour of India has handed England an advantage ahead of this year's Ashes. Buchanan was known for using unconventional methods during his time at the helm of a highly successful Australia team and he said the drastic action taken by the team management in India could prove a masterstroke, or it could lead to the end of coach Mickey Arthur's tenure.
Arthur, the captain Michael Clarke and team manager Gavin Dovey collectively decided to leave Shane Watson, James Pattinson, Usman Khawaja and Mitchell Johnson out for the Mohali Test after they neglected to complete a task set by Arthur. Following the innings defeat in Hyderabad, Arthur asked all of Australia's players to think about their performance and come up with three ideas on how they and the team could improve.
Arthur and Clarke called the decision to ban the four players a "line-in-the-sand" moment and they said it was the result of a build-up of minor infractions from the wider playing group, including being late to meetings, giving backchat and wearing the wrong uniforms. Arthur and Clarke want to build a strong culture within the team but Buchanan said the problem was that, with only three months before the Test squad assembles in England, it would be hard for such changes to take effect by then.
"At this point it could be a masterstroke or it could be the reverse and I don't think it will be anywhere in between," Buchanan told the Telegraph. "There is a very clear message there. Whether that is the right message or whether it has been delivered or arrived at correctly will show in terms of whether it brings about a change in the way this Australian group gel together or signify an end to what has been going on before. It will continue to ferment and there is only one loser if it goes wrong and it will be the coach.
"I definitely think it has provided some advantage to England but time will tell. There is a lot going on aside from this one issue. You have a new coach, new selectors, people leaving and arriving and a range of players coming in and out of different teams. What happened [in India] is a product of all that.
"I don't think there will be sufficient time for them to bed down before they get to England but it could be a masterstroke. This is about more than 10 [Ashes] Tests. This is about establishing a new team culture and fabric, a new way of being part of an Australia team that will be there for as long as Clarke and those he hands over to last. The last culture was started by Stephen Waugh when he took over as captain and lasted until Ricky Ponting finished as captain."
Part of the problem, Buchanan believes, is that players are more apt to be selfish if they are afraid of being left out of the side. Between rotations, injuries, retirements and regulation axings Australia have used 22 players in nine Tests since the start of their home summer. Across all formats, they have fielded 36 men in the national teams since the start of the Australian season.
"You cannot develop a team culture with so many people coming and going all the time irrespective of the format," Buchanan said. "It must create a lot of uncertainty in the group and with uncertainty comes less trust, less honesty and less compliance. Players look after themselves more.
"My view is the quality of Australian players is there to still be at the top of the tree. It just may mean that when you haven't got greats in the side you might not crush teams as quickly as before. With the talent they have, they should still get results but to me there is stuff going on that is not quite right and they are all searching for what that is. In the meantime that is creating uncertainty around those who are playing and those not being selected."
However, Buchanan said he believed there was "real merit" in the task Arthur asked the players to complete, because it had the potential to prevent individual players straying from the team culture in future.