Australia's troubled tour March 11, 2013

Arthur finally cracks the whip

Mickey Arthur's hard call was in sharp contrast to his low-key, passive tenure as South Africa coach

In his five years as South Africa coach, Mickey Arthur kept confrontation at bay and was known for his relaxed and sometimes removed demeanour. Arthur is not known to have disciplined players personally, which makes his axing of four Australia players uncharacteristically strong-handed - even out of character.

Arthur had opportunities to wield the whip with South Africa but not many. His tenure was defined by the start of the Test team's unbeaten run away from home in 2006 and reached its highest point when they won series in England and Australia between 2008 and 2009. It took a dip when they drew against England at home in 2009-10; shortly afterwards, Arthur resigned.

Like every other South Africa coach, he did not manage to win a World Cup but the one during which he was in charge contained a fair amount of controversy. At the 2007 event, some South Africa players were criticised for being overweight and enjoying life in the Caribbean a little too much. Reports of binge drinking and late nights were circulated widely and, although they were never proved, neither were they denied by the team.

None of the players was reprimanded, breaking of curfew was never discussed and Arthur returned to South Africa with his glass half-full. His statements spoke of satisfaction with the on-field successes but made no mention of the alleged off-field shenanigans.

He was retained for another two-year term, in which one of his biggest challenges was managing the bad boy of South African cricket, Herschelle Gibbs, a rule-breaker since touring with the South Africa Under-19s team in 1992 - where he was almost sent home from Barbados after a night on the town.

He admitted to being drunk the night before the Wanderers 438 game in 2006, as one among many other occasions. He copped a few fines from the team manager (a position created after the 2007 World Cup) but Arthur is not known to have intervened.

Gibbs was ordered to attend alcohol rehabilitation in late 2008 but again there was no public evidence that Arthur had a hand in it.

In his biography To the Point, Gibbs put his finger on it. Arthur, he said, "didn't have much influence over the guys" because the team was controlled by a small clique of senior players.

Whether that is the truth or an exaggeration, it does explain why Arthur could afford to step back. He was in charge of a team that was led by Graeme Smith entering the mid-section of his captaincy and a senior core of players that included Mark Boucher and Jacques Kallis. There was leadership in the group before Arthur entered it and he was content to let that take its own course rather than steer it in any direction.

The Australia squad Arthur took over had some of that with Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey but has since lost a lot of its experience. Because he has a group of youngsters, Arthur may have felt compelled to impose seniority and assert authority.

That group of youngsters is also under extreme pressure, having lost two Tests in India and, at the start of the season, a home series to South Africa. As a result, Arthur is under strain too, perhaps even more. There is no parallel to his time with South Africa to this. Apart from the 2007 World Cup, the expectation on South Africa never reached boiling point and was always manageable.

As long as the team met expectations - and they exceeded them most of the time - Arthur's job was safe. That is not the case now. A far more critical media and public, who are used to winning after two generations of champions under Steve Waugh and Ponting, demand more from him.

With that on his mind, Arthur seems to have resorted to a typically South African way of doing things. The sergeant major is the caricature of the South African style of old, which was based on boarding-school rigidity and discipline and absolutely no wriggle room.

As South Africa's structures have grown up to meet modern standards, that has changed. Accountability, maturity and flexibility are three of the tenets on which the current success enjoyed by Smith's team has been built. In his new job, Arthur would do well to remember that.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Ross on March 13, 2013, 1:51 GMT

    @Paul both Patts and Khawaja will come back strongly, i have no doubt about this, they are 2 of our better young players and both will be needed in teh 4th test. We just have to wait one more game hopefully to see Khawaja get his long awaited chance

  • Paul on March 12, 2013, 22:25 GMT

    Those who believe - as the Aussie media would have it - that these four were suspended simply because they "didn't do their homework" are, I suspect, somewhat dishonest. Neither Arthur nor Clarke would have taken such a strong decision unilaterally. It would have been discussed and debated long and hard, with the entire management team and, quite probably, the CA hierarchy. It seems these four are serial offenders, have shown scant regard for team dynamics, over a considerable period of time, they probably had ample warnings, they chose, in egotistical fashion, to ignore them, believing they were above the team, above the game, too 'important' to be suspended. Think again, boys. And to all those Australians who have been trumpeting, for years, that Shane Watson eclipses Jacques Kallis as the best Test allrounder, I have but two words: Yeah, right!

  • abdullah on March 12, 2013, 13:36 GMT

    This is not how you handle adult, rich, proud to represent their nation players. This is an absolute failure by any coach even to get to this point and the coach should have been removed instead. Look at the successful coaches around the world (ex. Phil Jackson of Bulls & Lakers) - he became successful by managing the egos of super rich, superstar players like Michael Jordan & Scottie Pippen and then Kobe Bryant & Shaq. Have I ever seen in a professional sport the top performing players are suspended by the coach for these kind of silly drills. If there is a systematic problem - you correct it gradually. Everybody has a stake in here in their own interest to not create too much disruption despite disagreement and egos.

  • Dummy4 on March 12, 2013, 8:55 GMT

    Clarke & Arthur had the choice of instilling a Free democracy or a Fear democracy. They have chosen the latter by axing the 4 players. To develop an inclusive team culture,they could have got everyone together (the 11 that played plus those on bench) for a real meaningful verbal debate and a constructive introspection session to then develop a plan to look ahead for the remaining 2 games. This would have shown a real goal-oriented Leadership. Or if they wanted a 1-on-1 dialogue, they could have gone in for that exchange. While an email/text message is efficient, these dont provide as much room for an exchange of viewpoints and in developing a strategy. Surprising such professionals with a 'consequence' that they were not aware of, seems harsh. What would be a real process for example is if players were informed ahead of time that if they did missed the daily fitness plan for 3 days in a row, they would be suspended for a game. Seems like a wrong tone is being set for transformation

  • Allan on March 12, 2013, 7:29 GMT

    Performance reviews should never be carried out during a project or tour. There are too many other pressures, people are too close to the performances and you never get honest feedback because you can't tell people you need to work with what you really think.I have lead and been involved in many project reviews and it is simple fact, you can't get value out of this sort of exercise while work is still going on.Saying this i do hope Pattinson and Khawaja come back strongly in the 4th test as both are needed for us to win this series.

  • Dummy4 on March 12, 2013, 6:46 GMT

    I've got 3 ideas on how to improve Australias game: 1. Sack Arthur 2. Sack Arthur 3. Sack Arthur.

    Too easy.

  • Shirley on March 12, 2013, 6:24 GMT

    agree agree agree, off field discipline is as important as on field - something Aus has forgotten lately. Glad to see the whip has been cracked. Not sure if it came from Mickey or Michael though - I doubt Pup would take such behaviour for long.

  • Satish Chandar on March 12, 2013, 5:15 GMT

    Single honest point from the players. Warner : No other way for u. Continue with me. Cowan : Captain will take care of me. Hughes : Drop me and save from misery. Watson : :-p Clarke : Do something to make me stay at 5 Wade : Let's play basketball again Siddle : I will be needed in Ashes so don't drop me. Starc : One failure and i was dropped uh? Lyon : I am better than Doherty as i took big wickets. Doherty : Gimme one more chance. I was economical. Maxwell : I am the best spinning all rounder in the squad. Don't drop me. Smith : I am the best spinning all rounder in the squad. Give me a chance. Pattinson : It is upto other bowlers to look me and learn how to bowl here. Johnson and Khawaja : No chance of getting game so it would make no difference. Not even the axe ;-)

  • Guy on March 12, 2013, 5:03 GMT

    @Ms.Cricket, clearly you have no idea what you are talking about. First, what does it matter where Clarke bats, if his teammates are completely incompetent, the team is not going to succeed. Second, the idea of Watson scoring 250 is so laughable I have to assume your entire post was tongue-in-cheek. He thinks the job is done at 25 - so you're only out by a factor of ten. Thirdly, since Clarke took over the captaincy, the so-called non-wicket taker Siddle has 69 wickets at 26. He's performed consistently everywhere and busted his gut for the team - and your solution is to drop him! Hilarious. Mitchell Johnson can only dream of numbers like that. Lastly, you bag Henriques, one of the few players to stand up on this tour. How about this for an alternative vision of the universe: Watson pulls his weight and earns his place in the Test XI other than on the back of hit and giggle limited overs performances.

  • Roo on March 12, 2013, 4:59 GMT

    Its funny how the many so called "experts" (journ's, ex-players, players, posters) say that it should all be kept "in-house"... Utter rubbish... Oz fans demand accountability, ever if we don't like the results at times - rather that than the old boy school (ECB, BCCI, etc) & keeping everything hushed up...

    So what do Clarke, Arthur & Dovey say when in the next Test we don't play Patto, Watto, Johno & possibly Ussie in the match - tell us BS?... Keep it honest & open & us fans can get over players failings - it should also sharpen up the playing group over time as it has done in other professional sports...

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