Australia's troubled tour

Arthur finally cracks the whip

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

Firdose Moonda

March 11, 2013

Comments: 21 | Text size: A | A

Injured captain Graeme Smith and coach Mickey Arthur plot South Africa's next move, Cape Town, March 17, 2009
The South Africa team that Mickey Arthur coached was vastly more experienced than the current Australia group © Getty Images
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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

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Posted by Fleming_Mitch 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

Posted by Shongololo 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!

Posted by aalkafi 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.

Posted by   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

Posted by Paul_Rampley 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.

Posted by   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.

Posted by shirl 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.

Posted by satishchandar 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 ;-)

Posted by Moppa 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.

Posted by zenboomerang 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...

Posted by Mitcher on (March 12, 2013, 4:55 GMT)

@Ms.Cricket: Must admit I got a bit of a chuckle from your post. But the last point had me in hysterics. The suggestion this flake Watson could push past a score of 50, let alone 250, is comic genius.

Posted by   on (March 12, 2013, 4:37 GMT)

Phil Hughes got an A plus for his essay. So now it doesn't matter whether he scores a pair, he turned in the best essay. Next time, hold your selection trials in an examination hall on a rainy day, Arthur; everyone must come with 3 lead penciles and a pen, don't need a bat and a ball.

Posted by Cricket_theBestGame on (March 12, 2013, 4:32 GMT)

@Ms.Cricket - just brilliant. i think you've summed up australian cricket in one comment. if this continues aus cricket will nose dive back to the mid 80's after big names retired.

has anyone noticed how big clarkes head has grown since becoming captain and scoring runs..all that "sticking by mate" rehtoric has gone out the window aey clarke!

Posted by Clyde on (March 12, 2013, 4:32 GMT)

I am not sure if any of the Australian batsmen has an average of fifty or more in all first-class matches. Why expect them to succeed at Test level? Whether Australian cricket has been pulled down by over-administration or lack of talent, it is not very good. I think that all concerned need to allow Australia to play to its administrative and talent level. Why feel put out by being thrashed by India? The reason is hubris, which will pass when enough thrashings have been received.

Posted by Ms.Cricket on (March 12, 2013, 3:23 GMT)

I'm guessing Watson did put in a response to Mickey and it went like this. "What will help the team by Watto: 1. Bat Clarkey up the order. Why in the hell in a team of 5 batsmen, your so-called 'best batsman' sticks like a limpet to no. 5? 2. Get a new captain. The current one has no clue how to get the Indians out, underbowls Pattinson one day, overbowls him the next, drops his best spinner Lyon and fills the team with non-wicket takers like Siddle and Henriques. 3. Get a new coach. Seriously the current one is a huge joke. I guess I'll have to score a massive 250+ in the next Test myself and captain the side to glory. Otherwise nothing else to say. Cheers, Watto."

Posted by littleduck on (March 12, 2013, 3:13 GMT)

"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. " -- and that is exactly what he is doing. The players concerned didn't do what was asked and they were held accountable.

This exercise is about making people think about their roles, thinking about how the team could do better, and showing commitment to a cause. The lack of a response spoke volumes. Either they had no idea or couldn't care.

What the critics forget was that the team of the 70s was forged after the shock dropping of Bill Lawry. Allan Border's team (and then later on Taylor, Waugh and Ponting) only became successful after Bob Simpson came in and cracked the whip...which included a few talented players not making the cut because they didn't have the right attitude (apparently).

What Arthur is doing is nothing new, its just a modern slant.

Posted by Big_Maxy_Walker on (March 12, 2013, 2:49 GMT)

Graeme smith in that pic looks just as annoyed with mickey as Australian fans are at the moment

Posted by satishchandar on (March 12, 2013, 2:39 GMT)

Is it Arthur or Clarke who whipped it? Knowing Clarke as a guy who had his strong hands on ousting the likes of Katich, Hauritz and Hussey(I have suspicion because Hussey just a week before announcing retirement stated that he wanted to be part of Ashes double header and the how Clarke crossed Hussey on getting in for his final test innings against SL), i do see Clarke's hands as strong more than Arthur.

Posted by   on (March 12, 2013, 2:22 GMT)

The Australian selection panel has continually talked of selecting players who are also good people, ie they show professionalism, leadership and thoughtfulness. It is one of the reasons Cowan has been allowed to develop and Haddin has never fully been dumped.

Some players will learn some lessons from this incident, as overblown as it is, but it is now, when the team is rebuilding, that the lessons have to be learnt. IT is better they develop a new team around players showing professionalism than around some talented players who can't work within the team.

What this says about the futures of Johnson and Watson I am not sure, but Pattinson and Kawaja have been given a warning.

The real beneficiary is Haddin. If he gets runs, he will surely play in the Ashes as a batsman and senior figure.

Posted by   on (March 12, 2013, 1:01 GMT)

Is Arthur coaching a national cricket team, or running a military boot camp? Going tough is okay; going overboard is not!

I wonder, what would have happened ( been the consequences), if he conducted himself in this manner in one of the four cricket playing countries in Asia.

Posted by   on (March 11, 2013, 21:57 GMT)

The last 2 lines speak for themselves. Australia have been struggling for some time, there was no accountability fixed with the coach. This jus looks like a wash off from the coach and a strategy to turn attention away from the losses.

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