Countdown to Chandigarh
When the house collapses, everyone knows about it. But it is invariably far more difficult to discern when the first cracks appeared. Australia's horrid India tour and this week's mess of disciplinary action, a wantaway Shane Watson, and stories of cultural malaise in the team has roots in earlier events, both last year and at the tail-end of the summer. And it is not necessarily the players alone who have not always made the best decisions. Below is a chronology of happenings notable in the lead-up to a few divisive days in Chandigarh.
June and July 2012: Australia's ODI tour of England takes place minus Michael Hussey, who is absent on personal leave. In his absence an increasingly sullen team winds its way through a soggy tour in which the hosts dominate, rain frequently ruins training and Brett Lee and Shane Watson succumb to injuries. Following the loss of the series in Durham, Mickey Arthur rages against a team he declares has been too "submissive", while there are concerns expressed elsewhere about the squad wandering somewhat aimlessly through a tour where knowledge can be gained for the Ashes in 2013. It is the last tour before Michael Clarke and Arthur push the issue of team culture, and their views of where it is deficient, at a pre-season camp in the Northern Territory.
September 2012: During the World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka there are concerns about the fitness and general behaviour of some players on tour, following on from ODI and T20 engagements in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. At least one player is pulled up early in the tour for being considered overweight. Australia have mixed results, defeating Pakistan in the ODIs but losing the T20s, and reaching the semi-finals of the world tournament. Watson is rested from the Pakistan series but excels in Sri Lanka, gaining plenty of publicity for his hitting in the shortest format. Meanwhile, Clarke captains New South Wales at home and puts himself through a rigorous boot camp to be ready for the Tests.
December 2012: Following a creditable but ultimately fruitless effort against South Africa, the Test team responds by outlasting Sri Lanka in Hobart, then routing them in Melbourne. Securing the series means the home summer's major summits have been attempted or peaked before the halfway point, leaving nearly two months of relatively minor matches before the India Tests. A happy team is shocked by Hussey's revelation that he will retire at the end of the SCG Test, while Shane Watson complicates matters by stating that for now at least he is through with bowling after another calf injury. In an instant they have lost the allround qualities that had balanced some of Watson's less palatable tendencies, while also being shorn of Hussey, their most senior and reliable batsman, and their greatest exemplar of how to be a model professional but also a very personable, affable and helpful character around the team. Arthur intones the remaining members of the group must lift by "60%" now that both Hussey and Ricky Ponting have gone.
January 3-7 2013: For the dead third Test at the SCG, now a farewell occasion for Hussey, the selectors show muddled thinking that will in turn have an effect on the team. Glenn Maxwell and Usman Khawaja join the squad, ostensibly to gain experience ahead of Hussey's imminent departure and the forthcoming India tour, but neither play. Instead, Mitchell Starc is recalled in place of Watson, and an unbalanced side is loaded with fast bowling on a spinning pitch. Clarke is thus compelled to bowl first upon winning the toss. A scrappy, sloppy victory ensues, characterised by patchy bowling, poor running between the wickets, and wasted starts with the bat save for a Matthew Wade century. This innings is counterbalanced somewhat by an indifferent keeping display.
Rest of January 2013: During the Test, the selectors choose their ODI squad for the first of two fairly low-key series, the first against Sri Lanka, the second West Indies. Clarke rests his tender hamstring, sensibly enough, but David Warner and Wade are also out. Howard later admits this wholesale approach would not be taken again. Phillip Hughes, Steve Smith and Khawaja, all to tour India, are given limited-overs exposure, but with little rhyme or reason. The latter pair was slated for one match apiece irrespective of results. Hughes quickly makes himself at home in coloured clothing, but thus lacks greater time to prepare for his first Test series in India. Minus Clarke, Warner and Hussey, the ODI team makes a mixed start against Sri Lanka, and the return of the first two coinciding with a dire day out against Nuwan Kulasekara at the Gabba. Arthur takes a break during this time. A series loss averted thanks mainly to rain in Sydney before it is fortuitously levelled in Hobart. Xavier Doherty bowls the one substantial spell deemed enough to take him to India.
Early to mid-February 2013: Matches against the West Indies are even more nondescript, as thoughts turn to the subcontinent. Watson returns to the limited-overs team as an opening batsman, and publicly covets Ed Cowan's Test spot. The squad of 17, brimful of options that suggest a lack of certainty about Clarke's best team, leaves in stages for India. This is out of deference to the commercial imperative of keeping some "names" in Australia for the ODIs. Test players like Cowan and Nathan Lyon fly earliest, though not before Lyon works with Ashley Mallett in Adelaide at the insistence of Arthur and the national selector John Inverarity. The sessions do not go badly, but Lyon departs feeling a little unsure of his place in the team, even as he is set to take over from Hussey as singer of the team song and upholder of its lore. Cricket Australia appoint Michael Di Venuto as batting coach, though he has never played international matches in India.
Late February 2013: Ashton Agar, a young spinner of great promise but little experience, is briefly elevated from developmental intern to contender for the first Test following a handy spell in the opening warm-up match before the whole squad is present. His inclusion alongside Lyon and Doherty in the second warm-up reflects uncertainty about the team's spin stocks, and ultimately only Lyon is chosen for the Chennai Test despite a bone dry, clay-court pitch that spins and stays low from the start. Australia are defeated, Clarke, James Pattinson and Moises Henriques the only players to emerge with major credit, though Lyon shows signs that his best will be good enough.
March 2013: The team selected for Hyderabad is a reaction to the Chennai result, though it is Lyon and Starc who are dropped for Maxwell and Doherty. After the first day, when Clarke is left to declare at a manifestly inadequate 9 for 237, there is a view within the team that given the state of the pitch, they have enough runs. The match is lost by an innings and plenty. Following the defeat and some scheduled time off, Arthur instructs his players to send him three points of improvement for themselves and the team by Saturday night. The failure of Watson, Pattinson, Mitchell Johnson and Khawaja to get back in time results in their suspension from the third Test. Arthur, Clarke and the team manager Gavin Dovey having concluded that members of the squad have been coasting for far too long.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here