Australia news June 24, 2013

Arthur's exit highlights deeper problem

Mickey Arthur's sacking, with just two weeks before the Ashes, is indicative of the current plight of the Australian team

"What are we doing ????? Cricket ???? Adults we are , not schoolboys!"

Those words were tweeted by Darren Lehmann back in March after news emerged that four players on Australia's tour of India had been suspended for a Test over the so-called homework saga. It was an understandable sentiment from 10,000 kilometres away. The nine question-marks from the Twitter comment above accurately expressed the prevailing disbelief of cricket fans and former players alike. Now we're about to find out whether Lehmann has the answers.

Australia's coach Mickey Arthur admitted at the time that in taking such a harsh stance on the homework issue, he was putting his neck on the line. James Sutherland, Pat Howard and the Cricket Australia board have now lopped it off. That is not in itself remarkable, for few occupations have poorer job security than sports coaching. But the timing was jaw-dropping, much more so than the homework crisis, or the news that David Warner had punched an opponent.

Arthur had been coach of Australia for 578 days, yet 16 days before the first Ashes Test, Cricket Australia decided he was no longer the man for the job. It was a decisive move, but one that smacked of panic. In the past few months, Arthur has presided over a 4-0 thrashing in India and an early exit from the Champions Trophy, but this was a call made less on the basis of on-field results than of off-field direction. Or rather lack of it.

First there was the homework issue. Cricket Australia supported the stance taken by Arthur, Michael Clarke and team manager Gavin Dovey at the time, but also wondered how the so-called misdemeanours from the wider playing group had been allowed to build to such a degree. In banning Shane Watson, James Pattinson, Usman Khawaja and Mitchell Johnson from the Mohali Test, Arthur said Australia were drawing a line in the sand. Nobody seemed to recall where that line was when Warner punched Joe Root in a Birmingham pub this month.

Cricket Australia's displeasure at the handling of that incident was evident when the chief executive James Sutherland spoke about the whole squad and team management being responsible. Why were the players out drinking at 2.30am in the middle of a Champions Trophy campaign, he wondered. And why had it taken so long for word of the incident to filter back to CA headquarters?

The coach is responsible for what happens on a tour, but he is not the only one. Team culture is also directed by the captain, team manager, assistant coaches and senior players. Not to mention that in the aftermath of the Argus Report, Cricket Australia appointed a general manager of team performance, Pat Howard. The idea was that the buck would stop with him, yet he'll be there on Monday in Bristol to announce the sacking of the coach. A coach he played a key role in appointing.

Over the past few weeks, Arthur has had plenty on his plate, devising game plans and tactics for the Champions Trophy and the upcoming Ashes. That is not to say he is blameless for the direction this squad has taken; far from it. But it's hard not to see him as a scapegoat. All smiles in public, Arthur could deliver a spray when required, but there comes a time when the players must also be held accountable.

If Arthur did not gain respect from the players, that says as much about their attitudes as it does about the coach himself. When Arthur led South Africa he was in charge of a group full of hardened professionals who did not require serious disciplining. By contrast, this current crop has lacked leadership and self-governance. It will be fascinating, therefore, to see if Lehmann has any more success than Arthur.

Certainly he will have the respect of the players, as a former Test batsman, prolific first-class run scorer, successful coach and stereotypical Aussie bloke. But this job will be much, much harder than it might appear from the sidelines. It's all well and good to tweet about the players not being schoolboys, but Lehmann might discover they're acting like them.

Getting the players to take responsibility for themselves will be his biggest task. But on his side will be the fact that when he talks about what it means to play for Australia, when he delivers an impassioned statement about the responsibilities incumbent on those who wear the baggy green, they will listen.

He may be the right man for the job, but how Cricket Australia has let it come to this, two weeks from an Ashes series, is astounding. Australia's 1948 Ashes touring party went down in history as The Invincibles. It's up to Lehmann to ensure the 2013 squad is not remembered as The Uncoachables.

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Billy on June 26, 2013, 2:18 GMT

    Warne was right in the period of Australian dominance that they didn't need a coach. The players were good enough. Darren Lehmann would have been a candidate then. But what if all your players are lacking quality (except for Clarke and maybe a couple of bowlers)? That's when you might actually need some real help. Sacking Arthur is not the answer. A lot of the current crop don't know how to play Test cricket. That was all on show in India. Of course, they don't get found out in this environment when there are only a few good teams (SA, England, and then India at home and that's about it). The Australians have had only two good results in the last three years and that was a Sri Lanka away series victory and a drawn series in South Africa. Everything else has been a non-challenge or a very poor result.

  • Rolf on June 25, 2013, 15:07 GMT

    There would be scant talk of culture, leadership, and responsibilities if the team was any good. Painful as it is to admit it the current mob just aren't good enough to win the Ashes. It won't matter who is coach - Lehmann won't have to combat Anderson on a humid Nottingham morning or try to keep Pietersen quiet on an Oval shirt-front. 4-0 England, and that hurts, but that's what we get for prioritising fast-food cricket.

  • N on June 25, 2013, 14:32 GMT

    A bit of advice to the Aussies: Don't make the mistake of hiring a non-Australian as your coach again. It just won't work in the long run, especially keeping in mind the Aussie psyche that involves strong feelings of individualism, liberty and of course national pride. Australian cricketers probably find it a bit tedious to deal with non-Australian coaches.

    Give your players plenty of rope (within reasonable curfews) and watch as they start to enjoy their cricket again. Cricket is more art than science, so do away with unimportant issues like 'skin fold tests', especially in test matches where they have reduced significance. A little bit of body fat shouldn't be a problem and in fact the odd pizza/ pastry can be incorporated into a positive and relaxing shared activity for the team, so encourage it by all means.

    Why, if skin folds really were such an issue, you'd never have had fine cricketers like Lehmann, Boon, M. Hughes, 'Tubby' Taylor, Border, S. Waugh and of course, Warne.

  • Geoffrey on June 25, 2013, 11:26 GMT

    Re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic!

  • Sriram on June 25, 2013, 8:20 GMT

    Forget Boof, that lineup for 1st test Warner/Rogers, Cowan, Hughes, Clarke (injury prone), Watson, Smith, Haddin, Siddle, Starc, Pattinson, Lyon won't send shivers to England. Unless thier bowlers set it up for Aus, its not going to be easy for that line up to put a 400+ everytime they bat first to setup the game! I see 3-0 England with 2 washed out.

  • Dummy4 on June 25, 2013, 7:42 GMT

    in case of aussie current crisis.................. it's all about talent. in present team composition they haven't any class players like mark Waugh, Damien martyn, ponting, Andrew Simonds, McGrath and all. current AUS bunch is young of course but they haven't special edge that require to maintain the Australian dominance in world cricket. at the same time other cricketing nations also have the talents to challenge Australia in all formats of the game. it's easy to coach to handle the game if they have class and talent in their ranks. it is very unfair to compare between present team performance and past performance of mark taylor, ricky ponting era. coaches have nothing to do about execution of the game plan in the middle after all.

  • sam on June 25, 2013, 3:48 GMT

    @Edwards_Anderson You can have the best coach in the world, but if you do not have the talent, you will not be successful in the long term. Current Australian batting is quite bad and no really talented batsman is visible on the horizon (If Jordan Silk or Nic Maddinson were so good they would directly been in the team). Coaching is important but secondary. The players are primary.

  • adeel on June 25, 2013, 2:18 GMT

    arthur wasn't the right coach for aust. period. the problem is with cheif selector, pat howard and clarke himself. the argus review was supposed fix issues yet it has lead to more!

    to discipline players, simple, one warning and then pack your bag and go home! there are plenty more players wanting to have a go.

    who could forget alan border discplinig billy macdormat in Eng in a side match!

  • Lewis on June 25, 2013, 0:32 GMT

    Overall this is a good decision, boof is the best man for the job and what we need to get us back to the top of world cricket. He is not about PR but about getting things done.

  • Sam on June 24, 2013, 19:22 GMT

    This decision may work but it is a huge gamble because of the timing. There couldn't have been any interview process that went into this appointment and CA still installs Lehmann as their coach until 2015! What does it tell about CA's management structure and their ability to plan? More heads should roll but at least some of them should be Mickey Arthur's superiors in the CA chain. Further, I don't get why Coverdale is still defending Mickey Arthur re. the homeworkgate. Being a good coach should not be about drawing lines in sand or merely about implementing a top down plan. Coaching is not a managerial position but a leadership position. Some need carrot and some need stick. You are only working with a handful of players so if a coach cannot motivate them individually by considering their temperaments but posesses other skills, he should be an assistant rather than a head coach.