Australia news June 25, 2013

Arthur let down by coach-killers

Australia's problematic cricketers overwhelmed Mickey Arthur, just as they did his former assistant Lachlan Stevens last summer

Mickey Arthur's downfall was eerily foretold last summer. In Western Australia, the state he had coached in 2011 along the road to the national team appointment, Arthur's former assistant Lachlan Stevens was removed as coach after a succession of disciplinary problems and poor displays that culminated in the Perth Scorchers' now infamous Twenty20 Champions League misadventures.

A solid citizen with no great playing record to speak of but a reputation for decency, Stevens worked assiduously to follow through on Arthur's plans to revitalise a team that had not won a domestic trophy since 2004, and developed an infamous culture of indiscipline in the interim. But his authority was eroded, at one level by heedless players but at another by an association that was reluctant to side with the little-known Stevens against the higher paid and higher profile cricketers under his watch.

Eventually it was decided that Stevens would be replaced by Justin Langer, the revered WA figure who was quickly able to inspire his players while also imbuing them with a healthy sense of respect for the coach. This was as much for his playing career and reputation as anything he would be able to tell them in a team meeting. Sound familiar?

When Stevens departed before the end of 2012 he did so without too much rancour or publicly expressed anger. He has now found a sturdy job within the far sturdier Tasmanian setup. But it was telling that soon after his return home to Queensland, Stevens started a blog called "Sporting Exile" and commenced by listing "50 Things We Love About Sport", almost as though he needed reminding of why it was lovable. Flying back to Australia alone, Arthur could no doubt relate.

"Coach-killer" was not among the 50 things. It is a term popularised in American and Australian football, and refers to players of considerable talent and skill who fail to step up to the role their coach prescribes for them. Once results have deteriorated so badly that administrators removed from the fray decide that things must change, the choice between the coach doing his level best and the high profile players flattering to deceive seldom falls in favour of the mentor.

Whatever Arthur insisted while speaking bravely and without excuses in Bristol on Monday, there can be no mistake his rapid and unprecedented exit from the Australian team, on the very day the Ashes tour bus was loading up for the trip to Taunton, had its genesis in the repeated failures of players he had invested enormous time and faith in.

This was by no means a victory for player power over an unpopular martinet. Instead it was the natural conclusion to a saga of mediocrity, ineptitude and dishonesty perpetrated by the highest paid group of cricketers Australia have ever had. All would have felt culpable in some way or another for Arthur's exit on Monday, and all have reason to. Some more than others.

"It was the natural conclusion to a saga of mediocrity, ineptitude and dishonesty perpetrated by the highest paid group of cricketers Australia have ever had. All would have felt culpable in some way or another for Arthur's exit on Monday, and all have reason to."

David Warner should be pondering why it is Arthur flying out of the country and not himself. It is not an easy question to answer. The punch hurled at Joe Root after a dreadfully poor decision to be out with a group of players he should have been advising to stay in was the latest in a series of betrayals that dates back to overseas tours of the West Indies and England in 2012. Arthur had rated Warner so highly he encouraged his development as a potential leader. But the extra seniority was taken advantage of, so much so that Arthur would impose a curfew on Warner later in the year.

How often the curfew was faithfully adhered to can only be guessed at, but by the time of this year's IPL Warner was telling Arthur and others that he was not drinking at all, when those players actually in India needed only venture down to the hotel bar to be certain that was not the case. The Twitter fiasco soon followed. Finally Birmingham confirmed that for Warner, Arthur was no longer a source of fruitful advice like the stance adjustment before his 2011 Hobart hundred but a ponderous schoolmaster, there primarily to run deceitful rings around.

Shane Watson also has reason for introspection. Not so much for the kind of indiscipline shown by Warner as for an utter failure to step into the jobs Arthur thought him capable of. When the name of Jacques Kallis was bandied about by Arthur to indicate the influence Watson could have it was not a blithe display of faith - the belief in Watson's ability was genuine. At another time Arthur said he would have "failed as a coach" if Watson did not start making regular Test hundreds. As it turned out Watson, so wrapped up in debates over his best role, T20 duties and differences with the captain Michael Clarke, did not score a single one with Arthur in charge.

Lastly, there is the burden of guilt on Clarke's shoulders. Clarke had initially advocated Steve Rixon's promotion from fielding coach, following their history with New South Wales. But when Arthur was chosen the pair built up a decent relationship, the turning point for which would be the exits of Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey.

Privately, Arthur was desperate not to lose either from the team before the Ashes; Clarke was much less perturbed. Arthur's judgement would be proved the sounder, when the loss of the two senior men could not be adequately covered in any sense. The recall of Brad Haddin, another to have his qualities warmly espoused by Arthur in times of vulnerability, was a belated admission of the earlier error.

Clarke, preoccupied with his back trouble and the need to score runs, was not around often enough to maintain order. Arthur, lacking the support provided by Ponting and Hussey, was not considered heavyweight enough by some players to enforce it. And so Mohali happened, and the 4-0 hiding by India, and the horrid Champions Trophy campaign, and the Walkabout. Arthur would be held to account, and his job handed over to a former Australian Test player in Lehmann. Why? Ask Lachlan Stevens.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

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