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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Banscolt on June 30, 2013, 6:55 GMT

    @Paul Boizot: Clarke's back has been a recurring problem and flares up just when he is badly needed. As a captain he has been a complete failure too. He needs to call it a day and take good care of his back which may become crippling later. Don't go by what the media says because most of them are writing for money and don't give a damn about any team including their own. Watson will be the right choice because he catches the bull by the horns or else bring back Ponting. If England could select Brearley only for his Captaincy skills and if Australia could recall Bobby Simpson from the grave (almost) then why not Ponting while he still has the fire burning? A big, difficult problem requires firm strong decisions. Dithering won't help.

  • neonblaze on June 27, 2013, 8:34 GMT

    Hey, anybody recall Greg Chappell's regime in India and his subsequent firing? What goes around, comes around! Aussies don't like the boot on the other foot!

    Truth be told, Australia just do not have even a third rate team right now and that does not go well with their hubris generated over two decades of being at the top. They can have the best coach, but if the players don't perform and then mope, sulk and punch, CA might as well save the cash.

    It seems the Aussies started to believe that winning is their birth-right. Yeah, right! I say, why don't they try Greg Chappell as their coach! Might even be fun!

  • SarfBD on June 26, 2013, 16:22 GMT

    Failing to handling these sort of people in the team was part of his job and he didn't do it convincingly. He shouldn't be shielded with others' guilt.

  • Simoc on June 26, 2013, 9:17 GMT

    Nothing worthwhile in this article. Arthur was the wrong person for the job as he was with WA. Ponting was hopeless against SA and rightfully retired. Hussey for his own reasons had had enough and wanted to get out on top, which he did.

    That doesn't mean they(inc Stevens) are not good coaches somewhere but they sure didn't deliver good results. I could have coached the Waugh team with as good a result as Buchanan with the players at his disposal. It doesn't get easier.

  • RSA-cricket_fan on June 26, 2013, 8:25 GMT

    Oh Please South Africa got rid of Arther because of his typical management style and because he wanted to emigrate to Australia - he sounds more Australian than Ricky Ponting - please keep him there - we will not be able to understand his lingo back in SA!

  • OneEyedAussie on June 26, 2013, 1:21 GMT

    I do feel sorry for Arthur in that most of what he attempted in order to fix the problems he encountered was well-meaning but ultimately ineffectual. David Warner ignored his curfew. Shaun Marsh couldn't convert his initial form into anything meaningful at number 3. Shane Watson couldn't make it to a hundred in the Boxing Day Test despite a meagre SL attack. Nathan Lyon would not manage to become a wicket-taking bowler (and we lost in Adelaide vs SA). And then there was the homework incident - not enough space for that one.

    The reason Arthur was sacked is because none of the ideas and the actions he implemented could be said to have worked in any determinable way. In fact, many of them had negative consequences that outweighed any positive.

    Sure, some of it is the player's fault. But again, Arthur had a hand in selecting the players.

  • bobagorof on June 26, 2013, 0:53 GMT

    @cricketfanwrites: While not wanting to support Cricket Australia's poor management, Ponting was a spent force on the field (the India series was a last hurrah and he should have retired immediately afterwards) and Hussey made his own decision (he was not forced out). It did highlight the lack of planning by management, though. I believe if Ponting had retired a year earlier, after the Indian series, there would have been a smoother transition. One cannot just expect 37-38 year olds to keep playing forever. Management obviously hadn't learned from 2006 when Langer, Warne and McGrath retired. At least in that case they had Hayden, Ponting, Hussey and Gilchrist to keep the team going.

  • bobagorof on June 26, 2013, 0:36 GMT

    @Mark Taylor: I think you're being a bit harsh on Mike Hussey, who debuted in 2005 (after Clarke) and James Pattinson. Ryan Harris has also been a consistent performer, but has longstanding knee injury that is hardly the coach's fault. Brad Hodge and Phil Jaques were both world-class. Stuart Clark stepped into McGrath's shoes with great success. Even Johnson was a star performer before fading in the latter half of his career. So there's 6. And I'd hardly call Siddle a 'journeyman', he's played for Victoria and Australia his whole career.

  • dummy4fb on June 25, 2013, 20:12 GMT

    I see a few people here calling for the removal of Clarke as captain. Do those people want him out of the team, or in the team under a new captain? He is your best batsman, after all. I am sure England would be only too happy for him to be out of the Aussie side.

    I don't know what has gone on behind the scenes regarding whether the players respect him, and so on - but as an England follower, I consistently see him spoken of favourably in English media as a captain on the field, in terms of his aggressive and inventive approach.

    If he is not the captain, then who is? Haddin is too old to be a long-term replacement.

  • cheguramana on June 25, 2013, 18:00 GMT

    I don't how much of this article is conjecture of what really want wrong and how much of it is informed analysis. It is difficult to believe that one particular bunch of players developed into " coach killers". After all, most of these players have worked with other coaches before. Sure, there some guilt to be shared by Watson, Warner, Clarke, etc. but if it was all players's fault, then the players shud hv ben sacked ! IMHO, the manager is responsible for the teams/ company's performance. Only exceptions is if he dint hv enuf authority and power to do what he thot was rite. Which does not seem to be the case here. So the sacking was rite, but was the timing rite ? What was CA doing ? Allowing things to come to such a pass ? Who gets to sack the CEO?