Stern Clarke pushes for harder team culture
A year after the Argus review delivered a damning indictment of Australian cricket's culture, the national captain Michael Clarke has delivered a stern reminder that much still needed to improve if the team are to rise above what he called an "unacceptable" present.
Before departing for an ODI tour of the UAE that will take in matches against Afghanistan and Pakistan, Clarke outlined how he and the coach Mickey Arthur had stressed at the team's Darwin camp that representing Australia is no laughing matter, requiring harder work and higher standards than anything at first-class level.
Their message was supported by the embarrassing mid-year tour of England, which saw the ODI team routed 4-0 to surrender top spot in the ICC rankings. With an increasingly youthful, changing team around him, Clarke is adamant that the players with whom he shares a dressing room take responsibility for their roles and acknowledge that, while talent may have lifted them into the Australian team, hard work alone will keep them there.
"The most important thing for Mickey and myself is to continue to build the culture we want," Clarke said in Sydney. "For me the reason I sit where I am today is because of hard work; preparation and hard work are the only two answers for me to be representing Australia, and that's something that I will continue to push with the young Aussie boys who haven't played too much cricket around us.
"There is a difference between first-class cricket and playing for Australia. Yes, you have to be very talented to be playing for your state, and to get selected for Australia, but the amount of cricket you play these days, the amount you travel, there's a lot of difference.
"The most important thing is the culture. We want to make sure we've got the right culture, which we've been working on really hard since Mickey's come in, and I think we're certainly getting there...hard work and preparation is something I'll continue to push."
Clarke spoke frankly that all players had to deliver far more with actions than words, after several players' pre-series pronouncements were made to look decidedly hollow when the tourists were completely outplayed by an England side who were themselves then beaten by South Africa to lose the top Test match ranking.
"The other thing I spoke about on the camp was it's actually not about what you say, it's about what we do as a team," Clarke said. "We've all sat in meetings and heard the coach or the captain have their opinions and say what they felt, but it's now up to us as individual players and a team to do something about it, to realise we sit fourth in the ODI rankings, third in the Test rankings and ninth in the Twenty20 rankings. Every player knows that's unacceptable for an Australian team to sit there, but that's easy to say - it's now about what we do.
"It's not about being selected and that's it, go and have a good time. There's a lot that comes with representing your country, on and off the field and it's just about making it very clear to all the boys that we all sit on the same line, there's no-one special in the team, everyone has the same rules, the same guidelines and the same expectations.
"I'm pretty sure all the players know where we sit now, we know how hard it's going to be, Darwin was a great indication of how hard we're going to have to work to get back to being the No. 1 team in all three forms - we've set a good standard."
These words echoed many of those contained in Don Argus' review of the Australian team's performance, released on August 19 last year. It was a frankly worded excoriation of a decline that followed the retirements of Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne, Justin Langer and Adam Gilchrist in the 12 months after the 2007 Ashes victory.
Australia's first match is against Afghanistan on Saturday, before three matches against Pakistan. Clarke expected spin to play a major role in the matches, a measure the touring party prepared for on slow, spinning wickets prepared to emulate those of Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
"We've got a lot of work to do to get back to the No. 1 one day team in the world, where we'd all like to be," Clarke said. "We came up against a pretty good team in England in conditions they were used to, their confidence was pretty high as well after beating the West Indies. But it's no different against Pakistan, they know these conditions really well, I think spin's going to play a huge part in this series, both facing it and bowling it."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here