Warne relaxed over Clarke-Watson rift
Shane Warne believes fierce arguments between Michael Clarke and Shane Watson over the latter's place in Australia's Test match batting order have been at the root of a rift that is nowhere near as dramatic as the former coach Mickey Arthur has alleged. A close friend and mentor to both Clarke and Watson, Warne paralleled his relationship with Steve Waugh, another pair who disagreed fundamentally on many cricket issues but found a way to work together.
Arthur's alleged claim in leaked legal documents that Clarke had described Watson as a "cancer" on the Australian team has heightened scrutiny of a partnership that has often been strained. But Warne told ESPNcricinfo that while the views of Clarke and Watson had often diverged, the perception of the two senior players warring with each other had been enhanced by the national team's indifferent recent results and the allrounder's shuffling around the batting order by Clarke.
"I found when I was captain of Watto in the IPL. I just backed him 100% and he'd end up being player of the tournament," Warne said. "Pup's been doing that but I think what people have missed is they've debated over where Shane Watson should bat. Watto wants to open, Michael Clarke's thinking strong middle order, so I'm sure they've had a few heated debates about where he should bat.
"How that translates into they hate each other, they don't get along, blah blah blah, it's just been blown out of proportion I believe. And I know both the guys really well and I speak to both all the time. So I think it's not a factual statement. But because of the batting situation and the way the team's going, sometimes people can read too much into that. They might have disagreements of opinions over things, but that's okay. You don't need to always agree and it doesn't equal hating each other either."
Watson's relationship with Clarke reached a low point during the tour of India earlier this year when he was suspended from the Mohali Test match by a leadership group comprised of Clarke, Arthur and the team manager Gavin Dovey. Warne said his working axis with Waugh had been similarly tested by the decision to drop him from the Test team in the West Indies early in 1999. A few months later they found themselves celebrating on the Lord's balcony, having played equally vital roles in winning the World Cup.
"Coach Geoff Marsh still wanted to go with me, so it all got a bit ugly, and that was not great to be honest, it wasn't very easy," Warne said of the selection meeting in Antigua, 14 years ago. "But we always had respect for each other. We always had different views - Steve was a very defensive, negative type of person, he was always a match saver. He wouldn't go out there and tear an attack apart, he would just slowly go about it and grind them down. I was a bit more aggressive, had a bit more flair about my game and was more of a risk-taker. Sometimes that works, and that's why we had quite a successful period as captain and vice-captain because we contrasted."
Warne suggested that kind of contrast should be regarded as a strength rather than a weakness by Clarke and Watson, and encouraged the captain's authority to be challenged respectfully by others as the best way for the team to function. The new coach Darren Lehmann appears already to have helped in this way.
"They have disagreements in the change room on certain things and batting orders and that sort of stuff," Warne said. "But that's healthy, you don't want ten robots in there just going 'yes Michael, whatever you want Michael'. You want someone to say 'I disagree with that Pup, let's declare at 320'. In the end he's accountable because the wins and losses go against his name. I think he's pretty good at collecting all the information in the dressing room and then making his own decision.
"The big question is about respect versus being liked. We all like to be liked but it's more important to have respect. If you respect each other, no matter whether you have differences of opinions or you don't quite see eye to eye. You might not go out and socialise once you walk off the ground, but on that field you'd do anything for each other, and that's what we had for a long period. The only way to get that respect is to earn it, how people conduct themselves around the group, how they put themselves out for you, are they thoughtful towards you as well. It can't be one way traffic all the time."
You can follow Warne's views this summer on the Shane Warne Cricket app.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here