Thursday, 14 March 2013

Arthur See Clarke Compliance Fiction

"Just give 'em the shove"
The Arthur See Clarke compliance fiction in India continues to rise on the bizarre index, following additional media conferences by the Headmaster and his Head Prefect.

If the initial information created jaw dropping responses from not only cricket fans in Australia, the subsequent statements have created a polarisation among sports writers and the millions of drones who feed off their prognostications. A poll in the Sydney Morning Herald asking the question "do you think the punishment handed out to Shane Watson and the other three Test cricketers was fair?" is running at fifty fifty, but then so is the commentary from SMH reporters. A poll in its sister paper, The Age in Melbourne, asked "Whose reputation do you think has been dented the most by the Australian cricket 'homework' debacle?" gives Mickey Arthur 32% of the blame and shares half of its votes between Shane Watson and Pat Howard, the High Performance manager, who to date, must have hardly any work to do as there has been very little in the way of high performances. Michael Clarke escapes much of the responsibility with less than one in five respondents prepared to blame the Aussie skipper.

Subsequently, dress code violations, back chat to team officials, failure to complete daily "wellness" charts, not keeping appointments with the team physio have all been quoted by Mickey Arthur as contributing factors, not confined to the players suspended. He went on to say that none of these things appear on the surface to be serious matters but that they were symptomatic of a decline in team morale and discipline. Australia was trying to build an attitude of toughness into their players.

Arthur's right. They don't appear to be serious breeches of the team's code of behaviour. The reaction has been like taking away someone's driving licence for five years because they failed to indicate when parking! Surely Arthur See Clarke  and those two rugby imports Howard and team manager Gavin Dovey, might have  developed some strategies to reverse these trends: strategies which didn't cost Australia another Test series, just as wellness charts and player rotation cost their team a home series victory against South Africa this summer

The two sides of the argument both agree on one thing: the players should have completed the task set by the coach. Agree with this modern form of making players reflect on their performances or not, it is the current regime and should have been completed.

thecricketragics, with a background in teaching, believes its a form of analysis that discriminates against some players. Not everyone finds writing down three dots points that easy and amongst a group where everyone has become conditioned to a dog-eat-dog understanding of their place in the team/squad, what has been represented as a simple task, may well have appeared intimidating to some players.

As Rob Thornton, a reader of thecricketragics, observed on Tuesday, it should have been easy for Usman Khawaja. His points needed to be no more than

  • pick
  • me
  • now
Watson arrives back
in Australia
Watson, the senior player and the one with the most to lose, has remained the only loose cannon heard firing  following the suspension. Flying home earlier than requested to be with his partner at the birth of their first child, he has tried quite successfully to keep his options open with Clarke whilst hammering Pat Howard and in unspoken ways, Mickey Arthur. He has made it clear he will take some brooding time during the next week to consider his options for the future. The statements of encouragement from India have included Clarke's statement that having Watson back for the 4th Test would be "best case scenario", media speak akin to the leader of a political party pledging his unswerving elegance to the deputy whose blood he has just spilled on the party room floor to get to the top ... "he'll always have a place in my cabinet, while ever he wants it ..." If you believe that, you must not have been paying attention as Clarke has carefully taken the golden pin up boy apart in the last few months, creating doubt in the media about Watson's ability to withstand injury and his attitude, his commitment and his questionable value to the team if he plays only as a batsman.

James Pattinson - still a couple of months from his 23rd birthday - after spitting the dummy from one side of the Punjab Cricket Association Ground to the other on Monday, has been easily subdued into recanting. We may not have produced spinners on the pitch since Warne but we certainly have spinners working overtime massaging this ludicrous situation back into reasonable sized chunks so the Australian public can swallow it. There sat young James, full of regret at his failure to complete his homework on time and most definitely for his initial reaction. No mention now of asking the Headmaster for some help, being ignored and then suspended on the day of his appointment with Arthur. Oh no. More importantly, said the carefully polished and media managed James, as he perched under Damocles Sword, "this is a reminder of my responsibility." The phrase he repeated over and over was that the taking of this action means "we can move forward from here." Repeated so often you can be sure it was drummed into him before hand.

Where are Mitchell Johnson and Usman Khawaja? Well they certainly aren't talking to the media. It would be no surprise if they have had to surrender their phones. They may not be so prepared to play the spin game. Neither will tour England now. Khawaja will never play for Australia whilst Arthur See Clarke are in charge.

As a result, the most gifted strokemaker Australian first class cricket has produced since Tasmania gave Ricky Ponting his apple green cap, will whither on the vine because no one took the time to learn how to tend for him. The current thinking in Australian cricket is "one model fits all" and just like a sausage press, everything comes out the other end the same. The rules, the dress codes enforced down to the smallest detail, the endless appointments with physios and various team coaches and managers and the constant stream of paperwork are just part of this desire to manage by homogenisation. The only way to make it stick is strict, imposed, mindless discipline which begs no resistance ... my way or the highway.

It has never worked in the past and it won't work now. To build a champion team you have to let your champions have some space. Arthur See Clarke have closed down all the spaces by filling them with their choices so that the players no longer count. Under those circumstances, its little wonder a culture of "I don't care" is developing.

John Buchanan - what's
that thing in his hand?
Past players have been quoted since Monday but perhaps the most telling response was from Ponting, the immediate previous Australian captain. A man who played under the contrasting leadership styles of Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh and the coaching of John Buchanan, Tim Neilsen and Mickey Arthur. His "no comment" was curt and made his point better than any well spun media statement. If he agreed with team management in India he would have said so. He may not have been Australia's best captain but he knew the job of everyone in and around the team was to win. Winners are grinners, not guys beavering over self appraisal forms.

In some ways, Shane Warne's idea that the skipper should gather the team for a few beers isn't that far from the truth. More might have been achieved once tensions had been relaxed and players encouraged to speak their minds on the manner of the Test losses in India. Arthur could have sat in the corner, written it all down and learned something in the process. If team building is the aim, that seems a more likely way that having each man off in his room trying to convert his gut feelings into three dot points.

It's an easy thing to say when the modern game places so many more demands on players than it ever has in the past, but as we grind the individuality out of our players to meet the demands of Mickey Arthur and Michael Clarke and the management Noddys around them, its hard not reflect on what might have happened to the mercurial individuals of the past. How would Keith Miller have responded to this management? Or Bill O'Reilly. Would we have ever seen Ian Chappell, Doug Walters, Rod Marsh, Dennis Lillee, David Boon, Ricky Ponting or Shane Warne ... bad boys all, in their time, but with captains smart enough to allow them space and responsibility and every man jack of them great team men.

Best mates ... honest!
Clarke's increasing petulance and poor man management skills are in stark contrast to his on field leadership, where he innovates, consults his players but isn't afraid to lead and has been diplomatic during incidents with opposition players. Maybe its because he's far enough away from the Headmaster to do what he knows is right or maybe, like Warne, he's not much more than an on field leader. He has a lengthening trail of disharmonious cricket relationships - Katich, Hussey, even Ponting towards the end and now Watson. Who knows how many discontents he has now created in the current squad by holding Arthur's hand in the dark, rather than standing with his intimidated young team. Its the dark side of the bright and shining run scoring mainstay of Australia.

As for his running mate, the taciturn South African, perhaps Ian Chappell is right. "Team coach? The only thing a team needs a coach for is getting from the ground to the hotel!" 

Comment of the week, during four days when Twitter has chirped incessantly on the topic, belongs to Australia comedian Peter Helliard who reported along these lines "new info re players axed in India: Mitch Johnson will miss the 4th Test because he didn't eat his veggies." 

The 3rd Test starts in Mohali, Chandigarh, today, if weather permits.