Off-field spice – how will it influence Australia’s Ashes tilt?

One more sleep for those of us in Australia waiting for the Second Test to commence at Lords.

Not a lot of sleep for Cricket Australia’s top brass, as they consider how to handle and respond to former head coach Mickey Arthur and his seemingly controversial, and potentially disruptive claims lodged with Australia’s Fair Work Commission. Arthur has commenced legal action against Cricket Australia and is seeking four million Australian dollars compensation for his sacking, or reinstatement as head coach (imagine that). It has been reported that the South African’s legal team have confirmed that Arthur has alleged racial discrimination and depicted himself as a scapegoat.

How will this action effect the Australian Test side as it prepares for the second instalment of Ashes theatre?

To make an observation about that we need to understand some of the beef permeating throughout Australian cricket.

Captain Michael Clarke has stated that he isn’t getting involved. It will be difficult for him to remain on the outer though, as he has been publicly implicated already – via leaked documents – and one must assume that the Captain will be a feature of the rhetoric used to support – and probably refute – Arthur’s claims. It seems the most significant points of controversy stem from three issues or incidents.

The first is the “homework” affair that occurred mid-tour in India – where three players (including then Vice-Captain Shane Watson) were suspended by Arthur for allegedly not fulfilling a requirement to complete a written document about areas for personal and team improvement. Media reports suggest that Arthur has claimed Cricket Australia did not support his action to suspend the players. The action certainly drew fire from many sections of the media and strengthened the perception among fans and pundits that there was a growing man-management issue within the Australian set up.

The second issue is the allegation that Shane Watson was the one who tipped off Mickey Arthur about the incident at Birmingham’s Walkabout pub. A claim that Watson has publicly refuted in the past. David Warner allegedly punched at England’s Joe Root in the wee hours, after Australia had been defeated by England in their opening match of the Champions Trophy at Edgbaston. Warner was suspended some time after the incident, but the exact circumstances of how various authorities became aware of the punch seem unclear. Apparently Watson demanded action, and had reason to, after he felt aggrieved at his treatment in India. The implication here is that this seems to provide evidence to support the third and potentially most damaging claim for Australia’s Ashes campaign.

ESPN Cric Info have reported that the documents Arthur tendered to the Fair Work Commission in Sydney include claims that there are “major tensions” in the relationship between Shane Watson and Michael Clarke. It has been suggested that Watson led a faction of players that undermined Clarke’s leadership and that this created at least two camps in the Australian dressing room.

Rumours of major discontent and player disunity have been fizzing about since around the end of 2012. It seems that since old heads Ricky Ponting and Mike Hussey retired the whole lot has been unravelling. There was an email circulating that contained revelations about the resignation of Mike Hussey. It was alleged that Mike Hussey was promised a farewell ODI and that this was retracted by the Captain, to the great disappointment of Hussey. It also describes events in the dressing room at the SCG after the Test victory against Sri Lanka. It was alleged Hussey wished to spend the night – after his last Test – celebrating in the SCG dressing room with the lads (a dream scenario for those of us that will never experience this possibility), but that Michael Clarke led a push to have everyone leave the SCG and attend an event on a yacht in the Sydney Harbour.

These and other events seem to have created major tension and contributed to the declining health of relations in the Australian dressing room. It must be stated that these events or this version of them have not been verified. But, the fact that there have been swirling rumours and various tales of tension indicates that something has been going on beneath the highly PR groomed veneer of press conference denials and repetitive statements.

So, again the question – how will this effect Australia’s preparation and, perhaps more importantly, its performance in the second Test?

If it is true that Watson and Clarke do not get along, then it seems they’ve already been dealing with it for some time. Watson is no longer the Vice-Captain, but there were scenes of the two conversing and smiling together during the First Test in the slips, and on the balcony of the Australian dressing room. Perhaps they’re getting along more effectively now under the leadership of new coach Darren Lehmann. In the immediate wake of the leaked Arthur documents current Vice-Captain Brad Haddin insisted that the team is unified and are committed to one thing only, winning the Ashes.

So what do Arthur’s revelations change? The fact the wider public are now absolutely aware of what us die-hards in the cricketing world had already suspected. One of the consequences of this increased awareness is that it will be written about and pursued in press conferences with far greater fervour.

The problem is that being in the trenches in the midst of an Ashes war in England, is undoubtedly the worst place for Australia to be with its pants down.

England’s Fleet Street press will be relentless and the ever creative English fans, notably the Barmy Army, will use this as material to apply further pressure to the Australians during the Test Matches. Perhaps luckily for the Australians, Lords  – being the most conservative and highly regulated ground in England – will be devoid of the Barmy Army.

As Edgbaston does not feature in this series, the Third Test at Old Trafford shapes as being the most rowdy and testing for the Australians. The Fourth is played at Chester le-Street in the north of England and it’s likely this will also be a difficult and confronting ground for the away team. These points further emphasise the importance of the result in the Second Test.

Australia must win at Lords. Heading to Old Trafford two nil down will leave the Australians in an awful position, needing to win three Tests in a row to win back the precious little urn.

Tomorrow, before the Lords Test I shall further discuss Australia’s brittle top-order batting, the composition of the teams and how the match might unfold as a result.

2 comments

  1. Apparently Chris Tremlett is bowling well in the nets and will play against Australia for Sussex in Hove next week. A fit and firing Tremlett adds depth to the pace stocks to rival that of Australia.

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