Australian cricket faces a crisis of leadership
Date: April 24, 2013 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell
Success in any team – whether it be sporting or business – is driven from the top.
Of late, that concept has proved an issue for Australian cricket.
With just days until the announcement of the squad to take on England for the Ashes, Shane Watson, the vice-captain in situ, fell on his sword and resigned his position as Michael Clarke’s deputy.
Both Cricket Australia and Watson say that no discussions took place prior to the announcement.
In all honesty, no intercourse was required.
Nobody needed to make sense of their tea leaves at the bottom of their cup to predict his future.
Watson, as a potential leader, was a dead man walking.
Regardless, he will forever and a day reside in the history books as his country’s 44th Test captain – a fact that should never have arisen.
In the space of a fortnight in March, Watson went from a naughty schoolboy in the principal’s office to the head prefect.
Watson, along with three teammates, was removed from consideration for the third Test of the Border-Gavaskar series at Mohali for failing to comply with a request from national coach Mickey Arthur to supply him with feedback with respect to individual and collective improvements that could be made within the team.
Watson, the team’s 2-I-C, strongly aired his derision at the treatment that was meted out.
He flew home to Australia to be beside his wife for the birth of their first child, while simultaneously stating with regard to his future that, “There are a lot more important things in life … from a holistic perspective I’ve got to sit down with my family and just weigh up my options of just exactly which direction I want to go”.
In short measure he decided his future was still as an international cricketer.
And lo and behold, in a bizarre interplanetary alignment, he returned to India for the fourth Test – as captain!
From castaway to skipper, just like that.
The reason Watson and his trio of teammates were stood down in the first place was articulated by coach and captain at the time as a “line in the sand”.
Standards within the playing group had failed to be of the level expected – indeed required – by members of the Australian Test team.
The ‘homework’ saga was simply the straw that broke the camel’s back with firm action taken to alert the entire squad of its responsibilities and expectations with regard to wearing the coveted baggy green.
That being the case, the selection of Watson as stand-in skipper for the final Test at Delhi was one that smacked of double standards.
Yes, he had done his time and served out his one-match ban, but to reward him immediately with the captaincy of his country was short-sighted.
To truly underline the change that needed be invoked within the team, someone else should have been appointed as Clarke’s stand-in.
Now, we eagerly wait the naming of not only the squad to England but the attachment of the initials ‘vc’ to one of the incumbents.
Watson will be included in the party but his hold on an ongoing Test berth remains extremely tenuous, especially if he is unable to make a substantive contribution with the ball.
Clarke’s absence from the last Test in India was the first time he has missed a match in his 92-Test career due to the ongoing issues with a lower disc problem in his back.
The fact that the injury is degenerative means by its very nature that it is an ailment that is getting progressively worse – eluding to the possibility that he may soon be sidelined again.
All going well, Clarke will be around for a while yet as the leader of the Test side, albeit perhaps with the occasional sabbatical due to injury.
Yet, someone must be tapped to become his designated deputy, ready to fill the breach at a moment’s notice.
Just who the selectors pin their faith on will be fascinating.
Aside from Clarke, Siddle, and when fully fit, Pattinson, there appears to be very few current squad members who are guaranteed of their selection through the entirety of the forthcoming Ashes series.
Over the next eight months – and ten Ashes Tests – some players will have made their name and others will most likely be cast aside.
Almost all who board the plane to the Old Dart will be under pressure to prove that they are long-term Test players.
The added responsibility of a designated leadership role may not be of benefit to some as they strive to find the consistency to survive in the cut and thrust of Test cricket.
Names are being bandied around freely – Matthew Wade, Ed Cowan, David Warner, limited-overs skipper George Bailey and 35-year-old ‘keeper Brad Haddin – have all been thrown up as candidates for the position Watson has just relinquished.
As always, fascination precedes the announcement of an Ashes squad.
Everyone has their thoughts and wait eagerly to see if they align with the selectors.
More often than not they don’t.
This time around, equally as important as the naming of the tour party will be the announcement of who boards the plane as the anointed skipper-in-waiting.
Australia needs stability at the top – both in its batting and its leadership.
Both elements will be crucial to the team’s performance as it pursues the acquisition of the sport’s most famous trophy.
Australia enters the series in England as a firm underdog making the need for effective leadership imperative.
Tough times lay potentially ahead.
A skipper and first mate who can work in unison to navigate the heavy seas is a must for Australia to have any hope of reaching port with its pride intact.
First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 23 April 2013