There were collective sighs throughout last summer as the ECB and Kevin Pietersen stand-off became more ridiculous by the day. Fans were isolated, players trotted out the approved lines while management and PR agents squabbled over the most minute and absurd details. Australia have taken this format and ran with it. The rise and fall of Australian cricket has been amusing to even the most impartial observer, but the dropping of four players for not submitting a three point presentation on how they could improve (a presentation which, apparently, could include popping a scrap of paper under the coach's hotel room door) goes beyond a joke.
The vice-captain has left India, to be at home with his pregnant wife and 're-assess' his test career. Two of the players dropped haven't played any part in the test series, and Pattinson has played in both games, been the most impressive of the pace attack by far and took a five-for on a road of a pitch where seamers and spinners alike struggled. The coach declared the dismissing of the players as part of Australia's new tougher stance which was essential to their quest to become number one team in the world. Arthur stated that the best teams in the world "have the best attitudes." They also have a feeling of unity and security in their dressing rooms. Problems are sorted discreetly and privately, there is mutual respect between players and staff and the cricket takes the front seat. This seems non-existent in Australia.
This situation cannot be solely blamed on Arthur. During the press conference, he emphasised how he and 'Pup' had worked together to strengthen the team. Team problems have a knack of following Clarke around, and he has an unnerving habit of sitting quietly in the background while things blow up around him. There was the incident with Katich, which lead to the dropping of a player whose services would surely have come in useful throughout this series; Symonds blamed his career ending on Clarke's influence in the team; Hussey's retirement this year, and subsequent dropping from the one-day team, led to more rumours about Clarke's influence in the dressing room and now this. They could, of course, just be rumours. But it seems odd how closely they follow Clarke around. Clarke is a player, captain and selector. He is involved in every aspect of team life, which surely cannot be healthy. How can he gain the trust of players if incidents such as this happen? A captain is meant to inspire, act as a sounding board for players to express their opinions without fear of retribution. Does disagreeing with Clarke mean one's place is in jeopardy? It shouldn't, but one can't help but suspect that it does.
This goes far further than players forgetting to hand in their homework. The cricket has taken a backseat, just as it did in England last year. Hughes has hardly blossomed at the top of the order. Khawaja was almost certainly slated in to take his position. Now, Khawaja remains on the sidelines, Hughes will presumably continue to struggle, his confidence will be shot and Australia will have to pick him up and rebuild him for the second time in his career. Hardly helpful, in a back-to-back Ashes year. There is also the fact that, no matter how stupid the players may have felt the task was, they simply ignored what their coach was asking of them. Hardly the sign of a positive dressing room relationship.
England will be watching, no doubt with some amusement. Their own PR situation resolved itself after a month long posturing contest and a period of reintegration. One suspects Australia's may drag on for longer.