Good grief, what next?

It’s hard to fathom, but Australia’s tour of India has gone from pretty bad to undeniably worse in the space of 24 dramatic hours. From here it seems pretty farcical, a view that appears to be common no matter where on the globe you sit.

To go back a little first. Before the 2nd test started I made some suggestions knowing they were never likely to be adopted, and they weren’t. Changes were made for the 2nd test, including one I suggested – including Maxwell (for want of a better option), but the shock was the dropping of Lyon. I’m no big fan of Lyon, but I think he’s a better bowler who replaced him – Doherty – and deserved at least another go. In any case a resounding loss resulted, with only the extent of it being a surprise. In the fall0-out it was widely mooted that Hughes, a hapless failure once again, would be dropped for Khawaja. Clarke also came out to say he would bat further up the order. Both of these were in my post of the other week.

Then everything went from being pear shaped to inordinately pear shaped last night. Watching TV I saw a news bulletin stating that four Australian cricketers had been suspended from selection in the 3rd test for disciplinary reasons. Big news, and clearly, you think immediately, they’ve been bad boys. Broken curfew and been out on the turps? Got involved in some argy-bargy? Broken team rules?

This was a disaster for the 3rd test team, leaving only 13 players to choose from, robbing it of its second best batsman after Clarke, the best performed bowler of this series, as well as the replacement for Hughes. No matter what, the team is going to be cobbled together and well below full strength. Bloody unfortunate, but sometimes you have to make these hard decisions. Discipline is a cornerstone of success, and if you fail to maintain standards everything else follows. Hard but fair.

That’s what I thought initially. And then the full extent of the story broke. Seems the four players were suspended for not handing their homework in on time. They had been asked to prepare and submit a short report to team management, and had failed to by the scheduled deadline. It’s disappointing, no doubt, but on the misbehaviour scale very much on the low end. They should punished yes, but for the misdemeanor that it is rather than the capital crime its been made out to be. I would have thought a fine and a group apology would suffice.

It seems clear now that this is a situation leaped upon by team management. They saw the opportunity to set an example, to show resolve and send a message to the players. It’s intended, clearly, to jolt the team into another state of thinking. India, in effect, is being sacrificed in order to get things right by the Ashes tour midyear.

Again, I’m not against such demonstrations in theory. Sometimes they’re needed, and I’ve seen them work. The fatal flaw in this situation is that the punishment must meet the crime. The players at whom it is addressed must see it as fair, even if harsh. I don’t see how this situation meets that criteria. In my eyes, and in the eyes of many, this is over the top. If the remaining players feel the same way it will breed resentment and disharmony; it will achieve the very opposite of what is intended. I don’t know what’s in their minds, but we have a clue.

To fully complete this farce Shane Watson, vice captain of the team, and one of the players suspended, flew out of India to be by his pregnant wife’s side. This was not on the schedule until he was suspended, and he’s clearly ropeable at the situation, and said to be considering his future.

Australian cricket is going through a harsh transitional phase right now. Over summer Ponting and Hussey called it quits – one of the best batsmen ever, and another of superior quality. On top of that injuries have cruelled the prospects for a settled test team, as well as some quirky selection decisions. Now this.

I’m wondering how the dust will settle on this. It’s not a good look. At best it’s a misjudgement, at worst, sheer stupidity – very un-Australian. The Aussie skipper has come out in support of these decisions, citing what it means to play for Australia. I agree with all of his sentiment, and that the baggy green should be seen as something sacrosanct. In this case I just don’t believe the actions merited this punishment, unless there is more we don’t know. I’d rather err on the side of being tough, but not to the point of injustice.

What will happen? The team will close ranks. Management will explain the decision away. Perhaps the team will be galvanised by the embarassment, but more likely will lose in Mohali. And Watson may or may not return for the 4th test – or we may never see him again.

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