Aussie Wounds are Self-Inflicted

Ian Chappell, in the Sunday Mail 15 March  and Courier Mail

YOU have to give the Australian cricket team management credit for being innovators when it comes to streamlining the selection process.  Seriously, though, how did it reach a point where four players had to be suspended for minor disciplinary infractions? Why weren’t the team’s struggles sorted out face-to-face in the team room over a few drinks and a bit of candid conversation, rather than asking for suggestions by text or emailMany a stormy confrontation has cleared the air in a sporting team and allowed a side to move on to better things without any outsider being aware of the reason for the sudden form reversal.mickey-arthur -AFP Mickey Arthur from AFP

The game may have evolved and the players become full-time professionals, but it’s important to remember they are grown men, not schoolboys, and while it’s a team game, cricketers are still individuals. Some players like filling in diaries, others don’t. Each player should know what preparation is best for them and what provides their best chance of success on the field. When it comes to winning cricket matches, performing should far out-rank conforming.

The captain’s part in this zany episode is crucial as Michael Clarke must have agreed with the punishment or else he would have prevented it from happening. This is a logical conclusion, as he was stand-in captain in 2008 when Andrew Symonds was sent home from Darwin for disciplinary reasons.

Clarke has proved to be a brilliant tactician, but he may find the more he tries to control things off the field, the less likely he is to maintain authority on the ground. There are two parts to the job: there’s the captaincy on the field and the leadership off it. Once a captain understands that all the wins and losses go against his name – not that of the manager, the coach or the high performance man – he’s on the right track. Many times the best players are those who have a mind of their own off the ground.

By drawing a line in the sand in this way, the Australian team management might well develop a culture of “yes” men rather than team men. Shane Watson’s situation is a case in point. In the current “talent challenged” environment, Watson should be a required player and, if Clarke wants him in the team, he should let him know and sort out any difference of opinion face-to-face. The after-hours leadership work that a captain puts in generally reaps rewards on the field.

Team management should see it as a plus that Watson was prepared to speak out and defend his reputation. Cricket Australia may not like what he said, but Watson’s response to Pat Howard’s unhelpful comment about him being a team man “sometimes”, was fair and reasonable. That’s exactly the feisty exchange the Australian team needed to have behind closed doors in the aftermath of the Hyderabad debacle.

Cricketers learn to handle bad news. They do occasionally get dropped and what they want is honesty and to be told their failings face-to-face. It’s how a player reacts to a setback that defines whether he kicks on to better things or withers on the vine.The only culture this Australian team needs to develop is a winning one.

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