After the heavy Ashes defeat at home two years ago, Australian cricket gave itself a jolly good talking to. This is quite the fashion in modern sport when teams lose and in this case took the form of a Performance Review known as the Argus Report after the chap who chaired it.
In view of recent events culminating (or culminating so far anyway) with one of their players throwing a punch at an English opponent in a late-night cum early morning Birmingham bar its findings have assumed a new pertinence. Among the major issues identified by Don Argus and his panel of experts in September 2011 was the team’s culture.
They found that the attitudes reported by its witnesses were quite different from those needed to be successful at elite level. “Remedying these issues,” it said becoming fortune’s hostage, “is clearly critical and requires immediate and concerted effort.”
The success of this endeavour can probably be judged by the latest crisis to strike the Australian team. David Warner’s errant punch – he failed to make full contact – may suggest there is work still to be done.
Argus, a former mining tycoon and one of the most deeply respected businessmen in Australia, made several recommendations and added: “To reinforce this direction, the selectors including the captain and head coach must ensure the right people are in the team in terms of skills, attitude and character.”
Three months ago on a tour of India, four players were dropped from a Test match because they had failed to fulfil obligations imposed on them by management. It became known as the homework fiasco.
On this tour, Michael Clarke, their captain and best batsman by an outback mile has yet to play a game because of a chronic back injury. They are desperate for him to regain fitness. It is one thing after another and on the field the team struggles and looks short of class.
Doubtless another panel of experts sitting in disciplinary mode will decide shortly if Warner should be further punished for his latest misdemeanour. As an interim measure he was dropped from Australia’s team for their Champions Trophy match against New Zealand.
He has previous of recent vintage. It was only three weeks ago that he was up before the beak and fined for an expletive-ridden Twitter rant against an Australian journalist.
Whatever the outcome of the deliberations – and being sent home from the Ashes is possible – it is pretty clear that Australia are in a mess. The other day in these columns it was possible to observe that they were up the creek and might soon lose the paddle.
That moment may have arrived when Warner stepped over to Joe Root in the Walkabout bar, lending a different dimension to the whole idea of going walkabout. In less than a month Warner and Root are, or were, supposed to be rivals in the most enduring and evocative of all sporting international sporting contests.
In a brief, terse statement about Warner’s “unprovoked physical attack” the England and Wales Cricket Board said portentously that they “have concluded this is a matter for Cricket Australia and have no further comment to make.”
Perhaps they will keep as schtum as they managed during the Kevin Pietersen imbroglio last year which would be like a double vow of silence. But the brevity of their statement, making it clear where any blame lay, was to ensure that the series itself will start and continue amid greater strain and tension than it ever has.
During the perpetual analysis and the quest to find out what really happened in the Walkabout, blow by blow as it were, there was the usual censorious muttering about the presence of professional sportsmen in a public bar in the wee small hours.
In Root’s case he had been on cricket duty permanently since early May when he captained England Lions against New Zealand. Either he had been preparing for a match or playing one.
True, this is in the middle of major tournament but hours earlier England had enjoyed a significant win against their oldest rivals and had five days before their next match, two of them off the training treadmill. He is 22, a beer or two seemed in order without the threat of sanction or a biff on the nose.
What Australia do now and where Australia go is fraught with difficulty. They can hardly invoke Argus mark two. They could wrap Warner across the knuckles again but that would not address the core of the trouble.
In 1987 when Australian cricket seemed to be deep in the mire after losing the Ashes for the second time they gazed at their navel for a bit. It worked but only because it was accompanied by the emergence in rapid succession of hard-nosed and extremely gifted players.
Allan Border was the first and his part in the revival and the dominant years that followed is too easily overlooked now. But when he sat on the Argus panel he could at least say he had seen it all before.
Australian cricket, like its English counterpart, is under threat from football codes, in this case Aussie Rules and rugby league. Like cricket in England, however, like cricket everywhere it retains a perversely quaint status in the eyes of the nation at large. Hitting opponents in bars is not part of that culture. In the case of David Warner that may have to be considered.
Ashes dust-ups: When the rivalry goes too far...
England captain Douglas Jardine devised controversial tactics to combat Donald Bradman. His bowlers, in particular Harold Larwood, bowled fast, short deliveries which bruised Australia's batsmen. The ensuing outcry reached governmental levels.
1971: Snow bowling
England bowler John Snow was warned for pitching balls in short after striking Australian batsman Terry Jenner on the head in Melbourne. Snow was jostled by a fan and had bottles thrown at him.
1977: Botham v Chappell
Ian Botham struck Ian Chappell in a Melbourne bar after Botham became angry at Chappell's criticism of England. Chappell chased Botham around a car park, although details are disputed. The duo came together again in 2010.
1979: Lillee's bat
England captain Mike Brearley objected when Dennis Lillee walked out with a metal bat in Perth. Umpires eventually allowed him to continue.
2005: Ponting outburst
Australia captain Ricky Ponting snapped following a run-out by substitute Gary Pratt at Trent Bridge, screaming and swearing at England's dressing room, accusing them of using a specialist replacement.
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