For a long time Shane Watson the cricketer has something of an enigma.
At his brilliant best he is breathtaking – a damaging top order batsman and wicket taking strike bowler, an Alan Border Medallist.
At his inconsistent worst, his critics question his value to the Australian test side – regularly breaking down from injury, unable to convert starts into big scores and an individual in a team sport.
It’s that last point that appears to have been Watson’s downfall in the recent “evaluation saga”, an unnecessary episode that has blown up to monumental proportions.An incident that threatens to further derail an already laughable tour of India and places further doubts in the mind of those in the baggy green as they prepare for a tough Ashes series, the series that we have truly been setting ourselves for.
Taken at first glance this appears to be an innocuous situation that has many experts questioning coach Mickey Arthur’s methods, that now has those querying Michael Clarke’s leadership and the role that he played in the episode.
Both Clarke and Arthur were at pains to point out that the failure of the four players to fill out self assessment forms wasn’t the only issue at hand.
“This was not an isolated incident” Clarke said. “As a team over the past couple of months we have not reached the standards of us as Australian cricketers. This is the straw that broke the camel’s back”
Arthur’s was also strong in his stance. “Although this incident might seem very small in isolation, this is a line in the sand moment for us”.
The other incidents in question haven’t been made public and while they probably never will (or necessarily need to be), rumours will swirl, as they have begun to.
People around the globe have had an opinion – some believing the players have been “treated like kids” and that the penalty was a “stupid decision.”
Others feel that it was a stand that had to made, that the people who have been complaining about the team’s recent performances then can’t complain when the heirarchy take steps to rectify the situation.
One thing that does appear evident from the outside, is that maintaining harmony and buying into the whole team philosophy doesn’t appear high on Watson’s to-do list, something that should’ve been considering he is Clarke’s right hand man as Vice Captain.
Clarke expressed his disappointment at Watson’s actions saying they “didn’t consider the names of individuals when arriving at this decision but made a call in the best interest of the team.”
He went on to say “we need everyone pulling in the same direction, unfortunately that wasn’t the case after Hyderabad.”
The disregard for the coach’s request is indicative of the problems that Arthur faces in his “quest to become the best in the world.” Whether or not you agree with the necessity of self assessment forms and whether or not you feel that Arthur is paid to make decisions, not ask his players to do the job, it’s hard to argue with the “do what the coach asks of you” theory.
The next Australian coach was always going to be in a tough position the previous dominance of the Australian side was going to be hard to replicate. The players who departed – Warne, McGrath, Gilchrist, Hayden etc were then also joined by Ponting and Hussey. It’s now apparent that an era that saw sustained excellence left Australia – and it’s fans – complacent.
It’s also a notoriously “individual” team sport.
Coaches in cricket aren’t as readily identifiable as their counterparts in opposing sporting codes. As a general rule they don’t receive the plaudits of success, people are quick to point out that it’s the cattle, the talent on hand that drives the team. Lose however and it’s a whole other matter.
The individualism is part of cricket’s very nature. It’s about wickets taken, centuries scored, averages with bat and ball – all solitary achievements at the end of the day. Ask anyone Bradman’s overall win-loss ratio and chances are you’ll cop a blank stare in return. Ask anyone Bradman’s batting average and chances are you’ll be told 99.94% (or close to it).
In this particular circumstance Watson appears to be performing as an individual, something he has been criticised for previously.
First it was the fact that he didn’t want to bowl, he wanted to concentrate on his batting despite what was in the best interest of the TEAM. Then he announced that he wanted to move up the batting order and open, irrespective of whether this was in the best interest of the TEAM (and regardless of the pressure this put on Ed Cowan heading into a tough series).
Now he has decided that after this recent decision he was packing up and heading home. Granted this can also be attributed to his wife being pregnant and expecting their first child.
But it was a flippant Watson that departed India saying firstly “I’m absolutely shattered” before then casting doubt on his future commitment to the Australian Cricket team. “I’m going to way up which direction I want to go. There are a lot more important things in life.”
He then questioned the decision that was made by his coach and captain. “That is the decision they have made and at this point in time I am at a stage where I have to weigh up my future with what I want to do with my cricket.
“Anytime you are suspended from a Test Match, unless you have done something unbelievably wrong – and obviously everyone knows what those rules are – I think it is very harsh.”
Certainly the impending birth was a legitimate excuse, but even the most ardent Watson supporter would’ve cringed at his petulant nature upon arriving at the airport when he said he was suspended for “not doing my homework.”
These actions and comments reek of a man who doesn’t want to acknowledge his own faults in this situation. It shows a blatant disrespect for his coach, captain and teammates.
Again, it’s debatable whether the actual exercise of filling out a questionnaire and making a presentation to the coach is trivial – heck it might well be, but what can’t be debated is that teams without discipline or with a slack attitude rarely have success.
And what shouldn’t be up for debate is the value of the baggy green and that no one individual is bigger than the game.
Michael Clarke will no doubt be feeling disappointed by the actions of his vice captain and it remains to be seen whether their working relationship is damaged beyond repair.
For his part, Clarke summed things up by saying “we owe the game a hell of a lot – the game owes us nothing.”
The question is whether Shane Watson feels the same way. The jury is out.