Cricket Australia backed the decision by national team management to stand down four players for this week’s third Test against India for disciplinary reasons as one of the quartet said he accepted his punishment.
Vice-captain Shane Watson, fast bowlers James Pattinson and Mitchell Johnson, and batsman Usman Khawaja were dropped yesterday for the match in Mohali after failing to deliver feedback coach Mickey Arthur said he asked all players to provide after Australia went 2-0 down in the four-match contest.
Pat Howard, Cricket Australia’s executive manager of team performance, told reporters today that the governing body fully supported the punishment, which he said was the culmination of issues with players’ attitudes over a period of time.
“It’s a high-performance culture we are after and they’ve made a pretty big stance on what the minimum standard is,” Howard said at a televised news conference in Brisbane. “It is a strong statement. You can only get your last chance so many times. This was the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
While former players including ex-Australia captain Allan Border have described the punishment as over the top, current skipper Michael Clarke said the action, which has been derided in the U.K. media with Australia scheduled to play back-to-back Ashes series against England this year, reflected a decline in the culture and behavior of the team.
“There have been a number of issues on this tour where I don’t think we have been hitting our standards,” Clarke said in comments distributed by Cricket Australia. “It’s no coincidence we have lost the first two Test matches quite convincingly so we have to turn that around, we have to lift our standards. We can’t accept mediocrity here.”
Australia lost by an innings and 135 runs in Hyderabad last week, becoming the first team in 136 years of elite Tests to lose by an innings after declaring when batting first. India would regain the Border-Gavaskar trophy by avoiding defeat in either of the remaining two matches following a 4-0 sweep in Australia in 2011-12.
Following the second Test, Arthur said each player was given five days to outline how their individual performances and those of the team could be improved.
“After Hyderabad we were really hurting,” Arthur, a South African who was hired as Australia’s first overseas coach in 2011, said at a news conference yesterday. “I wanted three points from each of them: technically, mentally and team as to how we were going to get back over the next couple of games, how we were going to get ourselves back into the series. Four players did not comply with that.”
Pattinson, who has been Australia’s best bowler on his first tour of India with eight wickets at 23.62 apiece, said he should have completed the task by the deadline.
“It’s disappointing but I know personally and I know the three others have really taken responsibility for their actions,” Pattinson, 22, said in comments distributed by Cricket Australia. “This is a kick in the bum to make you really realize what we’ve got and what we really want, and that is to get to No. 1.”
Watson, 31, was granted leave from the team following his axing because of the impending birth of his first child, Cricket Australia said. The allrounder, a two-time winner of the country’s top individual cricket honor named for Border, described the punishment as “very harsh” and said he was considering his playing future.
“I am going to spend the next few weeks with my family and weigh up my options,” Watson was cited as saying by the Age newspaper. “I am at a stage where I have to weigh up my future with what I want to do with my cricket in general.”
Watson, playing as a specialist batsman, averaged 19.25 from his four innings in the series with a highest score of 28. Johnson and Khawaja are yet to play in the Test series.
The disciplinary action may leave Australia, ranked the No. 3 Test team by the International Cricket Council, with 12 available players for the third match after initially taking a 17-man squad. Wicketkeeper Matthew Wade is in doubt because of an ankle injury, although Brad Haddin has flown in as cover.
Howard declined to go into detail on past misdemeanors, saying there were many incidences of players not doing what they were being asked to do by selectors, coaches, team management and public relations staff.
“Once you bend a rule in any organization, people will want to continue to bend it,” he said. “You keep dropping the standards, they will continue to abuse it. So it got to the point where they didn’t want to back down any more.”