By Nishad Pai Vaidya
With the Ashes in the horizon, Australian cricket is at crossroads. An avalanche of controversies has hit them in recent months starting from the ‘homework-gate’ in India to David Warner’s drunken escapades. That when coupled with their poor performances on the field paint a bleak picture for their future. Mickey Arthur has borne the brunt of all this as he has been sacked even as his team gears up for a stern test against their traditional rivals.
In the last few months, there has been a drastic dip in Australia’s form. While they may not have matched their typical high standards in recent years, the preceding months have been rocky to say the least. First, they lost the Test series in India 4-0 and then failed to win a game at the ICC Champions Trophy 2013. This comes from a side that dominated all formats until about five years ago. Clearly something had to be done and Arthur is the sacrificial lamb.
What has been worrying is the apparent absence of the typical “Aussie spirit’’. The ‘homework-gate’ may have been laughable to the outsider, but Michael Clarke and the team management were trying to build a unit. That team spirit required all members to submit their views and failure to do so was indicative of a carefree attitude. Suspending a few players in the middle of a Test series may have been hara-kiri considering the situation they were in, but a strong message had to be sent.
Then came Warner’s tirade of angry tweets directed at a journalist. If that wasn’t enough, he was suspended from the team for an altercation with an England player in a bar. The ethics and the professionalism that Australian cricket stood for has been breached in these instances. It all seems tumultuous because of their poor form, but history would suggest that they have penalised their players even when the team was at its peak. A player of the stature of Ricky Ponting had a few run-ins before he mellowed down and led them to greater heights.
In these trying and testing times, the importance of discipline magnifies. Perhaps, they needed someone who has been a part of the system and has seen the good old glory days. Darren Lehmann seems to be the right man to take Australia forward through these troubled waters. Arthur may have had his moments, but Australia need someone who has seen it all as a player and coach. Having served Australia as a player for numerous years and been on the coaching scene for some time, Lehmann has the credentials for the job.
Lehmann can build a good partnership with Clarke — with whom he has shared the dressing room as a player. Clarke had in fact burst on to the scene when Lehmann was nearing his final days in international cricket. They have been a part of that unforgiving and ruthlessly successful Australian outfit and can instil the same values in the young side at their disposal.
The timing of this decision has certainly surprised everyone as the Ashes are only a fortnight away. However, Lehmann is a no-nonsense guy and takes his role very seriously. He has coached at the Indian Premier League (IPL) and has rarely been in the limelight. Like Gary Kirsten, he seems to prefer the backroom role and quietly goes about his job. His first agenda would be to lift the morale of this side and it might be the weakest Australian team to land on English shores in recent times.
The picture isn’t all too gloomy as Australia have some copious potential in their ranks. It is only that they need to channelize that and get their act together. A revival is what they are aiming for post the Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey era. They had been through a similar struggle in the 1980s until Allan Border revived their fortunes. It is time for Clarke to do the same and Lehmann may be a good guide in that regard.
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