The Chinese communist government of the 1970s had a problem with a gang of four and it’s now a similar situation for Australian cricket.
If consecutive one-sided losses, questionable selections, a spluttering top-order and a dearth of quality spin bowlers weren’t enough for Cricket Australia to deal with, things have gotten infinitely worse in the past 24 hours.
A bombshell of Bikini Atoll proportions was dropped yesterday in Mohali, with Australian coach Mickey Arthur calling a special media conference during which he announced that four players were not under consideration for the third Test – Shane Watson, James Pattinson, Mitchell Johnson and Usman Khawaja.
The ‘crime’ that saw their eligibility terminated was the fact they had not furnished the coach with a response to a request he made following the innings defeat in Hyderabad.
The players were given five days to come up with responses to what could be done by the squad across three key areas – technical, mental and team – to arrest the rapidly escaping series.
Arthur stated, “a lot of guys came to my room and did a presentation, a few guys have written fantastic emails, some guys put notes under my door, it was their preference.”
However, four of the squad chose not to supply any thoughts whatsoever.
And the four – following deliberations by Arthur, captain Michael Clarke and team manager Gavin Dovey – were stood down for the Mohali Test.
The plot soon thickened when vice-captain Shane Watson packed up his gear and headed to the airport.
It was mooted a few weeks back he may have headed home around this time anyway as his wife is shortly expecting their first child.
But when buttonholed prior to his departure, his comments indicated he is far than enamoured by the treatment he has been dealt by tour management.
“Any time you’re suspended for a Test match unless you do something unbelievably wrong, and obviously everyone knows what those rules are… I think it is very harsh,” Watson told Sydney Morning Herald.
“At this point in time I’m at a stage where I’m sort of weighing up my future and what I want to do with my cricket in general, to be honest. I do love playing, there is no doubt about that, but at this point in time I’m going to spend the next few weeks with my family and just weigh up my options of just exactly which direction I want to go.”
The comments were hardly what the powers that be at Cricket Australia’s Jolimont headquarters would like to hear.
It appears Watson is an angry and disillusioned man.
How the other three players in question have reacted is yet to be made public.
It is hard to imagine this one episode required such a strict penalty to be handed down.
While Arthur, at his media conference, alluded to the fact this was an isolated stand-alone incident, Clarke shortly after said otherwise.
“I want the public and the media to understand, don’t get me wrong, it’s not just about one incident.
“I know it is a tough day, a really tough day and it’s a tough decision, but at the end of the day if people are not hitting those standards there are going to be consequences.”
It is certainly a case of mixed messages from the two men at the head of the team.
Twitter has gone into overload with many suggesting or demanding Arthur be given his marching orders.
Yet it is worth remembering he was not the sole judge, jury and executioner.
The skipper also had a massive say in whatever penalty was to be levied and his comments show that personally he was far from happy with several issues during this tour.
Chairman of selectors John Inverarity left the squad following the second Test and, at the time the story broke yesterday, his replacement as selector on tour Rod Marsh, was in Dubai in transit to Mohali.
Such a serious penalty would surely not have been meted out without some form of approval from CA’s senior administration back in Australia.
Arthur dubbed the move as a “line in the sand” moment.
What impact it will have on the team’s output and morale over the next two weeks is anyone’s guess.
It could galvanise those remaining in the camp or it could see the birth of splinter groups who feel their teammates have been too harshly dealt with.
Either way, much of the focus will be on Clarke.
Over the past 12 months he has carried Australia’s batting fortunes on his own shoulders while at the same time trying to tactically position them for victory.
Many have given him a pass mark for his captaincy nous but it is about to face a test that few could have imagined.
There is no doubt he will have made some enemies in the past day.
Just how many though is currently unknown.
And whether the four that have been called to question are willing to forget and forgive in the short term remains debateable.
Already Clarke has had highly publicised falling outs with the likes of Simon Katich, Andrew Symonds and Damien Martyn during his time in the Australian team.
Rumours abounded earlier this summer with regard to Clarke having been the man who put a line through Michael Hussey playing in the one-day series that followed the Sydney Test during which he retired.
Speculation will no doubt be rife over this latest episode and Clarke’s role in it.
Arthur said at his media conference the quartet would be eligible for selection for the fourth Test at Delhi.
The coach made those comments before Watson checked out of the team hotel.
Whether his return to Australia will affect his immediate future is yet another unknown with regard to this still unfolding saga.
Many have questioned the need for an international coach to seek such detailed feedback from his squad.
But, in essence, such actions are not unusual.
Many coaches have sought such feedback from their charges in times of collective stress and poor performance.
Indeed, many of those who preach effective man management practices support obtaining a buy-in from the troops.
But never has there been such a reaction should a player fail to provide his thoughts.
On the one hand it may seem to be a rather old-school – if not, in some people’s eyes, a primary school – way of handling things, it is also fair to say that what was asked for was hardly arduous.
12 of the 16-strong touring party appear to have had little issue as to what was required.
Where the ‘gang of four’ have let themselves down badly is not confronting the coach during the five-day period during which they were asked to mull over the situation and air their personal concerns over what they were asked to do.
If they simply chose not to do it and effectively thumb their nose at the coach, no matter how you read it, they have done the wrong thing.
But, having said that, a one-Test ban does seem to be an overreaction, although the captain has stated this may well have been the straw that broke the camel’s back.
If that is indeed the case, the fans deserve to know the full reason that four players have been axed from the side.
With Australia’s parlous batting display in the opening two Tests, and Phillip Hughes’ (24 runs at 6) in particular, Khawaja was pretty much guaranteed a Test comeback.
Pattinson has clearly been the side’s most effective bowler thus far and Johnson would have been under strong consideration.
And as for Watson, who has had his place in the top-six questioned by many, ironically Mohali is the venue for one of his two Test centuries during his 41-Test career, having made 126 there in 2010.
We now sit and wait – for further information on the other on-tour misdemeanours; the impact the axings will have on the side for Mohali; and what aftermath may flow from this saga in the months ahead.
One thing is for sure, there is no such a thing as a dull moment at present with regard to Australian cricket.