Pat Howard leading Cricket Australia from crisis to crisis
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Cricket Australia's Executive General Manager of Team Performance, Pat Howard, looks on during questioning at a press conference in Brisbane.(AAP Image/Dave Hunt)
In many ways this has been Australian cricket’s summer of discontent, and the fans have found plenty to vent their spleens over – selections, rotations, the coach, the standing down of players.
And yet, perhaps the greatest no-confidence vote has been levelled against a man who neither selects the team nor travels with it.
His name is Pat Howard, the former Wallabies flyhalf, one-time coach of Leicester Tigers and general manager of the ARU’s high-performance unit.
Since October 2011 he has been in the position of general manager, team performance for the Australian cricket team, during which time he has needed to regularly don a flak-jacket in order to protect himself from the seemingly constant of barrage of criticism and questioning from the fans.
Yesterday, as has often been the case in recent months, he found himself before the cameras as the official Cricket Australia spokesman in times of a crisis of confidence in the organisation.
He was called off the bench this time to try and put as good as spin as possible on the now infamous ‘homeworkgate’ affair that resulted in the standing down from Test selection of Shane Watson, James Pattinson, Mitchell Johnson and Usman Khawaja.
The quartet failed to comply with a request from coach Mickey Arthur to provide answers as to why Australia finds itself in such a parlous position in the current India series.
Howard’s performance in front of the media was far from stellar.
At one point he stated that the suspensions meted out to the ‘gang of four’ was not wholly and solely as a result of the failure to complete the assignment set by the coach but more as a culmination of events with the homework saga being the straw that broke the camel’s back.
He then appeared to start to explain the other misdemeanours that resulted in some of the strongest action taken in recent times by Australian team management before abruptly then pulling himself up and uttering that he had no desire to air them publicly.
In essence, it was a highly confusing summation of the whole saga, which did little to defuse the situation or pacify the fan-base.
But the biggest talking point out of his media appearance was the verbal hand grenade that he lobbed at Watson.
In response to a question about Watson’s perceived threat to walk away from Test cricket as a result of his acrimonious suspension, Howard declared that, “I know Shane reasonably well. I think he acts in the best interests of the team – sometimes.”
Ah, excuse me?
Is the same Shane Watson that CA anointed as vice-captain?
The man who, but for an injury to Michael Clarke, would skipper the national Test team?
It was a mind-blowing statement from a man who is the administrative link between the team and the administration of Cricket Australia.
One wonders whether Howard would choose the same words if he had his time over.
Unsurprisingly, Watson, upon returning to Australia, had a response to Howard’s comments.
The deputy skipper refuted the claims levelled against him and, in doing so, said that Pat Howard really didn’t know him. The confusion continued to abound.
Howard also alluded to a rift that exists between Clarke and Watson – hardly a healthy thing for the two leaders of our Test team.
Again, Watson went on record saying that at present there were no issues between the pair despite Howard stating that they needed to ‘sort their issues out and if Michael wants to raise that as a greater issue, then he can come forward’.
Watson has left himself wide open as a result of the comments he made upon leaving India and returning to be beside his wife who is shortly due to deliver their first child.
Just as Howard may like to rewind the clock, Watson may now be thinking likewise.
Clearly ticked off by his public execution by way of his one-Test suspension he made some comments prior to boarding the plane that would have resulted in some collective head shaking from the captain, coach, teammates, selectors and hierarchy of CA – not to mention the fans.
“There are a lot more important things in my life. I do love playing cricket and that passion is still there and I feel I am in the prime years of my cricket career,” he said.
“But, in the end, I have got to live with this. 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 in general to be honest.”
When approached by the media for his thoughts, Watson’s father said that his son, “doesn’t have to play for Australia to keep playing cricket and earning some pretty good money at the same time.”
All in all, Shane Watson over the past 48 hours has not come across as a man who desperately wants to remain in the Australian Test system.
The view in which he is now held by many of the punters has dramatically changed in a few days.
In the blink of an eye he has gone from being a player who perhaps should not be in the team to a man who has been greatly wronged and as such demanding of their support.
At present, Watson’s short term future appears bleak.
He will not, one would imagine, be available for selection for the final Test of the current series, as his three suspended cohorts will be, given the impending birth of his child.
The next assignment after that is the little matter of the Ashes – twice in fact given the twin home and away series.
It is a poorly held secret in cricket circles that Clarke and Watson do not see eye to eye and indeed their relationship has often been fractious.
Watson’s days as vice-captain are over. His form with the bat is nothing to write home about – two centuries in 40 Tests and an average of 36.
It is more of a problem given his self-imposed bowling ban.
The current crisis in Australian cricket has thrown up many more questions than answers. We do not know how Watson’s teammates have reacted to his comments about his future and the relevance cricket plays in his life.
Just how willing will they be to have him back, especially heading into two marquee series?
Further questions have been raised about the interpersonal skills of Clarke with the public airing of the Watson relationship coming on the heels of similar cases with Simon Katich, Andrew Symonds, Damien Martyn, and most lately, the rumours that surrounded Michael Hussey’s retirement.
And then of course, there is the case of Pat Howard.
On the field, the Australian team is under siege. Off it, it appears to be in little better shape.
And all of this on the eve of ten Ashes Tests.
Oh, to be an Englishman at present.
After 21 years as a sports broadcaster with the ABC, since mid-2011 Glenn Mitchell has been freelancing in the electronic and written media. He is an ambassador for mental health in Australia, and tweets from @mitchellglenn.