Does Australian cricket need a clean out?

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Cricket Australia CEO James Sutherland - had a mixed week. (AAP Image/Tracey Nearmy)

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“Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.” It may be one of William Shakespeare’s most famous lines, from Hamlet, but it also nicely sums up Michael Clarke’s team at present.

It appears as though something is amiss with Australian cricket.

It would be easy to single out David Warner and believe just one individual has been the cause of the recent dramas surrounding the team. However, to do so would be naïve and lazy.

Warner, courtesy of his Twitter feud with journalists Malcolm Conn and Robert Craddock, and the recent ‘altercation’ with English batsman Joe Root, has been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons of late.

His temperament, maturity, discipline and ability to handle alcohol have all been questioned, and considering the circumstances, rightfully so. But he is something of a scapegoat.

The truth is, something is seriously wrong with the Australian cricket team.

There were reports that Cricket Australia intended to cover-up Warner’s altercation with Root, and only went public when Shane Watson complained of double standards in light of his punishment for not doing his homework on the ill-fated tour of India.

Though that story was strongly refuted by captain Michael Clarke, it’s almost irrelevant in my eyes.

If it’s true, then my reaction is two-fold. Firstly, that Watson has a fair point. Secondly, that the environment in the Australian team is so poor that a teammate is essentially whinging that someone else was a naughty boy and should be punished just like they were.

If the story was made up, it simply highlights that someone felt it would make a believable story, which is just as damning. If such a scenario is deemed feasible, and no one would be overly surprised if these events actually occurred, it’s further evidence that something is wrong within the team.

There have long been rumours of a split in the Australian dressing room, and while I’m sure it’s more complex than this, it’s been described in simple terms as Michael Clarke versus Shane Watson.

Though the two individuals deny there is any bad blood between them, the fact that coach Mickey Arthur said over the weekend that “wounds between them are healing rather than deepening,” and that their relationship is “fixable“, is an admission that there is indeed tension – or has been tension – between them.

There were also rumours of a falling out between Mike Hussey and Michael Clarke, and though it was denied by the parties involved, you can’t help but think there must be something to the story.

Rifts, splits, homework, falling outs, Twitter outbursts, suspensions, punch-ups, poor results. All in all, it’s clear that something isn’t right. And then you read between the lines some of the quotes from the captain and coach over the last few days:

Clarke: “The team culture is a work-in-progress.

Arthur: “I’m not denying there is a long way to go. And we’ll continue chipping away and continue working at those standards and the culture…

And Quade Cooper thought the Wallabies environment was toxic? Such comments are all but an admission that the Australian changeroom is not in great shape at present.

Many pundits claim the leadership vacuum – as a result of the retirements of Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey – is to blame for a decline in team culture and standards.

While I have no doubt that such a sentiment is true, I have an issue with any attempt to absolve Michael Clarke, Mickey Arthur and the playing group of any blame.

Firstly, the players are professionals. Do they really need strict coaching and captaincy to ensure they act professionally?

Likewise, strong captains and coaches don’t blame the departure of senior players on a regression in team discipline. After all, it’s their job to ensure such a lapse doesn’t occur.

To be fair to Clarke and Arthur, I’ve never heard them use that excuse, but many other individuals have, and I simply don’t think that can be the sole explanation for what’s gone wrong.

Though it does validate the opinion that Ricky Ponting’s captaincy was excellent behind the scenes.

When the former skipper’s on-field tactics were questioned, or when he had lack of runs, his advocates always pointed out that his leadership skills were critical to the team. Though this defence didn’t wash with a lot of people, the stories surrounding the current team lend itself to some vindication of that defence of Ponting.

So how does the team move forward?

Fellow Roar Expert Cam Rose has likened the Australian cricket team to the AFL’s Melbourne Football Club.

Considering Cam, on last weeks Cheap Seats Podcast, opined that every individual involved at the Demons should be sacked – such was the ‘cancer’ prevalent throughout the organisation – it gives an indication on his feelings towards our national cricket team.

So, is a clean out required? It does seem like a drastic measure, but then again, a wise man once told me that ‘drastic times call for drastic measures’.

Mickey Arthur should be given until the end of the away Ashes series to prove he is the right coach for Australia. However, a poor showing in England, on the back of the disastrous Indian tour, and along with the obvious culture issues, would provide enough evidence to suggest he’s not the man for the job.

It’s pointless to speculate on whom the coach should be if Arthur goes, because the Ashes result is still a purely hypothetical situation. Yet there would be few arguments across the land if Darren Lehmann was given the role.

Clarke’s tactical nous and gambling instincts have been brilliant. He is an excellent on-field skipper. However, there is more than enough evidence to suggest that his changerooms politics – another crucial part of captaining – need work.

How do you improve such skills? Easy. Bring someone into the team set-up who was very proficient at it, so Clarke can learn from him. Someone who is respected by all the players. Someone who can also add value with their brilliant technical batting advice.

Australia’s batting coach – and changeroom leader – should be Ricky Ponting.

The Clarke versus Watson feud has to be officially investigated. If there is even a hint that their relationship is affecting the wider team, then one of them has to go. End of story.

What complicates the matter is that there isn’t one Australian cricket team; there are three. Watson is arguably Australia’s best player in two of them, while Clarke is unquestionably the best in the other.

Perhaps it’s as simple as not letting them play in the same team. Clarke is so valuable to the Test side, and One Day cricket is so meaningless these days, that perhaps Australia’s best batsman should focus solely on Tests, leaving Watson to play limited overs cricket.

Darren Lehmann as coach. Ricky Ponting as batting coach. Michael Clarke only plays Tests, as captain. Shane Watson only plays One Dayers and Twenty 20s, with George Bailey captaining both of those teams.

It’s not that radical. It’s not that much of a ‘clean out’. But I do believe that it’s the right set-up for Australian cricket.

Ryan is an ex-representative basketballer who shot too much, and a (very) medium pace bowler. He's been with The Roar as an expert since February 2011, has written for the Seven Network, and been a regular on ABC radio. Ryan tweets from @RyanOak.
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