It’s a rare decision in international sport that pleases all parties, but both the Australian and the English camps have reason to be feeling pretty good at Mickey Arthur’s sacking ahead of the Ashes.
For England, it only reinforces the idea Australia is a shivering baby antelope lost in a particularly nasty stretch of the savannah. This will be the first time in decades that England go into an Ashes series as overwhelming favourites. They’ll be lapping it up.
Australia’s batting is untried, makeshift, or very thin. The team’s scores rest on one hobbled individual. The bowling is dangerous some days, indifferent the next. After a few beers we could be watching a West Indies side from the late 90s. Most days Davey Warner probably thinks he is.
Ditching the coach on the eve of what is essentially a ten-Test series with a short breather in the middle could fairly reasonably be taken as an indicator of panic.
Australia was shoved face-first in the dust in India, then turned up to the Champions Trophy with all the fire and conviction of a 15 year old meeting his girlfriend’s father.
Seeing imminent destruction ahead, it could be the Australians are willing to try anything in their final moments of desperation, the blowfly spazzing out around the windowframe before the inevitable poison locks rigid its limbs and grips the life out of it.
Jonathan Trott and insecticide have a lot in common.
But from Australia’s point of view, the sacking of Arthur could quite likely be a relief, and a chance for a breath of cool, clear air before donning the overalls for the Ashes boiler room.
At least from the outside, there has been a sense of awkwardness and dislocation around Australian cricket, especially in the last six months.
Sometimes the best way to gauge someone’s unhappiness is to hear them tell you happy they are; Michael Clarke’s bright descriptions of the feeling in the Australian camp had an increasing brittleness.
Things kept going wrong behind the scenes in 2013, from Mike Hussey’s mismanaged retirement, through the epic squad of sub-Shield all-rounders for India, the homework saga, and the trajectory of Shane Watson from vice-captain to suspended liability to external saboteur to captain to player to specialist batsman to potentially dropped all-rounder.
Brad Haddin was made Test vice-captain despite not being in the XI, Clarke travelled with the Champions Trophy squad as figurehead while George Bailey was trying to captain, and the team’s performance in that tournament’s favourable conditions was more abject even than their wilted showing in the crucible of India.
Nothing could represent these problems better than having a group of Australian players, after their first limp defeat in the ultra-compressed timetable of a tournament in which they were defending champions, decide that was the ideal juncture to hit one of the most classless drinking venues in the known world and push on to 2:30 am, in the company of the England players who had not so much wiped the floor with them but scrubbed out the bottom of the fridge.
Warner’s swipe at Joe Root was an all-too-familiar brain fade, but rather than being the core point itself, it drew attention to where the Australians were and what they were doing at what time of the night.
It also drew attention to the fact that Warner was one of the senior players in the Champions Trophy squad, and the Walkabout had apparently been his idea, having made himself a regular at the same squalid, fake-Aussie squathole throughout the tournament lead-up.
Clearly, Arthur had lost control. Management’s wavering response to the Warner incident didn’t inspire confidence either. The batsman was suspended, but the fact the incident even happened was eventually slated home to the coach.
Now, Australia get the chance to re-set mentally, and to shake off the feeling of gloom that has hung over the camp like an English allegation of summer.
Darren Lehmann will come in with a predictably no-nonsense attitude, and while he may not be averse to a few jars, you can bet they’ll be sunk within team confines.
Overall, Arthur’s HR persona seemed at odds with Australian sport. Lehmann’s persona could not be more familiar – a man nicknamed ‘Boof’ is very unlikely to go over anyone’s head.
With Lehmann’s formidable record as a captain and a coach behind them, his experience supporting them, and his optimistic and friendly approach lifting their morale, expect to see Australia enter this contest with more of a spring in their step.
Around stumps on Day 1 will be the first check of how much remains.