Calcutta: Australia’s tour of India has gone from bad to worse.
On Monday, the team’s selection crisis took an extraordinary twist with Shane Watson leaving for Sydney to be with his pregnant wife in the wake of his sacking for the Mohali Test.
In one of the most dramatic days in Australian cricket history, coach Mickey Arthur dropped a bombshell on the team by dumping Watson, Mitchell Johnson, James Pattinson and Usman Khawaja for breaching team discipline.
The quartet were dropped for one match for failing to take part in a peer review of the side’s dismal performance in the Hyderabad Test.
According to coach Arthur, Watson was left shattered when informed of his demotion by Australian hierarchy.
The departure of Watson is a savage blow to the Australian team and could have huge ramifications for his future as vice-captain.
The stunning development leaves Australia with only 13 players available for the match — 12 if wicketkeeper Matthew Wade does not recover from a bruised ankle. Veteran Brad Haddin has been called in as cover for Wade.
Coming back to the ‘dropping’ bit, the 16-man touring party was asked to complete a personal review of the team’s culture and expectations and the improvements needed to be made for the third Test, starting Thursday.
Watson, Pattinson, Khawaja and Johnson did not bother to submit a personal analysis — prompting team hierarchy, with the support of captain Michael Clarke, to immediately rule the group out for the Test.
The coach said the quartet are “gutted”.
He added that it was the toughest day of his coaching career, but a step which was necessary in the team hierarchy’s goal to once again make Australia the No.1 Test side in the world.
While the contingent will be considered for the fourth Test in Delhi, Arthur said the decision was a “line-in-the-sand moment” for Australian cricket.
“They are absolutely gutted, as I was having to deliver a message like that.
“We were all gutted by it, but this is the expectation if you want to play cricket for Australia. This is a line-in-the-sand moment.
“This has been the toughest decision that myself, (team) manager Gavin Dovey and captain Michael Clarke have ever had to make,” Arthur said at a media conference, on Monday.
“It’s a tough, tough decision, but the ramifications for that within our team’s structure, and the message that it sends to all involved in Australian cricket, is that we are pretty serious about where we want to take this team.”
Arthur said the players were given five days to submit a personal critique of improvements to be made to the side, with a deadline of Saturday.
Many players delivered presentations in Arthur’s room, while others provided feedback in email form.
It is understood Watson and Pattinson planned to see Arthur on Sunday.
The coach said Khawaja and Johnson simply forgot to provide feedback.
“I asked the players at the end of the game to give me an individual presentation,” Arthur said.
“I wanted three points from each of them technically, mentally and from the team perspective, as to how we were going to get back over the next couple of games, how we were going to get ourselves back into the series.
“We have given these guys absolute clarity, we have given this team a huge amount of time to buy in with what we want to do for the Australian cricket team.
“We have given a vision to these guys that is spelt out, we’ve given an expectation that is spelt out and, although this incident might seem very small in isolation, this is a line-in-the-sand moment for us as a unit in our quest to become the best in the world.
“If I have to be honest, we have looked through the last year. Clarke and I have been immensely focused on winning cricket games.
“Perhaps the one-percenters have slipped and, irrespective of who the personnel, we have made a massive statement to everybody out there that we are pretty damn serious about what we want to do.”
The fallout is particularly severe for Watson, who is the Australia vice-captain and has been under pressure after a dismal run of form at Test level in the past 18 months.
“It’s extremely tough to sit here and make that decision. I wish it wasn’t the vice captain,” Arthur said.
“I wish it wasn’t Shane Watson and Mitchell Johnson, they are leaders within the team and are very professional with the way they go about their business.
“But this was a moment where we had to make a statement irrespective of who the players were.
“I wanted to make sure the players went back and reflected and looked themselves in the mirror and said, ‘This is what I want to do to take this team forward’.
“As severe as a consequence it is, if we remove the names, it sends a proper statement of what we want to do with this cricket team.”