The melee within the Australian Cricket team continues unabated in England, as the one day squad continues to keep themselves in the headlines for all of the wrong reasons. And given what has already happened on the recent tour of India, and the difficulty the team faces in attempting to wrest back the Ashes over the next seven months, one wonders if they could be doing a worse job of things.
In 2001, the Ashes tour was dogged by the unwinding of Michael Slater through pressures in his collapsing marriage and problems with alcohol, though the team was on the surface unaffected due to the steel in the team and individuals. In 2005 Andrew Symonds' infamous all-nighter before the first ODI against Bangladesh helped perpetuate defeat in that match, and set the team off on a footing that they never really recovered from. And now a late night punch thrown by David Warner at English rookie Joe Root has all the hallmarks to again damage Australia's ability to concentrate on the task at hand, winning an Ashes series for the first time in six years.
Motivation to succeed is in abundant supply, what with the comments flowing forth from former players and captains such as Ian Botham, David Gower, Michael Vaughan and Andrew Flintoff. All have been critical of almost every aspect of the team and some individuals in recent weeks. All are basically of the opinion that a 5-0 whitewash is only unachievable if the English summer turns on the rain. It's not that they don't have enough ammunition with this latest incident, but the chuckling and chortling has become ever louder and more annoying. There's nothing much more aggravating than a self-satisfied smug git of an Englishman to get up your nostrils, and they are all lining up for their chance to be so.
Warner himself is now at a precipice, and it will be interesting to see which way he falls. Having just copped the wrath of the Australian public, media and cricket board alike for his ill-advised and unthoughtful ranting on Twitter while he collected his millions in the Indian Premier League for doing very little, to put himself back in the spotlight like this so soon after smacks of a lack of intelligence and appreciation of his own position. He is currently a first choice player in all three forms of the international game, which places him not only in a wonderful financial position, but in a leadership position of note. However, his form has not been the best in any of those forms of cricket, which has made him vulnerable.
In the long run it doesn't matter if he was provoked or was standing up for a teammate or just being a boofhead in this latest incident with Joe Root at a pub at 2.30am. The warnings have been coming thick and fast for and around Warner for the past few months. His fitness was questioned in India, where four of his teammates were suspended for not handing in a questionnaire. He went on a vitriolic rant on Twitter against two of Australia's senior cricket journalists with the thinnest of plausible reasons, and proceeded to make a dick of himself. The fallout from that should have been enough to hammer home that he needed to pull his head in and score runs rather than sledge the world, something he seems to do a lot of without being witty or remorseful. Following all of that, to allow this to happen - and the severity of what may have actually occurred is basically not relevant - is a sign that he is unable to control his emotions.
Cricket Australia's James Sutherland has made it perfectly clear that the entire team should feel some responsibility for what is occurring, and that they are all on notice. By suspending Warner right up until the start of the 1st Test Cricket Australia has basically ruled him out of contention for that team. The severity of this should not be underpinned, though many felt he should have been sent home outright. Instead, he will be forced to train and carry drinks, knowing he won't be a part of the 1st Test, and, quite possibly should they succeed, the whole series. That's as harsh as just sending him home with his tail between his legs.
One wonders, however, where the coach is in all of this. Arthur and Clarke came out swinging in India, taking the bit between the teeth and acting of their own authority to suspend four players for a match for not completing a task. We know the captain is currently M.I.A. in recuperation for his back, but where was the coach? And for that matter, the other 65 support staff this team has now? If this happened DAYS before any move came about to take action, why wasn't the leadership group so quick to jump on and take action on this occasion? To me this is the sign of a very serious rift in the ranks, and though it hasn't been mentioned yet, it looks as though it could blow at any tick of the clock.
It's fine to be aggressive on the field, but if you can't back it up with performance and wins then you look childish and churlish. This is the current state of Australian cricket. A little humility wouldn't go astray. There is no need to be submissive to the contest, but surely dialling back the antagonism can only be a benefit when you haven't got the form on the board to prove you have a superiority.
The end of the Champions Trophy element of this tour can't come soon enough. This squad needs to get some serious and sensible heads into the group, guys like vice captain Brad Haddin (who had better be seriously considering his options as captain of the group given the frailties of Clarke) and Chris Rogers and Peter Siddle, who won't put up with this kind of crap off the field and will make sure everyone is focused on the field. Let the media and former players have their field day dreaming of 5-0 whitewashes and Tests over in three days. We need to get our Ashes squad together, bonded tight, get some serious training and lead-up games under their belt, and come out for the 1st Test focused only on what lies ahead, and not what has gone on in the past.