Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Warner Imbroglio

I was going to leave this one alone, but a day’s road trip to Townsville gave plenty of time to ponder the issues, a FaceBook tag from Angry provided the excuse and the story continues to unfold, leaving plenty of entrails to sift through.

A couple of points, however, before we move on to the implications of Mr Warner’s latest indiscretion.

The first of them is the old saw that a champion team will always beat a team of champions. Call it Point One, if you like.

Point Two comes with my perception of the Australian cricket team’s job description, The job, as far as I can see, is to ensure that the Australian team sits as close as possible to #1 in each of the three forms of the game.

Point Three is my long-standing belief that anything less than a two, three, four or five-nil whitewash in a two, three, four or five Test series means there are probably things that could have been done or managed better.

So, in a ten Test Double Ashes series unless there’s a score line that reads 10-nil in our favour we’re looking at a performance that could have been better. A nine-nil or eight-nil scoreline without a ball being bowled in the other two Tests would probably rate as well, but there’s still the possibility that something could have been done better.

Finally, Point Four, straight from my Sports Psychology bible: Pressure is something that you put on yourself.

In the light of those four points, and in response to Angry’s very thoughtful act in directing my attention here, my short response is that Warner should have been on the next plane home. A phone call from the manager of three of the four NQ Primary Schools teams I coached produced an Of course he should in response to a statement of that opinion.

By the way, I read that article before the road trip, and it had a fair bearing on the conclusions I drew from the cogitations.

When Jarrod Kimber wrote: Warner's punch isn't a one off for him, and many young Aussie players are doing things that are either blatantly stupid, or amazingly unprofessional way too often over the last couple of years, I couldn’t agree more.

One also notes that the article, apart from David Warner, also cites incidents involving Mitchell Marsh, Luke Pomersbach, Daniel Christian, and Chris Lynn and, of course, the Homework Quartet (Shane Watson, Mitchell Johnson, James Pattinson and Usman Khawaja) and claims the Homework business followed on from the World Twenty20, where a player was heard undermining the captain George Bailey to opposition players.

Cast your eye back over that list. Note, among those names, most of the major candidates for the long-yearned for Australian equivalent of Botham, Flintoff or Kallis, that is, and to wit the genuine pace bowling all-rounder, as well as the once in a generation, century, whatever Johnson, who’s been mentioned as a distinct possibility to develop into that role.

A later article (here) has Clint McKay, Mitchell Marsh, Phil Hughes, Matthew Wade and Glenn Maxwell joining Warner on the evening in question, though it doesn’t give details of the England players who were there. The headline in that story contains allegations action was only taken against Dave Warner after former vice-captain Shane Watson complained of double standards, though the story has been vehemently denied by captain Michael Clarke and Cricket Australia (CA) officials (here)

Watson, of course, having missed a Test because of his failure to do his homework, with Warner (the way I read it) initially looking like only missing the Champions Trophy game against Sri Lanka for what could, under other circumstances with different people involved, have resulted in criminal charges. According to the article Cricket Australia only became aware of the incident when the team management stood Warner down from the Sri Lanka game. Watson might be a noted spitter of the dummy but in this case, if those details are accurate, he’s right on the money.

Watson missed that Test, along with the other three players, because they failed to complete an in house task that wouldn’t have come under the spotlight if the management group hadn’t decided to act. This incident, had they tried to sweep it under the carpet, had the potential to become much uglier than it has turned out to be, and it’s ugly enough already.

The first objection to suggestions that Warner should have been on the plane home is, of course, going to be He’s Dave Warner. We might need him. It’s The Ashes.


There’s no one in the current Australian team who needs to be given any leeway at all except for the captain, whose degenerative back problem is a long-known issue that is being addressed very carefully. Cast your eye over this article from The Australian if you need to be persuaded about that one.

If you’re going to use the We need him, it’s the Ashes line, Michael Clarke’s the only one it applies to.

Cast your eye down the rest of the likely Test side and you might be tempted to claim the presence of Watson or whoever is vital if we’re going to win, but in that case maybe winning the urn isn’t so important.

In the past we’ve avoided biting bullets because perceived potential exceeds the performance we’re getting, which means, for example, that we need Mitchell Johnson in the side, because he could be a match winner. On the other hand he might bowl absolute tripe and get carted so we’d better have another bowler in there, which means we need to slot Watson in there somewhere, and the only spot that isn’t set in stone is the opener, so tough luck Phil Hughes, who one notes was one of the six players who were in the bar with Warner when this little imbroglio took place. We’ll be back to that point later.

OK, sending Warner home might have weakened The Ashes campaign, but it might also deliver a bit of certainty about the batting order by removing one piece from the jigsaw puzzle. There’s still a choice between Cowan, Hughes, Rogers and Watson for the opening slots, and with Clarke and Khawaja in the middle order you can juggle those four at One, Two, Three and Five/Six.

That would mean the batting order’s sorted, so all they need to do is perform. We’ve got Smith, Doolan and the highly rated Jordan Silk on the Australia A tour, at the moment, so if you need to draft another bat in take a choice between the first two (Smith’s on a ton not out against Ireland as I type), and have Silk join the touring party as a specialist substitute fielder.

In that setting there’d have been a chance for someone to cement a spot while Warner cools his heels at home and has to consider the prospect of being made to force his way back into the side rather than anticipate an automatic recall when he’s done his penance.

I can’t think of a clearer way of sending a message to the rest of the touring party. Don’t stuff up, because if you do...

Winning the two Ashes series would do a fair bit towards tackling Point Two above (Australian cricket team’s job is to ensure that the Australian team sits as close as possible to #1 in each of the three forms of the game) but that won’t become a reality unless we can perform consistently at home and win against India and South Africa on their home turf as well, and if we’re going to do that the team culture in a touring party is going to be a key ingredient in any success.

If you’re an England, South African or Indian supporter, of course, that job description (as close as possible to #1 in each of the three forms of the game) will also apply to your side, and it would also apply to Pakistan if it wasn’t for the security issues that deny them the chance to win at home.

New Zealand, Sri Lanka, the West Indies and Bangla Desh might take umbrage at being relegated to sort of also ran status, but I’d suggest there are financial considerations that’re going to militate against those sides forcing their way to the Top Four in the Test rankings, but World Cups in the ODI and T20 formats provide chances to hit the heights and there’s the potential to exert a bit of influence on the Test rankings as well.

Financial considerations go close to ensuring that India, Australia, England and South Africa are going to fill the top places in the Test rankings because the other countries, who are effectively eking out a hand to mouth existence, can’t afford to employ the support staff that richer sides can enjoy as a matter of course.

Which, of course, brings us back to the Homework Affair, which seems to reflect underlying issues within what you might term the Australian team culture and would appear to be a continuation of issues relating to the interaction of the touring squad and the support staff.

The whole issue of whether all these people are actually necessary is one that we’ll lightly step around for the moment, content to point out that they’re there to do a job, and it’s up to everybody else to ensure that they’re able to do it.

If there’s a dietician or nutritionist in place they’re there for a reason, and if that reason involves players keeping a diary detailing what they eat and drink on a day by day basis and submitting the details at designated intervals then you keep the diary and you hand in the details on time.

And if the Australian coach asks you to jump, you ask How high? You don’t question the need to jump at all. Sure, you might not agree that jumping is necessary, but after you’ve done it you can always ask questions.

I was musing about this point on the walk yesterday morning, particularly with regard to Warner’s occasional rolling over of the arm. I’ve been saying for a while that he possibly needs to bowl more, but a glance at the score cards from the tour of India earlier this year revealed four overs that went for heaps. Not the stuff of a front line bowler, but when it comes to this sort of matter we’re not necessarily talking front line stuff.

Actually, everyone sitting at the top of the batting order should be able to roll their arm over and deliver something reasonable, not necessarily spin, to the point where there’s a need for something different there are a number of options to choose from.

So while this next bit is hypothetical and I certainly hope that it doesn’t resemble reality, you can probably see where I’m coming from when I look for an example of the team coach asking someone to jump.

So let’s say you’re a top order bat and you’re taking it easy rolling your arm over in the nets when the coach sidles over and suggests you might want to put a little more effort into your leggies. What do you do?

Possibly, you respond with something like Sure, coach and set about bowling with a bit more zip and vigour. I have a suspicion there’s not much likelihood of that happening with a number of players across a variety of national sides.

More likely, you ask why.

Now, the reasoning behind the request might be that you’re not really providing much that’s within reach of the bloke who’s at the other end in a system where the batsmen change when the bell sounds. He needs stuff he can hit, and you’re not providing it because, basically, you’d prefer not to be bowling at all.

The coach, more than likely, knows your heart’s not in it and when you ask for a reason he probably can’t say you’re bowling tripe and you’d object if anyone else served it up to you, so lift your act. That sort of suggestion might result in your heading off in a snit, delivering more of the same (or worse) and quite possibly pouring scorn on the suggestion and the coach’s presumption in making it to anyone in the dressing room that’ll listen.

On the other hand, a smart coach will have at least three reasons why your leg spin needs some work, including (Australian example) the state of Pup’s back (which is going to limit how much left arm tweakery he can bowl), concerns with over rates and getting through ninety in a day, the need for the blokes at the other end of the nets to get practice at balls turning this way or that way and I could probably come up with a couple of others without too much effort.

The coach would be looking for responses similar to how do you reckon they’re landing? and how’s the wrong ‘un looking? followed by requests to book some quality time with the wrist spin mentor when a couple of technical issues have been identified.

Unfortunately, in the current situation one can’t help thinking the responses to suggestions that involve things certain players would prefer not to have to do (and I’m not suggesting anyone has an aversion to bowling in the nets, just picking something that might need work and could add another little option to the tactical armoury) tend to be along the lines of Oh yeah? Well I’ll bear it in mind.

Filling in the details of your dietary intake might be a pain, and you might think that dietician isn’t really necessary, but if you’re playing in Chennai and dehydration’s likely to be an issue that paperwork might just turn out to be very important.

And I’ve seen references to other issues that might look like minor infringements but can have a significant effect on the team culture. Turning up late for the bus to the ground, for example.

You probably don’t need to be Einstein to work out that if play starts at eleven and the team warmup procedure takes an hour and a half you probably want to be at the ground around nine. If the trip between the hotel and the ground tends to take between half an hour and forty-five minutes then the bus needs to leave at eight-fifteen, so it’s in the lobby by eight-ten for a departure five minutes later.

Critics of the treatment the Homework Four received may or may not agree, but in most cases where there are team rules and protocols in place they’re there for a reason, and they’re meant to ensure that things run smoothly and the side takes the paddock ready to fire.

Warner and the other Australian players in that particular bar on that particular night, mightn’t have broken any team protocols when they went out for a gargle with some of the opposition but they weren’t showing a great deal of strategic nous when it comes to the invariable needle that’ll come through an Ashes series.

And I’m talking what happens on the field here, not what the poison pens of the Pommy press are going to hurl at you if you give them the slightest excuse. We should be operating under the assumption that every situation involving sportsmen, the general public, late nights and alcohol has the potential to become very ugly very quickly.

Take this current situation. Joe Root appears to have gone out wearing a wig and has set out to be funny by using the hirsute accessory to imitate Hashim Amla’s beard. This is what apparently upset Warner, and the scuffle came out of that. Who knows? That may be one of Root’s standard party tricks.

In this sort of situation, rather than going to clock him one, you might suggest that the bloke doing the impersonation was a racist expletive deleted, announce that you don’t associate with that sort of animal and depart the scene in high or medium dudgeon. Do that, and have one of your mates leak it to the press and you’ve got the other bloke attracting the newspaper headlines, and the Poison Pens of the Pommy Press may be giving him a major serve. That’d be one to the good guys, wouldn’t it?

We know that the actual Ashes series in going to be accompanied by a large quantity of what you might charitably call chirp from English players, supporters and spectators and members of the Australian side are quite likely going to cop it whenever they’re in contact with the public on or off the field.

It’ll be definitely be needle, and will more than likely be served up in anticipation of a response, so you need to set a few team protocols in place to help avoid difficult situations, and you need to make it quite clear that these protocols must be followed.

In the past there’d been a rule that had wives, partners, girlfriends and family excluded from the tour party until the Fourth or Fifth Test of a five Test series away from home, with the sweetener of something like a week’s holiday for everyone along with a fairly low key game or two in Bermuda on the way home from the West Indies. This was, from what I can gather, common in the Border era, and didn’t go down all that well with some of the wives and girlfriends.

In that sort of situation you could set up a small social committee, charge them with preparing a social itinerary for each stop on the tour and give everyone the option of going along with the social itinerary which will probably offer an interesting variety of experiences, staying at the team hotel or, possibly, exploring this relatively harmless alternative if you’re disinclined to go out with the rest of the side and have picked up a dose of cabin fever.

Relatively harmless alternatives might include going out to eat with someone from the opposition, but that sort of thing should have a strict curfew, if it’s allowed at all. Indeed, in a couple of series under Border and Waugh any form of fraternisation with the Old Enemy was strictly verboten.

Didn’t matter if your best mate from the stint you spent playing county cricket was the best man at your wedding, is your brother-in-law and the godfather of your first born son, if he’s a member of the Pommy team you were to walk past him as if he wasn’t there.

There are plenty of examples of ways to unsettle the opposition by seemingly innocuous actions.

One could point to the old Fred Trueman practice of lobbing in the other side’s dressing room before the start of a day’s play and enumerating the number of scalps he’ll be collecting with the ball. You might think of this as harmless banter, but it’s not the sort of thing the opening batsman wants to hear when he’s putting the pads on and it’s coming from the bloke you’re going to be facing in the very near future.

You’re possibly better off thinking about your own innings rather than trying to tune out the bowler’s suggestions regarding his forthcoming bowling analysis.

Viv Richards, on the other hand, was apparently inclined to wander to the crease, nonchalantly gnawing on the chewing gum and acting as if he expected a cheery greeting from anyone on the fielding side he happened to pass on the way in.

Seriously, regardless of the rules and procedures that have been set in place and quite apart from any misbehaviour along the way, anything that gives the other side the slightest hint of an edge is to be avoided.

Warner, in company of at least one bloke with a history of drink-related disciplinary issues is out at half-past two in the morning. Someone does something he doesn’t like so he clocks him one.

This, in an era when practically everyone in the bar at the time probably has a mobile phone that’ll provide an opportunity to record an unsavoury incident and have it splashed across YouTube, FaceBook and Twitter within minutes.

Pressure, in the words of my old Sports Psychology bible, is something you put on yourself. Some people, of course, are alleged to be above such considerations (which probably means, in a pressure situation, they’ve either developed mechanisms to ignore it or fail to recognize that it’s there).

In a few weeks the Barmy Army will be baying, there’ll be eleven blokes on the field who’re willing to give you plenty of chirp, and Messrs Warner and Hughes, both of whom will have big question marks about their ability to handle the swinging ball, are going out for a big night with some of the blokes who’ll be dishing it out to them from close range in a  situation where there’ll be plenty of pressure to be found and put on yourself.

Worse, in a situation where you could fix someone with a steely glare, suggest that he’s an expletive deleted racist and possibly have him react in a manner that’ll attract the media attention (imagine the newspaper headlines, should such a matter manage to leak itself) you react in a way that guarantees the headlines are going to be working against you instead of for you.

Not very clever, Mr Warner.

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