Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Short Pitch: On Mickey Arthur, Darren Lehmann and the Australian way of death

At least it was quick.

Mickey Arthur's eighteen month spell as Australian coach was terminated on Sunday, seventeen days before the first of ten consecutive Ashes Tests.  The South African has been almost instantly replaced by cult favourite Darren "Boof" Lehmann.  Arthur's reign was a fraught one, lowlighted by "homeworkgate" and four Australian players being dropped for failing to submit their reflections on a loss to India.

Lehmann has promised an improved team culture, based around three of his favourite things: beer, mates, and winning.  Arthur presided over an atmosphere of infighting and despair not entirely of his own design.  Changes had to be made no matter what the timing.  Parallels can be drawn with the AFL's Melbourne Football Club - a once-great organisation suffering off-field mismanagement, autocratic coaching with ambitious names eyeing his position resulting in the investiture of power in dubious positions.

Arthur's dismissal occurred slightly over two weeks before the largest date in the Aussie cricket calendar, an away Ashes series, when expectations are perhaps the lowest they've been for the Baggy Green since 1985. The series also provides a baptism of fire for the new guru as he helms an underwhelmingly-talented crew against one of the world's best lineups.

When the penny drops that a change is not only beneficial but necessary, making that change immediately and without mercy is a very pragmatic - read: Old Australian - way of doing things.  The reverse - often employed in world football - sees a manager sacked before a series of winnable games, allowing for a relatively easy transition into a new way of playing.  Such advance - and often wrong - forethought smacks of the current Cricket Australia thinking, making Arthur's instantaneous demise such a shock.

Facing the Old Enemy ten times over the next seven months, Australia didn't have such a luxury, so a sudden and brutal guillotining was seen as the best method to dispose of a lame duck.  The most comparable occasion occurred in 1970-71, when Bill Lawry absorbed the wrath of a (similarly) perpetually discombobulated executive panel.

It's the first gutsy move that Cricket Australia has made in recent memory.  It has installed a popular - and perhaps the best - candidate in a position where he might be able to create a positive change in attitude, fortunes and results quite quickly.  For this, they should be congratulated; however, it's also a tacit admission that this upcoming Ashes series is all but lost and focus must be cast upon the return series this summer: no coach can be expected to make such an immediate turnaround.

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