Mohali, March 13 -- Although Australian cricket is renowned for the standards it has set in the world game and for championing the team's cause, its history is replete with controversies that have hogged the headlines.
A day after Mickey Arthur triggered a crisis in the team by announcing the axing of four players, including vice-captain, Shane Watson, from the third Test for not complying with the directive to provide responses for the pathetic show in India, one thing is becoming clear. That skipper Michael Clarke is the real boss.
South African Arthur was slammed by former Aussie greats, who felt it should be the skipper who should be calling the shots. Perhaps they need not have worried.
On Tuesday, with just 48 hours to go before Australia try to find a way to at least compete against the hosts, the man perhaps inappropriately nicknamed "Pup" was all over the place at the team's training, in fine spirits.
Clarke was the busiest man on the field as he spoke to Arthur at length. He even had time for fast bowler James Pattinson, who along with Watson, Mitchell Johnson and Usman Khawaja were the ones penalised.
Young batsman Khawaja, whose hopes of playing his first Test in India were dashed, even had a long stint in the batting nets. The training was preceded by a media conference by a repentant Pattinson, even as Watson, who packed his bags and departed in a huff on Monday, was landing in Australia.
The team's leading bowler in the series could have been more effective on a Mohali pitch, expected to afford more bounce and carry than Chennai and Hyderabad.
His apology on behalf of the quartet seemed the management's way of countering theories that communication among players was close to a breakdown. Watson too changed tack Down Under, pointing to his friendship with Clarke since they were callow 12-year-olds.
Clarke has a history of run-ins with team-mates, but the team's best batsman by a distance seems to be winning the latest battle. He is no stranger to controversy.
Months after being handed the Test captaincy, in only his fourth Test at the helm in September 2011, he pushed struggling predecessor Ricky Ponting from No 3 in Sri Lanka after Shaun Marsh scored a century on debut in that position.
Not holding back
He has criticised Watson's contribution on this tour, after the all-rounder chose not to bowl to protect a dodgy calf. Cricket Australia's team performance general manager, Pat Howard, only confirmed what was rumoured by saying on Tuesday that there was a rift between Clarke and his deputy.
"But there are failings in the system in that we are not getting the best out of Shane - that's our fault," the former Aussie rugby official, said.
"They have normal difficulties that anybody has in a relationship. The reality is that Michael is a strong driver and they had 18 months to work on that. But I am not going to get drawn into that conversation. The captain and vice-captain have to sort their issues out."
Clarke reached out to Watson, but was firm.
"Watto knows how important he is to this group," he told the Aussie media.
"We need Watto performing at his best, because he's as good a player as there is in world cricket when he's at his best. Part of my job as captain is to try to help him, like every other player. I do whatever I can to help him be the best player he can be. Because you're captain or vice-captain, you're not judged any differently. If anything, you judge yourself harder. These are the standards, hit them or there are consequences."
With Watson hurriedly calling up his skipper to dismiss Howard's comments on their relationship, Clarke could leave a disastrous tour smiling.
Published by HT Syndication with permission from Hindustan Times.