Relationship Soured After Homeworkgate Mickey Arthur
Mickey Arthur, who had previously coached South Africa to unprecedented success, a period during which he saw the team go through nine unbeaten Test series and also attain the number one ranking in ODI cricket, hopped onto the Australian ship in the same capacity. While Arthur came in with great reputation to the young Australia side, he saw the team grow up the ladder quite rapidly until the "Homeworkgate" rocked his journey.
In the 2013 series against India, Australia had been thumped in the first two Tests in Chennai and Hyderabad, with 34 of their 40 wickets picked up by spinners. In the aftermath of their poor show against India's spinners, Arthur had asked his team to communicate with him either by an e-mail or text or a handnote, following which he would have devised training sessions building up to the third Test on that 2012-13 tour.
In a never heard before move, Arthur along with the team management, axed four players (Shane Watson, James Pattinson, Mitchell Johnson and Usman Khawaja) who had failed to comply to the task. As much as it was expected, the decision drew flak from every corner of the cricketing fraternity and as Arthur would later tell Cricbuzz in an interview that it unfortunately turned out to be the only memory people associated him with despite the "good times he had with Australia."
"It was blown out of proportions. I am disappointed. People forget the good times I had with Australia. They were a rebuilding side. I was so excited to get the job in the first place. In hindsight, it happened too early for me," Arthur told Cricbuzz.
"I had been coaching Western Australia for 18 months when I got the job. People thought and I did as well that culturally the Australians and the South Africans are very similar. But it's not like that. I was still finding that out, coaching Western Australia. I inherited a very young Aussie side.
"There were all sorts of things going on. There was the Argus review. The captain became a selector. The Head Coach became a selector. There was a Director of Cricket. There was a full time selector. At that time, there was some sort of confusion. It was all murky. Job descriptions were not very clear. We had a very good first year and I enjoyed it."
Understandably, Arthur doesn't have fond memories of the entire episode. He admitted to hating that word and felt that he was pushed to the forefront of it and as a result, had to bear the brunt of it.
"The homeworkgate, I hate that word. There was no homeworkgate. For me, I took the brunt of it, but there were lot of other people involved in that decision as well. That was a 'line in the sand' moment for Australian cricket. We lost in Hyderabad and we were 2-0 down. The wickets were turning and we were a young side. Apart from Michael Clarke and Shane Watson, none of the players in our top six hadn't played a Test series in India. It was tough.
"I remember sitting in the dressing room and saying, look if we can win the next two Tests, we can still take home the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. If we do that, this tour will be a success. How we are going to turn it around? All I wanted was them to go and have a look in the mirror and see how they could turn their own individual performance around and see what you think the team can do to become better in those conditions."
Delving deeper into the unfortunate incident, Arthur revealed that he had only asked his players to come up with suggestions that could help him arrange for a more customised training session ahead of the third Test.
"We had four days off and I said spend half hour and write a couple of suggestions and put them under my door, SMS to me or e-mail to me or whatever. I will take all those suggestions and set up my training session leading into the Mohali Test based on what you guys want. That was the request. There was no homeworkgate or anything. Everybody was outstanding. There were 16 on that tour and 12 were brilliant. I had got some amazing response. Four guys just forgot about it. They didn't avoid doing it, but they just forgot."
Arthur confessed that he was always going to be stuck between a rock and a hard place. As much as he wanted to maintain the standards of a high-brow Australian culture, he feared hurting their sentiments, being an outsider.
"My problem was that I had mentioned that to a couple of people and they asked me so what you are going to do about it. This is the exact culture that we want to get rid of in this Australian team, they said. They were talking about young boys coming in and being disrespectful for physios and masseurs and whatever. That put me under pressure as a leader. Do I take action? If I don't take action, I will lose respect from my support staff. It was going to be blown out of proportion. Should we fine them? But fining really didn't make an impact as they earn so much money anyway.
"One guy suggested that we suspend them for one game. Of course when you are sitting in a group of 12 people, some say, yes that's a great idea. But they don't make the decision, I do. So I went back to my room that night and didn't sleep thinking, if I make this decision, it's going to be an absolute bomb in Australia. I am a South African coach and I was going to accuse the Australian people about their culture. That's not going to go down well. Eventually I made the decision and the rest is history.
"I knew from the time I made that decision that my time with Australia team was on a slippery slope. We had to be extremely successful after that for me to remain in the job. There was so much going on."
Arthur, though, regrets some lost relationships in the process. His terrific rapport with the four players went down the drain while his reputation as a coach went for a toss in the public eye. Not just that, the South Africa-born also lost his ailing mother a day after he was sacked as Australia's coach. As a lot happened during that phase, Arthur remembers with a heavy heart about how he lost his drive for the only game and job he knew.
"It did sour my relationship with the four players without a doubt. I am disappointed with that. My relationship with Shane Watson was never the same. Shane is a lovely bloke and a great cricketer. My relationship with Mitchell Johnson, with whom I was very close too, was never the same. Usman Khawaja, my relationship with him got lost. James Pattinson was fine about it. But with the other three, I lost the relationship which was pretty good.
"Then we didn't do well in Champions Trophy. Again there was a quite a bit of rain involved and if it hadn't rained in the New Zealand game, we would have gone through to the semis. Then I got sacked and it was unbelievably hard. It certainly hit me so hard. Nobody wants to lose their jobs. Nobody wants to be belittled in the public. It became headlines in Australia. I had television crews parking outside my house and harassing my family. It was a terrible time.
"The day after I had lost my job, my mum died. She had cancer. So that kind of things put into context - I have just lost my job but what was even hard to put up with was that I had lost my mum. I actually didn't think about the job for a while because we flew back to South Africa and went to my mum's funeral. But then the lawsuit that happened after that - that wasn't a lawsuit, all I wanted was, 14 months were left on my contract and Cricket Australia offered me a severance package of three. I thought that was wrong. I didn't want 14 months, but somewhere in between.
"We went through that whole thing which was front page news all the time. It was a terrible time. I battled to recover from it. I had lost my hunger for the game and coaching. Coaching was all what I knew. So I went back to Perth and set up some academies and I went and became the Head Coach of one of the schools. Then coaching in the T-20 leagues kept me in the phase and gave me my adrenaline rush. I did Dhaka Dynamites. I went to Jamaica Tallawahs and Karachi Kings. That kept me going and increased my appetite for coaching. But it was a hard time."
Arthur, who is an Australian citizen now, reveals a candid chat with one of the players then who mentioned how an Australian coach would have helped the side better. "It was tough because you think you understand it, but you don't. I had a very hard conversation with an Australian player, I can't name him for obvious reasons, but you can figure it out. He said the only way we can move forward is when we have an Australian coach because he understands us. That hurt. I was trying my level best.
"By the way, I am Australian now. I have got an Australian passport. We are Australian citizens now my family and I. It hurt. I don't think the Australian cricket team will have a foreign coach for a hell of a long time."
However, Arthur has fond memories of his engagement with Western Australia. While he did wish to continue building the cricket there, he couldn't resist taking up the Australia assignment. In hindsight, he believes that it happened earlier than it should have.
"I think so. But life is all about opportunities. There is never perfect time for opportunities to arrive. This opportunity arrived 18 months into my stint with Western Australia. I was loving Western Australia. We were building up something really good and it was all looking good with Justin Langer also coming in. We had some really nice players; Marcus North was captain, we had the Marsh brothers, Marcus Stoinis, Adam Voges and so many others. We started building something nice which Justin Langer has taken to a new level now. I love seeing them doing well.
"In hindsight I shouldn't have, but then, the Australian job was available then and I took it."