The decision to suspend 4 Australian cricketers from selection in the Third Test in India for failing to meet a request from the coach about team and personal improvement suggestions has me divided in my reactions.
The logical, corporate, Human Resources minded part of me, that appreciates that teams need order and process, that there needs to be an understanding of hierarchy and that standards need to be set to be successful, applauds and understands the decision. If there is acceptance that a coach is the leader and that his reasonable requests for tasks to be completed are, when refused or ignored, a breach of the chains of command, then repercussions need to happen.
The logical side of me sees that this is not about homework, but more about a group of people in crisis looking at collective buy-in on self-improvement and a team approach to success and that a failure to work together drives a team further apart.
The emotional sport fan side of me of course sees this as rubbish, a recipe for disaster and leaves us little chance in the Third Test.
To leave out your strike bowler, a batsman assumed to be playing a role in the next game and a senior person to boot, as well as two players whose net performance will place necessary pressure on the incumbents, seems a massive over reaction.
Watson is not a brain surgeon and his public actions in angling for the position held by a teammate as opener were divisive and a threat to team unity anyway, and Johnson and Khawaja have attitude issues if the reports are to be believed.
But this decision creates only more disunity, not bonding to a common purpose, and will lead to players representing Australia this week through availability not form.
Overall, this represents the classic dilemma of sport, where logic and emotion clash.
A team wants to win, so on that basis, pick the best players. But a team also needs to be sustainable, and operate with collective order, so pick those that follow the rules.
A team needs to worry about long term success, so pick those who buy into a longer term program and send a message to others who wish to be included that standards must be kept.
However, a team needs to continue to perform to have that long term success, and people who wish to be part of it, so select the best players and assignment deadlines be damned.
The reaction of other cricket and AFL coaches (with the exception of Lehmann) seems to be that they understand and support Arthur’s call. The attitude of ex-players, especially those who played when individualism was more tolerated and celebrated, is that this is madness.
Sport support is always a clash of both sides of your brain. To follow one team above another means a suspension of reality, an acceptance of the absurd and ignoring common sense at times. Why people who wear one set of colours are more in favour than another group invites ridicule from non-followers.
Following sport can be like that great Billy Bragg album title, “Talking to the Taxman about poetry”. Alternatively, I am reminded of the Elvis Costello line that said “writing about music is like dancing about architecture”
If you have to explain it, then they won’t get it.
There’s a place for wild emotion, partisan fandom and a break from reality in following a sporting team, even if it is a national one.
There’s also a place for reality to operate and analysis to be done on why decisions are made.
Head or heart, logic or emotion, process and structure or talent and winning.
The discrepancy between whether this is a bold stroke of reinforcing team ethos or a brainless overreaction that will further doom a terrible tour is probably based on which side of your brain you choose to use.