There have been all sorts of comments around the debacle that is Australian cricket at present. In short we are talking about a cricket nation, for so long accustomed to looking down on all others playing the game, now firmly entrenched at number XXX in the test rankings. Worse still, they have been hammered in the two of four tests to be played in India. Remember this is an Indian team that not that long ago lost at home to the English.
South African coach, Mickey Arthur insists that the primary problem has to do with the ‘culture’ that pervades the Aussie dressing room. Attempts to remedy that and ensure that the players themselves contribute to the solutions and accept responsibility for their current mess have landed on rocky shores. Part of the measures introduced by Arthur and his team included the players keeping a ‘wellness report’ that had them accounting for hours slept, food eaten etc…Then there was a report that each player had to present on how they could improve their own game and what could be done for the team as a whole to improve. This has been reported as the ‘homework’ that each player was required to do and the failure to do it has resulted in the suspension of four players: Shane Watson, James Pattinson, Usman Khawaja and Mitchell Johnson.
Now all and sundry are having their say. What is notable that two former greats, Ian Botham and Shane Warne have been reported as heaping scorn on the management initiatives introduced by Arthur. Neither Botham nor Warne, brilliant cricketers that they were, come to mind when one talks about ‘team ethic’ and collective hard work. Both were cricketers whose individual brilliance and talent somehow rose above collective effort. The teams in which they performed were fortunate to be able to have their prowess at their disposal. The current Australian team does not have a Botham or Warne at their disposal. The current Australian team find themselves in a very different position and context to those of yesteryear (and specifically the one in which Warne performed his magic) and this telling point is one that many seem to have overlooked.
What Arthur has asked of his players is nothing out of the ordinary. If you read Steve Waugh’s autobiography he talks about doing similar things in order to create and establish a team culture that would see the Australian team reach new heights. Arthur has done what many a corporate leader instinctively understands as part of their daily focus – that the organisational culture impacts on performance and that culture can and must be adaptable.
So, why the push back against Arthur and his initiatives?
Is it because he is an, ‘outsider’ as a South African? Is it because the Australian crickets are stuck in their ways – or are afraid to change? Is it because they are simply ill disciplined and lazy? Is it because they actually couldn’t care? Take your pick, but the simple reality is they are failing to grasp that changing the team culture is tough and you will have to try things in order to find out what works best. That is Arthur’s job and he cannot be faulted for adopting an inclusive and participatory approach to remedy the current and obvious failings.
Smart leaders understand the importance of organisational culture. Research shows that the dominant reason that strategy fails is not because it is bad strategy, but rather, it is because of organisational culture issues that serve to undermine the strategy in question. The leader’s primary focus should be on ensuring a culture that brings out the best in others. This is what Arthur is attempting to do and time will tell whether or not his approach works. What cannot be tolerated is the individual disregard for efforts being made to rectify the obvious problems that reflects poorly on the entire team. The Australian authorities were right to send the four home. Those former players who sit smirking at the current mess should know better – and one is tempted to say, to ‘grow-up a bit’ and recognise that things change.
Will Arthur succeed in the changes that he and his management team recognize need to be made? I am not sure but what is patently obvious is that if the Aussies don’t get their act together – and fast, the debacle that is the Indian tour, will stretch on into the battle for the Ashes that awaits.