IT IS turning into a farce worthy of the stage. Assuming the forecast rain arrives in Cardiff today, England will be forced to cheer on Australia in their final ICC Champions Trophy Group A match against Sri Lanka tomorrow.
If England against New Zealand is rained off, it will take an Australia win at The Oval on Monday, but not by so much that their run-rate betters England’s, for the home side to reach the semi-finals.
Cheering on the Aussies is always anathema to the English but will be particularly difficult after David Warner took a swing at an English player in a bar.
The victim (for that is exactly what he is), Joe Root, is neither big nor a loose cannon with his mouth
Warner, who on the field presents himself as a bustling, bruising, no-nonsense character decided to punch the cherubic Root, who should be dressed in choirboy robes and singing Walking in the Air, not being battered by a boozy yob.
Quite how Warner is still on the tour is extraordinary, especially as his latest disciplinary incident came just a month after a four-letter Twitter tirade against two senior Australian journalists.
The Australians had four players suspended for one match on their winter tour of India for not completing an assignment demanded by the management. That was intended to emphasise the importance of behaviour and discipline.
Now a player has embarrassed himself, the team and the country by punching an opponent on the chin just hours after a humbling defeat.
Apparently, it is fine for him to suffer a small ban but remain on tour. It seems mixed messages are being sent by the hierarchy, although it was an independent judge who delivered the sanction. Cricket Australia’s chief executive, James Sutherland was somewhat harsher in his assessment, describing the punch as “despicable”. His attitude suggested that, had Warner’s fate had been left to him, the player would have been on the first plane home.
Bust-ups have happened before between players, it is the nature of competitive sport and at international level the players can be wound up pretty tight.
Former England captain Michael Vaughan revealed earlier this week that Aussie Andrew Symonds and English fast bowler Stephen Harmison had a set-to during the 2004 Champions Trophy.
That incident was dealt with discreetly by the other players and could certainly have been instigated by either man. The two Ians, Botham and Chappell had many an argument, one reportedly involving a headlock, but again they are two uncompromising characters.
Root has neither the size nor belligerence of any of those players. Rather, in contrast to Warner, he possesses dignity and humility. Trouble has been brewing for Australian cricket for some years.
The Indian Premier League Twenty20 competition now offers riches beyond the dreams of most international players – and not just for the elite. Decent players who may not even be on the fringes of any international team pick up millions of dollars over two or three years and the suspicion is that this is giving them a false sense of themselves and where they are in the game.
They have superstar status, are feted as heroes in cricket-mad India and paid lavishly but may have forgotten that none of that counts for anything when you come up against better players and a better team.
That may have been, excuse the pun, the root of Warner’s problem.
It is unlikely Warner will feature in the first two Ashes Tests later this summer, as his ban for the rest of the Champions Trophy and subsequent tour games up to the first Test means he will have had no match practice.
If he is picked, it would be revealing about the parlous state of Australian cricket. A group of elite sporstmen needs strong leadership. It is time for the leaders of Australian cricket to be constant and firm for the mid to long-term good of their game. Otherwise they risk becoming nothing more than a player pool for the IPL.