Australia's hapless tour of India took an extraordinary turn today with a miffed vice-captain Shane Watson leaving for home hours after being sensationally dropped from the team for the third Test along with three other key players, raising intense speculation of a revolt within the squad.
Watson and three of his colleagues -- pacemen James Pattinson and Mitchell Johnson, and batsman Usman Khawaja -- were shockingly axed from the team for the third Test beginning in Mohali on Thursday for ignoring a team management order.
The four players were dropped for failing to make a presentation on how to improve their personal as well as the team's performance after the innings and 135 runs defeat in the second Test in Hyderabad.
In a day of dramatic developments, Watson checked out of the team hotel while the rest of the squad trained and left for Sydney, raising speculation that all was not well within the squad following the unprecedented sacking of the four players.
However, Cricket Australia denied that Watson's departure was a result of the decision and said he was heading home to be with his pregnant wife Lee Furlong, who is expecting the couple's first child. The baby was due shortly after the end of the Indian tour and Watson had already been granted leave to fly home early if required.
A Cricket Australia spokesman said that the process had been "accelerated" due to a change at home.
It was, however, not known whether Watson would return before the fourth Test, which starts in Delhi on March 22.
"He has not left in a huff, his wife is expecting. And that is why he has left for Australia to be by her side. The two things (returning to Australia and being dropped from the team) should not be linked," Australian team's media manager Matt Cenin said.
Earlier, Australia's coach Mickey Arthur dropped a bombshell when he announced that the four players would not be considered for selection for the third Test.
"That's a line-in-the-sand moment. We have given these guys absolute clarity," Australia coach Mickey Arthur said while making the announcement at a press conference here.
The stunning turn of events leaves Australia, trailing 0-2 in the series, with just 13 players to choose from for the third Test starting here on Thursday. "After Hyderabad the whole team was really hurting, we were discussing ways of getting back into the series," Arthur said."We were particularly aware of where we were as a team and how we were going to get back. I asked the players at the end of the game to give me an individual presentation. "I wanted three points from each of them technically, mentally and team as to how we were going to get back over the next couple of games, how we were going to get ourselves back into the series," he added.
Arthur said the dropped players failed to meet the deadline set for making the presentation and it was important to maintain team discipline by punishing them.
"Unfortunately four players didn't comply with that. We pride ourselves on attitude. We have given the players a huge amount of latitude to get culture and attitude right," Arthur said.
"We believe that those behaviours with what we want to do with this team, how we want to take this team to be the best in the world, teams that are the best in the world have best attitudes and best behaviour patterns and a good, hard, ruthless culture. "I believe those four players unfortunately did not meet my requirements so those four are not available for selection for this Test match," he added.
Arthur said to become world-beaters, the Aussies will have to fall in line when it comes to discipline. "We have given this team a huge amount of time to buy in with what we want to do for the Australian cricket team. We have given a vision to these guys that is spelt out. "We've given an expectation that is spelt out and although this incident might seem very small in isolation this is a line-in-the-sand moment for us as a unit in our quest to become the best in the world," he said.
Arthur said even skipper Michael Clarke feels that it was time to crack the whip in what has been a thoroughly disappointing series for the team from Down Under. ""I think the best thing that these three days off have given me is reflection time, to reflect on how well have I been going in my job, like I expect everyone else to do when you're 2-0 down in the series.
"Myself and Pup (Clarke) came to the conclusion that we have been so focused on winning cricket games that maybe some people have been cutting corners. Perhaps there have been some soft options taken. We decided that we needed to really get that in line," he said.
This is perhaps the first time in the history of the game that players have been dropped for not making a presentation and comes as a massive blow to the team, which is likely to be without wicket-keeper Matthew Wade due to injury. Brad Haddin is being flown in as cover for Wade, who sprained his right ankle on Saturday while playing basketball.
Pattinson, who has been their in-form bowler, would be missed badly as the track in Mohali is expected to assist the seamers. Khawaja was expected to replace Phil Hughes in the team but that has now been ruled out, providing the out-of-form number three batsman another opportunity to prove his worth. The fourth players to be dropped, Mitchell Johnson, has not played a single match yet.
Available players: Michael Clarke (capt), David Warner, Ed Cowan, Phillip Hughes, Moises Henriques, Glenn Maxwell, Steven Smith, Peter Siddle, Mitchell Starc, Xavier Doherty, Nathan Lyon, Brad Haddin (wk).