THE Australian Cricket Board has done many silly things in the past but this business of John Buchanan must surely take the cake. For no reason, apart from the fact that he made some honest statements about Shane Warne, Buchanan has been sacked from the post of selector though he still retains the role of coach. It illustrates how much the ACB still considers Warne a vital part of the team, though on-field evidence indicates that Stuart MacGill would probably be a much greater asset when it comes to winning matches.
Warne has never done well against the Indians and this time there were no excuses in the form of injury; in 1998, when Mark Taylor lost a series 2-1, Warne had a fig-leaf under which he could mask his performances - he was not fully fit due to an injury. This time he indulged in a good bit of pre-series talk but when it came to delivering the goods, all he could deliver was a few wickets at 50.5 runs each. Not exactly what one can describe as a match-winning performance.
And so, John Buchanan spoke his mind, describing Warne as unfit and hinting that he could be dropped. Unfortunately, he came up against Steve Waugh, who realises that he has to keep his little power-centre intact. It must be borne in mind that on an earlier occasion, when Warne and MacGill went on tour together, Warne made it clear to the selectors that he was not interested in being one of two leg-spinners in the team. I think he is scared of being shown up.
After this, Waugh kept his mouth shut. He needed Buchanan as a selector if only to deflect the blame when on tour. That will no longer be available to him. Any man who is dropped or kept out of a game will know that he has just two people to blame - Waugh and Adam Gilchrist. When the team is playing at home, it will be possible to deflect some of the blame to Trevor Hohns. But outside the country, there will be no such cover.
Was Buchanan considered a threat to team stability? I doubt very much. He had been with the team through 15 victories before the tour of India and despite his previous record he has definitely made a contribution. His detractors point to the fact that he was coach of Middlesex in a year when the county recorded its worst performance ever, and that he contributed to this, but then that is neither here nor there. He was also coach of Queensland when they won the Sheffield Shield after a long gap.
The Board obviously does not want to rock the boat. Waugh jealously guards the privileges of the players, never missing a chance to remind the authorities that no matter what their role, it is the players whom the crowds come to watch. Smaller crowds mean less money and less money means smaller salaries for officials. Warne has his faults but he is a crowd puller. The board needs him around for some time at least.
Buchanan's exit from the role of selector will make life much more complicated for Waugh. Though the Board has cited conflict of interest as one of the reasons for removing him from this post, his removal will mean that there is a much greater chance of cohesion within the team decreasing. And with Australia due to face their toughest rivals, South Africa, in the coming summer, that is something the team needs like a bullet in the head.