Sydney - Australia's Test team has been plunged into crisis after four players were axed for not doing a homework assignment during the tour in India as an Ashes double-header looms against England.
Vice-captain Shane Watson, James Pattinson, Usman Khawaja and Mitchell Johnson were all suspended for one Test late on Monday in what Australian media called "one of the most sensational days in Australian cricket history".
Trailing 2-0 in the Indian Test series, all the players had been told to prepare feedback on how they could improve and were given five days to deliver it but all four failed to meet the deadline and paid a heavy price.
Skipper Michael Clarke said the players had shown a lack of respect for coach Mickey Arthur, with their axing the culmination of a general slide in attitudes on the Indian tour.
In a video statement released by Cricket Australia, an exhausted-looking Clarke made clear it was not an isolated incident.
"It's a lot bigger than that. There's been a number of things on this tour that have not been up to the standard we would want as an Australian cricket team, hence our performance," he said.
"We can't accept mediocrity here. This is the Australian cricket team.
"Four of our players did not adhere to what is required from them, and that is unacceptable if you want to be a part of the Australian cricket team," he added.
Watson, 31, who has threatened to quit, decided to return to Australia, leaving Clarke desperately short of experienced heads after the recent retirements of Ricky Ponting and Mike Hussey.
"Any time you're suspended for a Test match, unless you do something unbelievably wrong, and obviously everyone knows what those rules are... I think it is very harsh," Watson said.
With back-to-back Ashes series starting in July against a powerful England team, former players strongly criticised the decision by Arthur and Clarke.
"Adults we are, not schoolboys," tweeted Darren Lehmann, seen as a future Australian coach.
Former captain and selector Allan Border was equally astounded. "What are they on, a schoolboy tour?," he told Fox Sports.
"I don't see the logic in this. It is way over the top. It seems too strong a measure for coach and captain to take."
The Australian newspaper said it was "an all-round mess".
"These are calamitous times for Australian cricket and there's more to this than meets the eye," the broadsheet's cricket writer Peter Lalor said. "There is every chance Shane Watson may not play another Test for his country."