Australia v Sri Lanka, 1st ODI, Melbourne November 3, 2010

Australia forget how to win

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The word 'choke' was not uttered when Michael Clarke answered questions about Australia's scarcely believable defeat at the hands of Sri Lanka. It didn't need to be. Whatever you like to call it, Australia are struggling to finish teams off, and the evidence has been building for a long time. It is a worrying trend for a team that in the next six months is hoping to regain the Ashes and retain the World Cup.

To allow Sri Lanka back into the game after reducing them to 8 for 107 in a chase of 240 was a failure of bowling and captaincy. Clarke is not a seasoned leader, and after this loss he'll no doubt be glad to hand control back to Ricky Ponting for Friday's second ODI. But whoever is in charge, Australia must find a way to regain their killer instinct.

The problem is occurring across all formats. A month ago, India's last two pairs added 92 and inflicted a similarly unbelievable one-wicket defeat on Ponting's men in the Mohali Test. The classic example was the Ashes opener last year in Cardiff, when Monty Panesar and James Anderson became national heroes for England by surviving a tense final period to secure a draw. The stakes weren't as high at the MCG, but the feeling was much the same after Angelo Mathews and Lasith Malinga fought back with a 132-run stand.

"What I'm so disappointed in is we got so close again and we couldn't finish the game off, which is an issue we've had for a while now in all three forms of the game," Clarke said. "We've got to look at that and ask ourselves questions, find out what we can do to improve that.

"Execution cost us today with both bat and ball. Having them 8 for 107, we got hit around the park. Mathews is a very good player, but Malinga is a No. 10 - a good No. 10, but he's still a No. 10 batsman. If we're good enough to execute our plans and get the top order out, I don't see any reason why we can't do it to the tailenders. But it's not the first time it's happened, and it's something we need to look at."

Mathews and Malinga batted superbly, but the Australians didn't make life too difficult. There was a distinct lack of yorkers from the fast men, who served up plenty of half-volleys that the batsmen could dispatch with power, and after the impressive debutant Xavier Doherty had completed his overs, nobody looked like getting a wicket.

Ponting has often been criticised over his choice of bowlers in crunch situations in the past couple of years, and Clarke will analyse his own decisions as much as anyone. He could not call on Steven Smith during the match-winning partnership as Smith had hurt his back while fielding, but given the success of Doherty, a couple of overs of Clarke's own spin might have been worth a try.

The loss stretched Australia's winless streak to six internationals across all formats. Not since the Lord's Test against Pakistan in July have they won a match, and as Mohammad Amir and co would attest, that seems like a lifetime ago. Australia look like they've forgotten how to win at all, and even victories in the remaining two ODIs won't erase the doubts ahead of the Ashes. And then there's a World Cup to play for, starting next February.

"I think [these games are] important for more than the Ashes," Clarke said. "We've got a one-day World Cup coming up after the Ashes and we need to be playing our best cricket now. Before this game we've got 10 matches leading up to a one-day World Cup. The Ashes is great, everybody's looking forward to it, but we need to be focused on what's in front of us because right now, we're not playing our best cricket and we need to be."

South Africa have traditionally entered major tournaments trying to dispel the notion that they choke at big moments. Australia have three months to ensure they don't develop a similar reputation.

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Meety on November 5, 2010, 3:00 GMT

    @india.cricket_lover - don't count your chickens before they've hatched brother. Oz form prior to the 2007 W/cup was poor. Full credit to SL but Oz focus is not on this game. I do tip Matthews to go close to winning the player of the 2011 W/cup. @AK47_pk - not the Oz way unlike India who enjoy boosting averages against minnows!

  • Sujibandara on November 5, 2010, 2:44 GMT

    was this Match fixed??????????????????????????????????

  • dummy4fb on November 5, 2010, 2:22 GMT

    bad luck aussies.after they lost world class palyers like mcgrath,warne,hayden and gili they are still struggling to find replacement.

  • dummy4fb on November 4, 2010, 19:30 GMT

    Clarke can't lead a team , getting watson to bowl when you needed to get a wicket was pathetic. I think the sri lankans hit them so badly psychologically he couldn't think properly.

  • umapathi04 on November 4, 2010, 18:56 GMT

    i am dam sure that aussies not going to win the Ashes when they continue this form.they lost the advantage of brett lee,McGrath,haydos,gilli

  • shovwar on November 4, 2010, 13:30 GMT

    I am a SA fan. I admire sub-continent cricket as well. Its true that India, Pakistan, SL and Bangladesh are not as good as the others in playing the short balls but when it comes to slogging in the death, short ball is the 1 they are looking for (thanx to t20). I was watching SA vs Pak where SA bowlers were troubling Pak with their short balls as usual they but as soon as batting powerplay was on at the death those short balls were hit all around the park...SA still did not bowl any yorkers baring Theron. Even Morne Morkel who was very successful with his short balls earlier in the game was easily dispatched. Its not hard to hit short balls at the death anymore...u have to come with good yorkers...even Bangladesh hit NZ bowlers at the death. Start learning to bowl good yorkers at the death or else trouble in the WC in the sub-continent.

  • prikand on November 4, 2010, 13:19 GMT

    Well,Well,Just enjoy the thrill of that exciting game of cricket.All can and will join the party apart from Aussies.What is this big fuss about Ashes.I am sure it has a great history and rivalry.But in cricketing terms it is a protracted longhaul course of boring five ,five day test ,matches with intermittent climaxes.Best of luck Aussies for Ashes.Hope one of the Asians will win the all important world cup in 2011.

  • abhyudayj on November 4, 2010, 12:43 GMT

    AT THIS MOMENT AUSSIES ARE STRUGGLING BUT THEY ARE CHAMPION SIDE, THEY CAN TURN THE TABLE, THEY ARE ONE OF THE FAVOURITE TO WIN THE WORLD CUP 2011

  • aussies_thebest on November 4, 2010, 9:58 GMT

    well everyone is having a go at the aussies now. yes aussies are at the receiving end these days. but wait and watch, this team will bounce back soon. i would still back the aussies to win this ODI series 2-1. ferguson is back and hopefully he gets picked in the XI. Ricky is back for the remaining ODI'S and you will see the difference. Clarke is still an immature captain. After RICKY retires dont know who will be the captain. but he will build the team like waugh did. yes at the moment AUSSIES are finding difficult to finish the game, i say every team go through a lean patch and that is what happening with the AUSSIES these days. Hopefully AUSSIES will win the ODI series and then start the ASHES series with full of confidence. BEST OF LUCK AUSSIES.

  • LALITHKURUWITA on November 4, 2010, 9:48 GMT

    @Hello All Lankan Sydneysiders!!!! Come with wearing Lion Hat, Jersey, Flags, Banners and make SCG like a ground in SL. Bring all Trouphets, Musics, and all musical instruments and make it a Sri Lankan Carnival at SCG tomorrow. Do not worry about the results. Get ready to dance 2 hours after the match out side SCG like in 2008.

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