The Investec Ashes 2013 June 18, 2013

Clarke's Ashes squad fragmented

A strong show of unity is needed after the problems that have dogged the start of their tour

Even if some of the more scurrilous rumours abounding from within the Australian cricket team are discounted, it is impossible to escape the symbolism of their current disposition. Day one of the tourists' Investec Ashes campaign ended the same way it began, with the 16 chosen squad members and their shadows dispersed across the United Kingdom. Whether by accident or design, this is more a fragmented front than a united one.

The majority, marshalled by the tour vice-captain Brad Haddin, have assembled in Bristol, where Australia A will play a three-day match against Gloucestershire from Friday. But the captain, Michael Clarke, along with Shane Watson, David Warner, Mitchell Starc and James Faulkner remain at the team hotel in London, where they will train this week in low profile sessions destined to serve primarily as an elongated fitness test for Clarke's back.

On Wednesday they will be joined by the opener and Middlesex captain Chris Rogers, now excused from his county duties and readying himself for a final tilt at international recognition. Champions Trophy squad members not required for the Ashes will drift away in dribs and drabs, some like Adam Voges and Glenn Maxwell contracted for English Twenty20 japes, others like George Bailey and Nathan Coulter-Nile heading back to the Australian winter. Then there is Ed Cowan, still in Nottingham on county secondment, and not likely to join his Australia colleagues until Monday in Taunton, dubbed the "official" starting point of the Ashes tour.

All these players are eager to prepare for the Ashes. Save for Rogers and perhaps Cowan, all are in urgent need of strong first-class grounding for the battles to come, for confidence as much as familiarity with the Dukes ball and occasionally capricious English pitches. And all would wish to distance themselves from the horrid start to the tour, featuring as it has an injured, absentee captain, a timid first encounter with England, a drunken punch thrown by a foolish opening batsman, and a group quite happy to go out on the town until the small hours immediately after a bad defeat.

Problems on the field, off the field and in the spaces between will not repair themselves. Whatever has been said publicly by Clarke, Warner, Bailey and others, this is a team in desperate need of time together under firm leadership, to heal the ructions apparent over the past two weeks, and to re-focus on the steep task at hand. Early Champions Trophy elimination had afforded the team on tour a chance to assemble a week earlier than planned but it does not appear one that will be taken up.

Though this can mainly be attributed to reasons of back-related convalescence, Clarke has so far spent more time away from most of his team than he has done with them. The importance of a tour's early days to establish standards of behaviour and performance has been stressed by many, including the former England captain Michael Atherton. In this case there was an unmistakable sense of 'while the cat's away...' about the drinking transgressions in Birmingham.

"It wasn't the right thing to do after a loss, to go out and have a few beers"
Phillip Hughes

Surprise that Clarke did not travel straight up to the Midlands from London at the first sign of internal trouble, no matter how bad the condition of his back, has competed with the ball-tampering allegations against England as the choicest of tournament gossip. Eyebrows are likely to be raised again at the news that Clarke will spend another week away from most of the players under his leadership, even if his trust in Haddin as the Australia A captain and tour lieutenant is absolute.

Phillip Hughes, who has been closer to Clarke than most, was happy to apologise for being out on the night in question. For years Australia's team culture was built along several unshakeable maxims, one of which was that the celebration of a win was to be long and raucous, but that the wake after a loss should be precisely the opposite. While it is an easier instruction to carry out when the team wins frequently, numerous players, former and current, were less disturbed by the notion that Warner punched Joe Root than the fact members of a team well beaten had no compunction about getting well liquored that same evening. Losses should hurt more than that.

"Everyone's accountable for it, it was after a loss and I was one of the guys who was out," Hughes said. "So I put my hand up and say it wasn't the right thing to do after a loss, to go out and have a few beers. It wasn't the right time or place. We've all got to learn from that and I'll definitely put my hand up and say it wasn't the right time. You want to win and have a beer after you win … We shouldn't have been out after a loss."

Hughes went on to take heart from the view that "we're all in it together". It was the right kind of sentiment, but for the moment it does not reflect the way the Australia team are playing their cricket, nor their geographical relationship to each other. Sporting history is littered with teams who played above their modest talent levels by binding together in collective effort and diligence, frustrating and confounding opponents with greater resources and reputations. Unfortunately for Australia's cricketers, right now they are defying one of the maxims of a rather more serious business, warfare: never divide your forces in the face of a superior enemy.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • James on June 21, 2013, 13:40 GMT

    Attention Clarke haters please, rather then banging on about how terrible a captain he is could you please back up that argument with some validity??? He is scoring runs at a rate we have not seen since a certain DG Bradman was in his pomp some 80 years ago. He is an aggressive captain who sets wicket taking fields and supports his bowlers. He is prepared to take risks and not let the match meander. His problem has been some of the hair brain decisions made by our national selectors in recent times Glen Maxwell is not a test cricketer and neither yet is Moises Henriques. Steven Smith on the other hand looks like he may well be and I never thought I would say that. If our selectors pick the right side Clarke will lead from the front he is a better test captain then Cook who is conservative,tentative and right there is an advantage Australia already have. Its not the greatest Australian side of all time but be very careful writing them off just yet.

  • david on June 21, 2013, 3:00 GMT

    Simon Katich should still be opening when they walk out onto the field for day 1. If it wasn't for long gone Lara Bingle, most things would be ok in Australian cricket.

  • mukesh on June 20, 2013, 19:14 GMT

    Australia cant simply hide behind this 'we lost ponting and hussey' excuse forever , everybody knew it was coming ,even India has lost out greats Dravid , laxman and sehwag, gambhir have also been struggling , but India has replaced them with younger talents and their absence is hardly felt.Get george bailey into side , he is a fighter

  • mukesh on June 20, 2013, 19:00 GMT

    The real problem with Australian cricket is a genuine lack of young batting talent , which is quite surprising to an outsider like me because this was the same system which produced the likes of ponting , clarke , hussey , hayden , gilly , waugh brothers (and the list goes on) , Australia as of now, doesn't have any world class batsman (except a Michael Clarke with back problem), CA should fix the domestic scene first and wait .. until then there isn't much that can be done.

  • hayden on June 20, 2013, 1:53 GMT

    @Sirio mate feel free to leave if thats what you think of us. why does khawaja deserve another go. getting single digit scores against minnows for aus a isnt going to get him selected! is that the obvious reasons???? mate look at brad hodges unlucky career. he got dropped after making a double ton against south africa. hughes may look awful at the crease but atleast he has proven he can make scores. uzzy has not done this, infact he has looked out of his depth batting and lathargic and slow when fielding when given oppertunities. this is why he isnt getting another chance yet! obvious reasons???

  • Pete on June 19, 2013, 21:04 GMT

    @Irishwolfhound, I think we do have a semi-lost half-generation - pretty much 1983-1990. The young bowlers are good, but batting-wise, it's a crapshoot. I'd be inclined to give a couple of youngsters a go. Someone like Khawaja looks so good at times in Shield; there's a Test player in him somewhere, but also concentration and stepping-up issues (which are possibly the same thing). Burns and Patterson are worth a shot. But if they're going to take the opportunity to cover Warner with Rogers we'll get: Watson, Cowan, Rogers, Hughes, Clarke,Smith/Khawaja/Faulkner, Haddin. I would say Pattinson, Siddle, maybe Starc and Lyon are the most likely bowlers at this stage. Huge weight of responsibility on Clarke's back, and on the tail to score and bowl out of their skins.

  • Terry on June 19, 2013, 20:30 GMT

    Personally I think Australia has a chance in this Ashes no matter what the current problems are. Their strengths are their pace bowling if they get it right. Englands weakness is inexperience in the batting lineup. Cook, Trott, Bell and Pieterson (if fit) will need to score heavily as I am not sure that Compton, Root or Bairstow have quite the intensity yet required to deal with a high pressure Ashes series. England's team is not quite settled since the retirement of Strauss and have yet to nail down no.6. I also worry about England's bowling consistency. But to be fair on paper are thebetter side, itis all down to the performance on the day.

  • Dummy4 on June 19, 2013, 19:11 GMT

    Fortunately all the conjecture is nearly over. Much sympathy for Clarke - he is perhaps the only world class player in the Australian side at present. The batting looks fragile, the medium / fast bowling may however surprise provided the team keeps fit. However, unless the wickets are green (which is unlikely in August even in England), personally I see the difference being that England's spinner(s) could run amok. However all this advance negativity could be simply a case of expectation management. A 2-0, 3-1 defeat could be 'spun' as a success. In a similar vein to how the Australian press overhyped medium raters 20 - 30 years ago to manipulate English selection, maybe English commentators and fans need to hype up how nervous we are of Phil Hughes striking form because he evinces "class" in warmup games, or the threat of Watson as a 4th bowler. This could be a Kim Hughes moment 25 years on

  • Dummy4 on June 19, 2013, 18:14 GMT

    This Ozz side looking very unhealthy compared to Present Eng team!! The back to back to Ashes may be key to prepare future Aus team but they have risk Ashes for it, it's really good if they get good team after ashes or again team change and bringing youngsters will create big problems!!! Wanted to see good Aus side in one or two years because without Australian cricket performance, cricket will bored. I am sure there are good players in Sheffield Shield but don't know why they still depend on Warner, Hughes, Watson who really under performed in last couple of tests. May be Watson should be there because of his experience. We all wanted to see competitive ashes not like 5-0 for Eng

  • mukesh on June 19, 2013, 17:35 GMT

    Clarke is one of the the best batsman in the world and not just Australia , and a great captain on the field too. he is aggressive, innovates and takes risks , but one area where i think he is failing is his man management skills off the field , from outside he looks like a dictator kind of guy and players are not feeling comfortable under him.