Clarke and Nielsen differ on batting approach
Michael Clarke, the stand-in captain, and the coach Tim Nielsen have disagreed over Australia's Test batting tactics in the aftermath of the side's horrible Ashes loss. The lack of runs was a key problem for the hosts throughout the 3-1 series defeat and it has become clear that there was a clash over the best method of survival.
Nielsen, who has been in charge since 2007, said the batsmen had to learn how to adjust their mind-sets to avoid losing wickets at crucial times, which was a feature of the campaign. However, Clarke, who replaced the injured Ricky Ponting in Sydney, said he told his men not to alter their attitude in the second innings, when they were attempting to hold off the rampaging tourists.
"[It was] 100% to play their natural game," Clarke said of his instructions. "For me, if I try to occupy the crease and block, I know I'm going to have no chance for success. Every individual is different, but you have to stick to your game plan. You have to play your way."
Nielsen disagreed after watching his batsmen fall around breaks in play at vital stages of the past five Tests. "They are little things we need to improve, it's not about saying you can't play a cover drive or a cut shot or can't catch the ball," he said. "Players don't get to this level without being able to do that, but it's us improving as a group to identify those times and realising that sometimes you need to put your own game on the back burner."
It is not unusual for a coach and captain to have different views. Nielsen was angry this week with Stuart Clark, the former Test bowler, for suggesting Nielsen and Clarke had problems in the West Indies during the World Twenty20. Clark had written about the pair's relationship for the Sydney Morning Herald at the start of the final Test.
"It is my belief Clarke will want full control, and this might mean Nielsen has to take a back seat on several fronts," Clark wrote. "It might be better if he provides support and guidance to Clarke rather than a dominant hand.
"He should then ensure the rest of the side are having their requirements met - be they extra netting time, throwdowns, catching, fielding work, bowling work or just sitting down and talking to players about their fears and concerns. This might take away from the more glamorous work of deciding when to declare or who should be 12th man, but it's still a very important part of building a successful team."
Nielsen insisted he did his best during the Ashes but could only point to three players - Michael Hussey, Shane Watson and Peter Siddle - who had improved over the past six months. Before the season he signed a contract to the end of the 2013 Ashes and James Sutherland, Cricket Australia's chief executive, delivered a surprising vote of confidence.
"He's doing a great job with the development of players and at the same time we have some significant changes in the personnel within the Australian team and team management," Sutherland said. "The decision that was made, the board's very comfortable that Tim's contract should be renewed through that period. Tim's fine."
Andrew Hilditch, the chairman of selectors, said after the match that his panel had done "a very good job" during the series. When Nielsen was asked if he rated his own performance the same way he said: "We've done our very best, no doubt about that. We did everything we thought we could do and we tried everything we could have."
While Nielsen ran out of answers for his team, his support staff also struggled to lift the players. Every time Australia bowled the wicket looked flatter and slower, with Troy Cooley suffering badly in comparison with David Saker, England's Australian bowling coach. Justin Langer's batting advice was either ignored or not useful, and the fielding was also disappointing.
"The planning was there, it was just our inability as a group to do what we wanted to do with bat and ball," Nielsen said. The players have been the only ones to accept blame for the side's worst series of results in history.
Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo