Australia v England, 2nd Test, Adelaide, 1st day December 3, 2010

Australia's trouble at the top

Captain and vice-captain made a combined total of two runs for the home side and with the leaders removed Australia stumbled badly

In times of crisis teams look to their leaders for calm direction, but Australia's two most senior officers are contributing to many of the spiralling problems. Ricky Ponting is a man distracted by issues everywhere he peers and Michael Clarke isn't sure whether it's his form, his back or both that are causing his worsening troubles.

Together the confusion helped create Australia's worst opening to a Test innings in 60 years as they lost their first three wickets for two runs. Shane Watson called it "a horrendous start" and blamed himself for setting up the chain of devastating events by running out Simon Katich. Following that brutal accident, the captain and vice-captain joined the damage and were out just 13 balls and 11 minutes after the start.

Losing one leader so early was sloppy and not uncommon - it was Ponting's fifth first-ball duck in 150 Tests - but watching two drop so suddenly was disturbing. In such a tight series those handful of minutes could cost Australia the urn.

Having been controlled by England for the second half of the opening Test, Ponting satisfied himself with the fact the series was still 0-0 and his unit could strike back in Adelaide. After winning the toss, Ponting failed immediately in achieving his ambition, leaving the side two-down after five deliveries.

On Adelaide's pitch, a total of 500 is no guarantee of safety and Australia finished well short at 245, their smallest first-innings total here since 1991-92. The score was the most visible example of a team in disarray, although the mix-up run-outs of Katich and Xavier Doherty were also prominent lowlights.

Ponting is a captain hoping to avoid his third Ashes loss while trying to regain form and hold together a squad on the verge of imploding. He seems to blame the selectors for dropping Mitchell Johnson, the side's ailing spearhead, and losing his say on the make-up of side. The off-field pressures wouldn't matter as much if Ponting was posting centuries but despite being fitter and leaner than ever, his batting powers are waning noticeably.

Over the past year, Ponting has found various strange ways of being removed, from misjudging singles to retiring hurt and glancing behind. Today his dismissal came from a more familiar flaw as he walked at James Anderson's delivery as it curled away. With his team in desperate need of stability, Ponting pushed forward tentatively instead of purposefully, hitting his pad on the way through.

At 35, Ponting can no longer overcome the extra early movement and his edge went to second slip, where Graeme Swann dived to his left for an excellent take. A good ball was played unsatisfactorily and Ponting was second in the long line of disappointed local batsmen.

Clarke, who was next to depart, has been a great Ashes batsman in the past two series, but hasn't provided anything convincing in his opening two outings of this campaign. Since he moved to No.4 in July he has averaged 18.5 in 10 bats, with his 2 in this innings sitting uncomfortably with his 9 in Brisbane. One spot in the order has made a huge difference.

After his side's painful double-loss, Clarke stepped out on a ground on which he has three Test hundreds. A player in his vital position needs to decide whether to hang on or take off, but he was bound by the insecurity of his stroke-play and could do neither. In six deliveries he glanced a single to fine leg and played and missed twice to Stuart Broad, who then forced him to turn his head from a short ball. Clarke's awkward fend ended in his final single and more lengthy discussions about his fitness.

Clarke doesn't deliver public excuses and said on Wednesday that his back injury, which flared two weeks before the opening Test, is not causing him any restrictions. He didn't blame it on his stuttering in Brisbane and won't for this brief display. Yet something is seriously wrong.

Ponting spent a long time with his deputy in the nets the day before the game, but that one-on-one tutorial didn't cause a turnaround. When he edged another Anderson ball that was moving away, Clarke was off balance, lunging forward at a danger which needed to be defended.

As the leader in waiting, Clarke could be installed as captain by early next year if Ponting fails to win back the urn. The looming pressure is another weight dragging down Ponting and Clarke, along with all the other fitness and form concerns of their group. Both men have company in this crisis, with damage occurring from top to bottom.

Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on December 4, 2010, 17:05 GMT

    Cricket- the game that mirrors life the most. This article: very instructive.

  • Prashant on December 4, 2010, 7:39 GMT

    M North Out & Cameron White In. S Katich Out & S Marsh In.

    Also C White Captain Of AUS Team.

    M Marsh,C Ferguson very talented Youngster Of AUS Cricket.

  • Krishna on December 4, 2010, 7:06 GMT

    I think we are being a bit too critical of this great Aussie team. Trust me, both the Punter and the Pup will be back with a bang. Mitch is too good a bowler to be out on form for long. AFAIK, all the three have a great work ethic, and that is surely going to pay off.

    TBH, I'm really feeling uncomfortable that Punter is getting closer to Sachin. I expect 4-5 centuries off his great blade in the next 6 months. Perhaps he will choose the world cup as his relaunch pad. Agreed, he is not getting younger. But then, neither is Sachin.

    I believe that Oz is just in the process of building a future team. Perhaps the Pup may not be the next captain. That only time will tell. After Oz have stolen umpteen wins from various opposition from hopeless positions on so many occasions, I am just not willing to count them out at any given time.

  • Khawaja on December 4, 2010, 6:42 GMT

    i have looked at some alternate australian bowling and only see mckay and hastings as options...the australians should obviously have someone like mcgrath select their batsmen callum ferguson has a good one day reputation as well as the captaincy stakes one should move hussey up the order to challenge cameron white whose batting was very good on some tours...and some say the coach too needs a change...nielson seems tobe not doing his job as if players are failing they need tobe dropped before rather than midway which is thought as a last resort measure...australia going in to the series seemed to look as lacking resources and temperament...the whole selection seems wrong for this series as okeefe seemed the more appropriate spinning choice too

  • Khawaja on December 4, 2010, 6:33 GMT

    it was the bowlers that got dropped although one thought that hilfenhaus was unlucky...australia has given some new bowlers tryouts but they hav'nt succeeded showing selectorial problems...maybe clarke and ponting are both getting too old although hussey too is 35...that shows that australia have not developed backup batting strength and have not really put thought into bowling options...both are the prime jobs of the selectors and the captain...australia need probably one new strike bowler and at least two batsman who can walk into the team when clarke and ponting fail permanently...

  • Ramakrishnan on December 4, 2010, 6:23 GMT

    @ SFay... you are absolutely right. To say it in the words of Ian Chappell, what players like Shane Watson deserve (for the lack of commitment, passion and drive) is a kick on the backside. About Michael Clarke, less said the better.. one wonders why he is in the side when not fully fit. Will we ever see any current player follow the example of Mike Denness (the England captain) who dropped himself from the team due to poor form?

  • Ramakrishnan on December 4, 2010, 6:09 GMT

    Michael Clarke.... the captain in waiting? Neither the selectors nor Clarke himself cant be sure whether the single-digit scorer will hold his place in the team by the end of this series, leave alone captain the side next year.

  • mo on December 4, 2010, 2:37 GMT

    We are seeing the results of an extremely poor build up. Why should we play a one day series against sri lanka right before the Ashes?? Im sick to death of the amount of shit cricket we are forced to play. The ICC and Cricket Australia are running around like headless chickens forcing cricketers to play insane amounts of MEANINGLESS cricket just to make a quick buck. Then they go and spend all this money on our domestic 20 comp, screw with the 50 over game and then schedule the 4 day games almost side by side with the wonder North is still in the team, there is no one with any real batting under their belt. CA should have had a solid month or even 2 of only 4 day cricket..put ALL the Aussie players back in it and said play some good cricket or your out! Who knows we might have seen some inform players and maybe even some suitable replacements. I would go watch all the test players in a 4 day domestic game...

  • Brij on December 3, 2010, 23:51 GMT

    I think Watson should gobackto play at no.6 and a specialist opener should be put in his place, atleast for tests.

  • Vikram on December 3, 2010, 22:58 GMT

    When was the last time Clarke was in form. To me, he is the batsman equivalent of Mitchell Johnson. And to top that, he was taking jabs at Hussey and Bollinger for opting to play for their franchisees. As such, the players who "sacrificed" IPL to do justice to their test-playing skills have so far had a horrid time! Not to mean that Clarke would have been picked up by an IPL team (RCB's Test XI for IPL1 maybe).

    Just like Johnson, he needs to clear out his head, and let some talented, maybe less experienced, player do some justice to the batting slot.

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