Australia v England, 4th Test, Melbourne, 1st day December 26, 2010

Clarke lost for words after awful display

"What can you do?" Michael Clarke and the Australians are almost out of answers on how to fix Australia's regular batting collapses. There's hard work and trusting your own game, Clarke said, but today that empty philosophy resulted in the hosts edging to 98 all out.

Six months before that it was 88 in Leeds, and at the start of the year it was 127 against Pakistan at the SCG. Last year it was batting problems at Lord's and The Oval that cost Australia the Ashes and after this meagre first innings they look headed towards another match and series defeat.

The locals knew life was going to be difficult after they lost the toss on a seaming surface, but the day quickly unravelled as the batsmen ignored their pre-game discussions. "We had to work hard and be disciplined with our shot selection, we had to leave the ball well and stick to our plans," Clarke said. "We weren't at our best today."

Clarke top scored with 20 while Phillip Hughes (16) and Ricky Ponting (10) were the only other members of the top eight who reached double figures. Edging balls that needed to be left was a feature of the procession. "Our shot selection wasn't great, no doubt," Clarke said. "All our wickets were caught behind the wicket.

"We certainly have no excuses, we played some poor shots today and didn't show enough discipline. As we've seen, when the sun came out, it's a really nice wicket to bat on." England finished at 0 for 157 and the closest Australia came to a wicket was when Alastair Cook was given out lbw, a decision which was overturned when replays showed an inside edge.

Clarke's contribution took his series tally to 135, a haul boosted by 80 in the second innings in Adelaide, and a major reason why Australia are in such a bad position is because both the vice-captain and the captain are struggling. Ponting has only 93 for the campaign and the end of his career comes closer with each failure.

Clarke, the leader in waiting as long as he starts to score heavily again, delivered a spirited defence of Ponting, who is carrying a broken finger. "Ricky has been a wonderful leader and an amazing player for a long time, his record in international cricket speaks for itself," he said.

"He's copped a fair bit of criticism of late and no doubt he'd like to score more runs, as a lot of us would, but there's no doubt Ricky should be the captain of Australia and the No.3 batter for Australia. Runs are around the corner for him. Every player in the room supports him. Hopefully in the second innings he can come out and score one of those double hundreds."

A century to Clarke would also be well timed, individually and for the side. "I thought I played okay today, I was happy I got to spend some time in the middle," he said. "I was disappointed with my shot. I thought I was being quite disciplined till that shot. It's something I've got to keep working on. Keep training, keep trying to get better."

Everyone in the Australian dressing room felt the same after such a poor performance on Boxing Day, which is such a grand cricket occasion. "We're all disappointed, the batters especially," Clarke said. "We knew it was going to be tough. Individually we're all disappointed. Then the bowlers are disappointed because they couldn't get a wicket. We've got to turn it around."

The situation was best summed up by Tim Nielsen, Australia's coach, on Twitter: "That was a terrible day. Well behind the game now and nothing to do but fight our backsides off!" Nielsen, who has had the job since 2007, is in charge of providing the team with some of the right answers.

Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo