Australia v England, 5th Test, Sydney, 5th day January 7, 2011

Australia in crisis, but also in denial


Michael Clarke does not think Australian cricket is in crisis, but there can be no other description after what has happened over the past seven weeks. The elite game in the country has collapsed on and off the field during a record Ashes thrashing, from coaching and selection to more mundane matters like batting and bowling.

Despite all of this James Sutherland, the chief executive, is happy with the head coach, the selectors and the players - just not the result. Andrew Hilditch, the chairman of selectors, is not resigning and is pleased with the form of the four decision makers. "I think we've done a very good job as a selection panel, but the reality is we were totally out-played," he said. He was being serious.

Tim Nielsen, the coach, was reasonable enough to avoid praising himself and settled on saying that he had tried his best. Nobody has been accused of not trying, just of not being very good, or doing the right things. Yet nobody is resigning and nobody is being sacked.

All the onwards-and-upwards generals are talking about moving forward, but they have to hope Australia have hit the bottom first. Hilditch said the team's next two Test tours, against Sri Lanka and South Africa later in the year, would be even tougher than this one. His contract is up after the World Cup and it would be a sensible time to resign.

The three innings defeats have given Australia their worst thrashing of any series. Twenty-four years ago, when England last raised the urn here, the hosts were also in crisis. On that occasion it was due to the aftermath of the Lillee-Marsh-Chappell retirements and the exits of the rebels to South Africa. Everybody knew it was the worst of times.

This time the Test team was at full-strength and the result was even worse. Australia started the series as favourites but when the end came at the SCG, in front of a bouncing Barmy Army, England finished with a 3-1 victory. The innings-and-83-run triumph reverberated as much as the singing of the tourists.

For the Australians in the middle, it was a time to look at the ground. The pose has been a familiar one over the past two years, starting with a home defeat to South Africa and continuing with losses to England, India, a draw with Pakistan, and now this.

"I don't think there's a crisis in Australian cricket at all," Clarke said firmly. He was in a difficult position as the stand-in captain following his first Test in charge. The Ashes were gone before he had stepped into Ricky Ponting's shoes and his men did no better or worse than in the two other defeats.

"We need a lot of improvement in our game in all areas," Clarke said. "But I do believe we have the talent and potential in that change room to do it. We've seen through this series that guys have stood up at different times, but we're way too inconsistent to win a big series."

Like "disappointed", "improvement" is another word that drops off the tongues of beaten Aussies. Nielsen, in particular, uses it a lot, especially over the past year. When asked, given the number of poor series since the 2009 Ashes loss, which of his players had improved over the past six months he took a long pause.

"It depends on how you measure improvement," he said. "If we sit back and look at the series results it would be easy to say none of us have." After outlining the team's trouble with "adjusting to game situations", he nominated Michael Hussey, Shane Watson and Peter Siddle as ones who had improved.

Seventeen players were used in this series and only three of the Australians were worthy of mention. Ryan Harris, who is now injured, was the only other one who deserved to be included in that tiny group. It is not a glowing endorsement of the players or the coaching staff.

So what should happen at the end of a non-crisis? Cricket Australia is planning a review, which it does annually anyway, and Sutherland said nothing should be discounted, even though he has faith in all the major departments. Unlike an Australian batting collapse, the post-mortem won't happen quickly. A structure has to be determined and it has to be ratified by the board.

"I'm firmly of the view that you can't expect to get back on top by doing the same things and just simply plugging away," Sutherland said. "You have to look at where you're up to, how things are delivered and your approach, and that will certainly be part of a review that will happen in the coming weeks."

Clarke said the team was "as close to rock bottom as it gets", but if he is asked to contribute to the review he will counsel against mass changes. "We've got to become better players, we've got to become a better team." The answer nobody could give was how it would happen.

Before all that there is the World Cup, in which Australia are defending champions. Ponting will be back from his broken finger to aim for a fourth consecutive trophy. However, Hilditch wouldn't endorse him as the Test leader for their next series against Sri Lanka in August. "I wouldn't be blaming the captain [for the Ashes result]," Hilditch said. "They played better than us. Unfortunately people have to accept that's just what happened."

Hilditch answered casually when asked how much of the result was his fault. "I take responsibility for doing the best job I can possible for Australian cricket," he said. "It's what I've always done, I have a great passion for it and still want to do it. I'm sure we'll get through this stage."

Despite admitting they were out-bowled, out-batted and out-thought, Cricket Australia's top employees can't bring themselves to say they are in a crisis. Or apportion any blame for a summer filled with disasters. It would be funny if it wasn't so serious.

Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Desmond on January 9, 2011, 9:59 GMT

    Hi Sifter. You ask what has changed, well not a lot as far as I can see. Since England won in 2009 (a series they should not have) Oz have had a dire record & not just in Tests. Consider the last 6 series: Ashes 09 Loss SA Loss, NZ Win, Pakistan Draw, India Loss and now Ashes 10/11 Loss. The odd spark of brilliance such as at the WACA has masked a tired line up. I do not know who you, your selectors or players are trying to convince but you are delusional. You are sitting at No 5 because the 4 teams above you are better, way better. For a nation with such a proud and impressive recent cricket history from where I sit that spells crisis on and off the field. Consider that your next 2 series are away in Sri Lanka & SA... No 5 could become No 6 oh so very easily.

    Questions: Why was White/Ferguson/Hodge even Hauritz overlooked? arrogance or belief in an unsuccessful group of players? I really don't know but perhaps you do?

  • AMITAVA on January 9, 2011, 9:23 GMT

    contd....Hughes simply do not hv the technique to servive as an opener in tests...surely Katich's injury was hard for Australia...with all fast bowlers & spinners available this would have been a pretty capable Austrailan team to counter or even beat England hollow: Watson, Katich(or Warner/Jaques/Marsh), Ponting, Clarke, Hussey, Symonds,Haddin,Lee,Tait(or Nannes),Johnson,Hariutz(or Kretza) with Harris,Siddle,Hilfenhaus,Khawaja & White to pick from reserves...there were some dissappointing North ,Doherty,Beer & Smith(not sure what was his role in the team) sure one or 2 of the above named have played their last test...Smith though might be a future talent-is still not ready for test cricket...however having said all that I do not think Australia would continue to slump like the West Indies team sure they will bounce back to be in top 3 teams as they are a proud cricketing nation..

  • AMITAVA on January 9, 2011, 9:09 GMT

    It pains to see the sad state of Aussie cricket..losing stars like warne,Mcgrath,Gilly,Hayden,langer,Lee are bound to hv an impact..but they slumped too badly..Sadly their best & fastest bowlers are concentrating on ODIs &T20s-BrettLee,Nannes,Shaun Tait..the selectors should hv persuaded these 3 to play tests rather than playing shorter formats..imagine this bowling attack-Lee,Tait,Nannes with Johnson added in & siddle,Harris in reserves..cud have had a fast & furious look & any batting side would have been worried..think Aus selectors hv missed a trick here..with not much spin talent post WarneMcgill they shd hv settled for either Hariutz or Kretza(took 12 in a test in Ind) in this dept..and it stuns me why they hv never thought about bringing back Andrew Symonds..some guys need to be handled differently & he was poorly handled by Aus ckt.surely Symonds is miles ahead of North or Smith at 6+a decent change bowler..Also Jaques/Warner/Marsh shd hv been there for Hughes as opener..cont

  • Brady on January 9, 2011, 4:10 GMT

    Well if this isn't a crisis Michael Clarke I would hate to see one. this 'core' group of players have been given enough chances now. These selectors have been around too long and Tim Nielsen looks totally out of his depth. An ordinary state player who did a cert in couching. The changes need to ring from the top right now, new selectors, I would love to see Steve Waugh as a selector he is everything what the Baggy green is about. Mark Waugh too he sees the talent in the domestic competition week in week out, offer him a job. I can't see how the selectors can keep picking Hilfenhaus an Johnson, Hilfy dosnt seem to find a wicket and Johnson is all over the place. Sure he turned it on at Perth but once every 15 tests is just not good enough. Why not pick someone like Copeland, Cameron, Cutting, George, Faulkner, Butterworth. All have been taking alot of wickets this year plus they are all young. I love my cricket watch it whoever is playing. My passion is Aus and I cant watch them play at

  • Andrew on January 9, 2011, 1:21 GMT

    @weenmcqueen - worst Oz side in my time was the mid 80s side. A lot was said of the Rebel Saffa tours - but there weren't many good players in that tour. This side has in 5 years seen (hayden,langar,martyn,lehman,bevan,law,hodge,gilchrest, kaspa,bichel,gillespie,mcgrath,warne,hogg,lee) all retire which I think has been tougher. The weakest element about the side is the fight not the talent its all there.

  • Sal on January 8, 2011, 13:48 GMT

    sifter132 was your post supposed to be ironic? The entire tenor of the peice is aimed at illustrating that The Aussies are in denial and you quite helpfully reinforce that view with your post. I for one hope that Sutherland, Hilditch, Nielsen and Clarke truly believe as you do, that there isn't a problem, because in that case your mob are going to take quite a few more beatings before the penny finally drops.

    To explain Perth. England's batsmen are known to have a weakness on pacy, bouncy tracks. This year The WACA was the fastest it's been for a decade and along with The Wanderers (another track on which England got rolled in both innings) is the quickest deck in the world--i.e. the most Australian, anti-English surface. Your quicks were made to look good by the pitch, the batsmen and the wind. The evidence for this is the fact that you got done by an innings in three of the remaining four tests on flat decks.

  • Henry on January 8, 2011, 11:56 GMT

    Australian Test Cricket needs a massive overhaul. The selectors should all stay, EXCEPT ANDREW HILDITCH. Keep the rest. Tim Nielsen, keep him. Side should be something like... 1. Watson 2. Hughes (Assuming he has form. If not, use Mike Hussey and bring in Cameron White) 3. Khawaja 4. Ponting (Stay as captain. You still have some form left in you!) 5. Hussey (Put Clarkey back when he finds some form) 6. Haddin 7. Smith (Stick by him and he'll be a mighty good player) 8. Johnson (As the spearhead) 9. Siddle 10. Hauritz (or another quick if it's the WACA) 11. Bollinger (Stick by him, he needs game time)

  • Henry on January 8, 2011, 11:44 GMT

    in test cricket,australia are in trouble. we all know that. in ODI and T20, they still rule! The aussie selectors should use people like Lee,Bracken,Hodge and Tait. They are not too old and they can bring glory back to Australian cricket. Definetly DO NOT USE THEM IN TEST, except maybe Hodge.He showed us all what he could do in the All Stars game. the T20 and ODI sides should be

    ODI 1.Marsh 2.Watson 3.Khawaja 4.Ponting 5.M.Hussey 6.White 7.Haddin 8.Johnson 9.Lee 10.Tait 11.Bracken 12.Ferguson

    T20 1.Warner 2.Watson 3.Khawaja 4.Hodge(vc) 5.White(c) 6.Ferguson 7.Paine 8.Lee 9.Tait 10.Nannes 11.Bracken 12. Smith

  • Dru on January 8, 2011, 11:37 GMT

    Crisis without doubt - just look at the 2010 results, no wins!! Perth was a fluke - dont think so - look at the rest of 2010. The talent is there, yes with a few gaps but its not being enhanced properly and thats the fault of the captain and coach. Selections are also an issue with the #6 position and also the mix of fast men. There is no spinner in Aus so there is a talent issue there and Hughes is not the answer for the opener. To deny there is a problem is to not realize the problem! Aus needs some serious thinking on who and how to get the best out of the guys: Ponting, Clark and Hussey are great batting case and yes two failed but that can happen. Katich is a solid opener and Haddin in useful with the bat. Siddle, Mitch and Harris are good enough so plenty to build with but something needs to be done to get the best out of these guys.

  • Sam on January 8, 2011, 6:13 GMT

    The selectors, Hilditch in particular, seem to believe they have nothing to answer for and that they put the best team on the field. North should never have been there, Kawaja should have played the whole series, Smith was not a suitable spin option, why was Hauritz dropped? The bowlers were chopped and changed whilst the batsmen were untouchable. The opener is a bowler, the spinner is a batsmen, there was no continuity whatsoever. The selectors need to take responsibility for doing a terrible job, a crap job, a pathetic job. England have a well balanced side and Australia would do well just to look at the clear and precise roles each player in the English team has.

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