England v Australia, 4th Investec Test, Durham, 4th day August 12, 2013

Australia forget how to win

Few of Australia's recent losses will hurt like the one at Chester-le-Street, because they know - they know - they should have won it


That's not the name of an obscure Welsh town, that's Australia's record in Tests since the start of this year's tour of India. Stretch it back to the start of the Australian summer and it's a little healthier, but not much: DDLWWWLLLLLLDL. The victories were all against Sri Lanka, a team that has never won a Test in Australian conditions. Australia were on top in all three draws, against South Africa and England. Some losses have been comprehensive, others close.

Australia seem to have forgotten how to handle the pressure moments, the tight contests. Perhaps it is not so much that they have forgotten but that they've never known, for besides Michael Clarke, none of this current outfit have ever really known extended Test success. The coach, Darren Lehmann, played in 27 Tests and only five weren't wins. Compare that to a man like Steven Smith, who has played in only two victories, both early in his career, from 11 Tests.

Winning is a habit. Get a few successes on the board, especially against quality opponents, and especially in close finishes, and you start to trust that it can be done. Shane Warne often talks about believing it is possible to win from anywhere; Clarke's men appear petrified that they can lose from anywhere. How else to explain their collapse after tea at Chester-le-Street? Few of their recent losses will hurt like this one, because they know - they know - they should have won it.

The target of 299 was a challenge, certainly, but Chris Rogers and David Warner made Australia's highest opening stand in a Test chase in 18 years, reaching 109 for 0. Even after Rogers fell, Australia were still comfortable at tea, at 120 for 1. Then the doubt crept in. The fear. The knowledge that this match was there to lose, a 2-1 scoreline was theirs to give up. And dutifully, they handed England the momentum, their wickets and a series win.

At 5.26pm Usman Khawaja departed, Warner at 5.44, Clarke at 6.10, Smith at 6.22, Shane Watson at 6.29, Brad Haddin at 6.39. Then the bowlers tumbled too, but it wasn't their fault. In the final session Australia lost nine for 104. England's bowling improved - Stuart Broad and Tim Bresnan bowled in tandem, keeping things tight, bringing the batsmen on to the front foot instead of offering up the short-of-a-length stuff they had delivered before tea. But they weren't nine-wickets-in-a-session good.

That Australia collapsed again is almost not a story, for it has happened so often in recent years that it is the norm. But to collapse when the openers had laid such a strong foundation is almost more galling. And how many of the batsmen could say they were done by great balls? Clarke missed a super delivery from Broad that angled in and nipped away just enough, but Watson and Haddin essentially just missed straight deliveries.

They were the two senior men in the lower middle-order. They had to show more resolve, respect the good balls and wait for the bad ones. Rogers had given them the template. Smith tried to do that, go after a short ball, but wasn't good enough to middle it and played on instead. Khawaja was typically elegant, but elegant doesn't win Test matches in tight situations. Fight does. Hunger does. Sheer bloody-mindedness does.

It raised the question - again - of whether Australia's batsmen are good enough for Test cricket. It goes without saying that Clarke is, and Rogers has shown in this series that he has the necessary technique and determination. Warner played a mature innings here but too often is careless. Watson is the No.6 and allrounder because there is nobody better. Smith and Khawaja have both shown signs of being Test batsmen but inspire little confidence in tight spots.

For all of them, this was an opportunity. This was a chance to stand up in a challenging situation, to deliver a victory for their struggling team. Rogers and Warner did the hard work early. Nobody matched them. It leaves the selectors in a difficult position, for they cannot keep picking men who fail under pressure. Phillip Hughes and Matthew Wade could be considered for The Oval Test, but where are the other batsmen applying the pressure?

"I think we are picking the best players," Clarke said after the loss. "Everyone says rebuild, rebuild, rebuild, but you need guys in first-class cricket making runs to take someone's slot. We have to continue to show faith in these guys - it takes time playing against good opposition. We just played South Africa in Australia, we are playing England here then England in Australia, then we go to South Africa - we are playing the best oppositions in the world. I think the selectors are doing the best they can to pick the best sides."

Clarke has had plenty of practice answering difficult questions after losses, but in the post-match press conference he looked drained of all his spark. He paid credit to Broad for his fine bowling, claimed responsibility for his own dismissal and not leading by example, and tried his best to back his men. Ultimately, though, his mood could be summed up by one answer: "It's extremely disappointing - I guess I know now what it feels like to lose an Ashes series as a captain."

Losing matches, losing series - it's all becoming far too familiar a feeling. When he retired after the series win over Sri Lanka during the home summer, Michael Hussey handed custodianship of the team victory song to Nathan Lyon. That was seven months ago. Eight Tests ago. Lyon is yet to lead the beer-soaked choir.

Under the Southern Cross I stand, a sprig of wattle in my hand.

The words are easy to remember, how to win a Test match not so much.

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • RohanMarkJay on August 17, 2013, 2:11 GMT

    Yes fully agree with this article. Looks like Australia threw away a great opportunity to win the test match after a great start 109 for no loss. They probably knew that they should have won from there. Because England wasn't troubling the batsman up to that point. It looks like a typical Aussie batting collapse of recent times than anything special from England bowlers.Sure the swing and seam conditions in England can be tough to handle for batsman but it looked like the Aussie batsman had no problem with the conditions.Sure there a were a couple of good balls from England bowlers but with all 10 wickets intact at 109 runs on the board you would back them to win from there. So England scraped through a series win. f anything this series has proven this Australian side isn't as bad as people thought or that England were not as good as some of their supporters and media thought. In fact Australia is the slightly better side. England are definitely beatable.Oz leg will be interesting.

  • aussierox on August 16, 2013, 12:40 GMT

    every one are saying wrong of steve smith. he along with michael clarke , chris rogers and ryan harris have played well. I think they should bring more experience in the side by bringing david hussey. They can even bring simon katich or george bailey. I think the best side for the australia is: 1)Chris Rogers 2)David Warner 3)George Bailey/Ed Cowan/Phil Hughes 4)Michael Clarke 5)Steve Smith/David Hussey 6)Shane watson 7)Brad Haddin 8)Peter Siddle 9)Mitchell Starc/James Pattinson 10)Ryan harris 11)Nathan lyon

  • Front-Foot-Lunge on August 15, 2013, 21:56 GMT

    As a starting point, Australia need to find a bowler who can bowl at 92pmh+ like England's Stuart Broad.

  • zaboo on August 15, 2013, 11:34 GMT

    Now its time for austrailia to completely build a new team . Can't expect batsmen like shane watson, warner, philip hughes and smith to play long and promising innings.They are players of short format.Usman khawaja should also be drooped for now. He is good player but give him a chance aafter 2,3 years and hope.Bring new batsmen as austrailia has a big domestic circuit.

  • S.Jagernath on August 14, 2013, 23:02 GMT

    The current Australian team is actually a decent test side.They are struggling against England,who are dangerous anywhere but are even more lethal in England.Very few teams have has much success in England since the start of this millenium.I feel that sticking with the current team is the best move.If Shane Watson isn't fit enough to bowl,then unfortunately he should sit out & maybe Moises Henriques should be called up.Australia definitely need an allrounder,the load put on Ryan Harris was far too much in the last test.

  • hhillbumper on August 14, 2013, 20:53 GMT

    I like the fans who keep saying Aus could have won3 games.Indeed they could but they didn't.England have won the tight parts of the games and have done it through different bowlers.As for the umpiring it is unfortunate that the Ashes suffer from having such poor umpires because the best ones can't officiate in them.

    Australia need to have a long hard look at themselves and what they have done.Following the White wash in India it was suddenly about the greatest fast bolwing attack there is.Cut through the hyperbole and make some long term choices. England only got better when they cut out the consistent tinkering with selection. They are hardened and experienced cricketers who know how to win.It might not be dazzling but frankly we win so who cares.

  • android_user on August 14, 2013, 13:39 GMT

    Aussie is my fav team since 1999 world cup.. they performed really well in all conditions however i don't understand what happened to the team now... I wish all the very very best to my team for coming matches n hope team will recover soon... ALL THE BEST AUSSIE AUSSIE AUSSIE OYE OYE OYE...

  • hyclass on August 14, 2013, 12:15 GMT

    I watched an interesting interview with Ian Chappell recently.He summed up batting in the most succinct manner possible by identifying that as a ball is delivered,a batsman's first thought should be to hit it for 4. If that's not possible, 3, 2 or 1. His last resort should be to defend or leave. Steve Waugh's mantra was to try and rest the advantage back from the bowler as swiftly as possible through run scoring. The batsmen in this side are ridiculously over-coached to the point of being afraid to play their own game and losing judgement and self reliance. All the talk is of technique.It's highly disruptive.A batsman needs only an attacking plan, a defensive plan and the courage and stamina to enact it. All else detracts from this. It is no accident that other than those players who were well established in Shield before 20/20, all the rest have fallen far. Players come in with good records and leave with bad. Wake up. Its not Shield. Its interference & severe misdirection at the top.

  • dummy4fb on August 14, 2013, 11:20 GMT

    Clarke talks about guys making runs in 1st class cricket; has he ever heard of a bloke called Michael Katich........

  • dummy4fb on August 14, 2013, 8:13 GMT

    @ popcorn

    height of biasness, so wat, u forget the old decession of ausies umpires, umpires do make mistakes, wat rain is also due to umpires funny

    ausies team is nothing as compared to england, go england go, thrash these dumps