Cow Corner

Shell-shocked Australia declare ‘cricket crisis’

Cow Corner

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When Australia were skittled out for 47 in humiliating fashion by South Africa it was described by many as their lowest ebb in recent history. That has since been eclipsed after an even more inauspicious showing.

Australia is now bemoaning its supposed nadir having suffered a dramatic and crushing defeat to 'little sister' New Zealand in the second Test at Hobart.

While Michael Clarke's side capitulated to their worst total for all of 109 years against the Proteas, the manner of their implosion against the Kiwis was even more ignominious.

"Aussie cricket crisis", "Black Monday", the "Lowest of the Low", "The Flat Empire" were the headlines adorning the back pages of the country's newspapers above pictures of celebrating New Zealand and forlorn Australian cricketers in the wake of the defeat.

"Once the kings of world cricket, Australia are no longer capable of putting away eighth-ranked New Zealand and ... they are in disarray heading into the series against India," read the back page of Sydney's Daily Telegraph.

The thrilling drama of the conclusion to the Hobart Test, which New Zealand won by seven runs, was largely consigned to sub-stories as critics lined up to take pot shots at the Australian underperformers.

Opener Phil Hughes, who was out in almost identical fashion in all four innings of the series against the Black Caps making just 41 runs, was the most pilloried, but experienced batsmen Ricky Ponting and Mike Hussey were also lambasted for their persistent failures.

"The time has come for change," Richard Hinds wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald. "Most pertinently, the time when a couple of much-loved veterans, Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey, could nominate their retirement dates has passed."

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Former coach Bob Simpson led calls for the recall of Simon Katich, who controversially lost his central contract with Cricket Australia in June despite being one of his country's best Test performers over the previous three years, but many bridges have been broken in that regard.

The 36-year-old opener should obviously be the rock at the top of an Australia top order which has shown a distinct lack of fight or willingness to graft under pressure - in stark contrast to the doughty Kat.

As after the Ashes humiliation against England last year, the whole system of Australian cricket came in for considerable scrutiny.

Heads have rolled, new appointments have been made, but quite simply the players charged with arresting their country's slump on the international stage have not performed.

Former South Africa cricket coach Mickey Arthur has been tasked with completing a sweeping revamp of a beleaguered Australia side after he became their first foreign head coach, but there is only so much he can do in the short term.

The most immediate issue the South African is confronted with are the futures of a host of senior players, and the infusion of young talent. Arthur is a man capable of making big decisions, and it will be his ability to stamp his authority on a group of players lacking confidence and direction that will be crucial.

Despite their much-publicised struggles in the longest format of the game and a lowly ranking of sixth in the newly released T20 table, this maligned Australia unit sit atop the one-day international rankings. At present, that status in the 50-over format only thinly veils fundamental, deep-lying problems.

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Many commentators, as Clarke did on Monday, pointed to the fact that the struggling batsmen would have only Australia's new Twenty20 competition in which to find their form before the first of four Test against India begins on December 26.

Having to try to dig out Test match form in the game's shortest format represents the kind of inconvenient and unfortunate state of affairs English cricket used to thrive on throwing up in the days preceding Andy Flower's auspicious reign.

India, who play their first tour match in Canberra on Thursday, have never won a Test series in Australia but will never have a better chance with Clarke's side reeling: unable to muster fight or form.

Patrick Smith of The Australian newspaper suggested the country's cricketers had displayed a "soft centre" in Hobart rather than the grit and determination that marked the wearers of the baggy green caps during the heyday of Australian cricket. He is right.

"A side supposedly intoxicated with the grisly Australian culture does not lose to an earnest but ordinary Kiwi side," he wrote in the newspaper.

"This Australian side is neither technically sound nor stern of character. It might be enthusiastic but any fourth XI side can boast such a common quality."

It may be about time that Australia moves on from the desperate hope that someone within the current ranks will suddenly conjure up the 'spirit of Steve Waugh' and haul the side to their feet.

Sadly for those with the country's interests at heart, all the evidence of late points to the fact that no such character currently exists.

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