“We’ll have a red hot crack and hopefully win the Ashes for the Australian public” - The Australian Dream, Michael Clarke, May 22nd 2013
Australia winning, or regaining the Ashes—“Returning The Urn” as Cricket Australia’s marketing men have spun it—was only ever a dream. A romantic, optimistic dream at best, and a totally incomprehensible dream at worst. And in two hours of cricket on a Friday afternoon at Lord’s, Australia were woken and the dream was all but totally shattered.
In the afternoon session, Australia lost six for 54 in 28.2 overs, to leave them 96-7 at Tea, trailing England by 265 runs in the first innings. It was a session of cricket that put Australia’s Ashes hopes into brutal perspective.
Regardless of how well their bowlers bowl for the remainder of the match and the series, their batting is staggeringly brittle and it would require a remarkable transformation, or a sustained poor period with the bat from England, to see the visitors score more runs than the hosts in any match in the series. Looking at this Test specifically; with England closing the day effectively 264-3, anything but a victory for the home side seems fantastical.
Truth be told, Australia’s genuine Ashes ambitions were brutally wounded months ago. With a full schedule during the Australian summer and a tour of India all prior to departing for England and the Ashes, the selectors and management had time-a-plenty to establish a core group of players and a preferred first XI.
But this was not done, and what was a genuine objective to regain the Ashes began the gradual descent into merely a dream.
Of course, the problems that have restricted Australia's Ashes ambitions can be traced further back than just last summer. The recommendations of the Argus Review of 2011, which attempted to instigate a mass restructuring of Australian cricket, have not been implemented as they were designed to be. The Argus Review sought to take Australia back to the top of the Test rankings through both short-term and long-term steps; almost all of which have failed or been ignored.
Australian cricket, as Don Argus noted was in strife. The full-scale implementation of the review headed by him, would most probably have gone a long way to remedying the many problems, and perhaps prepared an Australian squad more capable of challenging for the Ashes.
Nothing perhaps represents the slap-dash nature of Australia’s preparation more than the fact that Australia's Ashes squad, named eleven weeks before the first Test, did not include Steven Smith or Ashton Agar both of whom played in that first Test. Not to mention that Darren Lehmann was not the coach when the squad was selected, but was the coach come the first day of the series.
The collapse on Day Two at Lord’s was the first unequivocal sign of Australia's scatter-gun preparation.
Australia were able to blame alien conditions for their whitewash humiliation in India, and in the first Test at Trent Bridge, Phil Hughes’ and Agar’s tenth wicket heroics helped mask a similarly inept batting display to the one offered at Lord’s. Just seven days into this series Australia have now been 117-9, 164-6 and 129 all out already.
However, whilst the collapse does tear away the veil masking the deep failings in Australian cricket; when you consider the state of the match, the pitch and England’s bowling, all of which did not significantly hamper Australia, it also reveals how badly they played today specifically. It was a collapse that, were it to be a product, would have ‘Made In Australia’ stamped on it.
It was a collapse of self infliction not design.
Shane Watson was LBW for what seems like the ten thousandth time in his career, a recurring technical fault of planting his front leg is a problem that should have been ironed out a long time ago. Chris Rogers’ ugly heave to an even uglier delivery from Graeme Swann just about summed up the Australian batting effort. Admittedly Michael Clarke and Steven Smith both got good deliveries; Clarke’s a searing yorker, Smith’s a bouncing top spinner. But the shots of Usman Khawaja and Hughes were inexcusable and more akin to Twenty20 cricket than Day Two of an Ashes Test.
Lehmann’s eleventh hour appointment as coach was never going to turn Australia from Ashes dreamers into Ashes contenders, and Day Two at Lord’s was a reminder of that. But whilst Australian fans must maintain a sense of perspective with regards to their team’s ambitions, the batting performance today was awful whether taken in isolation, or looking at the larger picture.
Lehmann was belligerently forthright at the close of play saying “that’s not good enough from the Australian cricket team. It’s as simple as that.” He’s right. It isn’t good enough, but the great tragedy for Australia is that whilst their struggles may be simple to recognize, the solutions are far from it.