Cricket: Sifting through the ashes: Tony Cozier reports from Perth on an Australian cricket team demoralised by defeat to the West Indies

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The Independent Online
AUSTRALIA'S cricket selectors yesterday endorsed the view of Allan Border, disregarded Monday's humiliating defeat to the West Indies which cost them the series 2-1, and made one change to the 13 for theirtour of New Zealand.

The only omission from the team beaten by lunch on the third day of the final Test here was the fast bowler, Jo Angel. The off-spinner, Tim May and the fast bowler, Paul Reiffel, were added to the squad.

It was an indication that the team to defend the Ashes in England this summer will not vary greatly from those chosen against the West Indies. It was a policy predicted by Border. 'I don't view it as a setback at all,' Border said after the debacle in which Australia had been routed for 119 and 178. 'I think the players we have introduced and the players we are playing will be tougher for the experience, and I expect to do very well in New Zealand and England.'

The decline in Australia's fortunes has been sharp. After completing victory by 135 runs in the second Test in Melbourne just after Christmas, they amassed a first innings 503 for 9 declared a few days later in Sydney and reduced the West Indies to 31 for 2 in reply.

They were stopped in their tracks by a counter-attack led by Brian Lara's 277 and his third- wicket partnership of 293 with Richie Richardson. After that they struggled against the fast bowling of Curtly Ambrose and lost not only the last two Tests but also the World Series Cup.

In the intervening month they dropped their vice-captain, Mark Taylor, inherent flaws in the technique and temperament of the Waugh twins, Steve and Mark, were revealed on pitches encouraging to fast bowlers, and Border's future was under examination after successive scores of 19, 1, 0 and 0. The new batsmen, Damien Martyn and Justin Langer and the leg-spinner, Shane Warne, were engulfed by the collective negativity.

Only David Boon, promoted from his settled No 3 position to opener, and Merv Hughes, an underrated fast-bowler, emerged with reputations intact. Boon's resolution never wavered and he was only 10 runs short of completing 500 in a home series for the third successive season. Eight of his 10 innings which brought him 490 runs at an average of 61.25 were over 40. No other specialist batsman averaged better than 38.

Hughes, whose ability is obscured by his larrikin image, seldom bowled a bad spell and had an excellent return of 20 wickets at 21.60 each. In the absence of the tall penetrative left-hander Bruce Reid, again hampered by injury after the first Test and now unlikely to resume his international career, heavy responsibility shifted on to Craig McDermott but his performances were inconsistent. His 18 wickets cost 34.17 each.

Matthew Hayden, a left-handed opener who has scored heavily for Queensland for two seasons, seems a certainty for England, but some young batsmen who promised much prior to this season, Darren Lehmann, Michael Bevan and Jamie Cox, have struggled to hold places in their state teams.

The cupboard is almost bare of emerging fast bowlers. Angel, Western Australia's lumbering giant, was well short of Test standard on his debut over the weekend, and of the other youngsters only Queensland's Mike Kasprowicz has advanced his claims this season.

The situation is so desperate that Terry Alderman has been repeatedly put forward as a candidate for the Ashes tour at the age of 36 on the grounds of horses for courses. Not for the first time in recent years a series against the West Indies has left Australian cricket in disarray.

Allan Border and Merv Hughes have been severely reprimanded for dissent during the fifth Test. The umpires reported Border for an offensive gesture after the no- balling of fast bowler Jo Angel, while Hughes made 'quiet comments' after the rejection of a close lbw appeal.

AUSTRALIAN SQUAD (for tour of New Zealand, February and March): * A R Border, M A Taylor, D C Boon, I A Healy, M G Hughes, J L Langer, D R Martyn, T B A May, C J McDermott, P R Reiffel, S K Warne, M E Waugh, S R Waugh.

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