Ashes 2013: Michael Clarke appears to be on the brink as it's all change for Australia... again

 

Australia have failed to win any of their last eight Test matches. They have lost the Ashes for the third successive time and they have already sacked a coach.

If England complete a 4-0 series rout in the fifth Investec Test at The Oval the question that will be asked increasingly is whether the captain, Michael Clarke, will survive or wish to continue. Clarke, who looked tired and subdued today, did not quite kick the idea into the long grass.

"I'm certainly not planning on losing this Test match," he said at The Oval. "I've thought long and hard about what has occurred in this series as you do when you are not performing as well as you would like personally and the team is not performing. I did after the India tour as well but it is another reason to get out of bed and go and train to be better.

"I feel my game has a lot of improvement left in it," Clarke added. "I feel I can help the team have success and that is a big part of my role as a senior player in the team whether I am captain or not. But it is a tough challenge as a captain when you don't get the results you want. And it just inspires you to try and become better as a player and leader."

There is some way to go before Australia come close to the record 14 Tests without a win that they went between November 1985 and December 1986. Allan Border was their captain then and he went on to lead them in 93 Tests.

That may well be Clarke's destiny too but it did not feel like it. There appears to be no coherent strategy about the Australia team at present. From one match to the next they have changed their idea of what a winning team might be.

Mitchell Starc was recalled for the second time in this series having played the first and third matches and been overlooked for the second and fourth. Presumably he can book a holiday for when the sides next meet in Brisbane in November.

James Faulkner will be awarded his first Test cap in the final Test. If it seems a desperate act, Shane Warne, now an adviser to the team, said at the start of the tour that Faulkner should be in the team and could play an instrumental role in the series.

Clarke is no longer directly involved in selection but the process seems imbued with panic and helplessness, allied to forlorn hope and desperation. It is something that England actively promoted in their dark days and it never worked.

It seems odd that Australia have responded to their crisis, caused largely by batting meltdowns, by dropping a batsman. Usman Khawaja is the man to go, replaced by the all-rounder Faulkner. Shane Watson, who started the series as opener and then went to No 4 and No 6 will now go in at No 3.

"I think you have to perform as a player and if you don't there's a chance you can be dropped," said Clarke. "That's the life we live playing sport at the highest level. If you don't perform consistently there's a chance you can be dropped."

Yet Clarke also said that it was the senior players who had to shoulder the brunt of responsibility for failing to press the case when Australia have had the advantage in this series. Had they done so they could have won the first and fourth Tests.

Perhaps at long last they have hit on a team and a strategy that will work, perhaps this is the team that will line up at Brisbane in November. Perhaps.

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