Australia could learn great deal from England, admits Clarke

Stand-in captain is honest on side's deficiencies, but chairman of selectors refuses to accept any blame
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The Independent Online

As the fledgling captain of Australia's worst ever XI, which is how they have already been angrily condemned Down Under, Michael Clarke has not so much been thrown in the deep end as had both hands tied behind his back, weights attached to his feet and been heaved off Sydney Harbour Bridge.

After his first Test as Ricky Ponting's successor, Clarke admitted that they had reached "as close as to rock bottom as it gets".

Clarke, picking over the ruins of a one-sided Ashes campaign, also acknowledged that the way back for Australia, under his or anybody's stewardship, begins with learning from how the victors have achieved their unprecedented triumph.

"I think 100 per cent we have to learn from what England did this series," he said. "Their performance, not only with bat and ball, but in the field, was outstanding for a five-Test series. There's a great starting point to be able to turn up every day for five Tests, to perform as well as they did. It takes a lot of discipline, a lot of planning before the series.

"The bowlers have executed their plans outstandingly against our batters and their batters have cashed in when we haven't bowled in the right areas. We do need to look at how England have played in this series and take a lot of notes from that."

Clarke was one of the main under-performers, averaging less than half his usual Test return of 46.5, and he did not shy away from accepting a portion of the blame being hurled around the SCG, unlike others in the Australian set-up.

"I'm not blaming anyone for my disappointing series, I can tell you that right now," said the 29-year-old, who also said (possibly wishfully) that he expects Ponting to return to the side as captain once recovered from his broken finger. "I've had all the facilities, all the needs to prepare as well as I can. I just haven't been able to execute my skills well enough against a good English bowling attack who have bowled very well.

"We have no one to blame. You have to look at yourself, first and foremost. You need to work out where you can get better. You need to start that process today. We think we are better cricketers than what we have shown. We have no excuses."

Australia have now slipped beneath Sri Lanka, their next Test match opponents, in the world rankings to fifth. Clarke said: "We probably are fairly rated at fifth. I think we are a better team than that. I know we have a lot more talent in that changing room than that. [But] the reality is we haven't performed well enough to be rated any higher than that."

Clarke's honest appraisal contrasted notably with that of Andrew Hilditch, the chairman of the National Selection Panel. Hilditch, who was an Ashes loser as a player in 1985, gave a confusing summation that, some might say, was simply in line with his panel's performance over the course of the series.

"I think we've done a very good job, the selection panel, but the reality is we were totally outplayed," he said. "You just can't get away from that fact that they were better than we were. We put a side on the paddock that we expected to compete really well and they [England] gained momentum probably at the start of the Adelaide Test match. We regained it a little bit in Perth but I'd say only a little bit, and then we lost it again in Melbourne. That's the way the games went, England took their chances and I've got to say I thought they were superb."

Australia used 17 players over the five Tests. Some changes, such as seeking a new opener after Simon Katich was injured, were forced upon them. But others did not help the home cause, such as their indecision over the use of a spinner, Xavier Doherty, Michael Beer and Steve Smith were all called upon, and the choice of the dreadfully out-of-sorts Phil Hughes to replace Katich.

"Certain issues have got nothing to do with selection," said Hilditch when asked to expand his defence of the selection panel. "We needed to play to our maximum ability. I said it at the beginning of the Ashes, if we didn't play to the best of our ability we wouldn't win the Ashes. We didn't play to the best of our ability, I've got to say, and England played as well as a side can play really."

Clarke, meanwhile, is becoming that rare thing in the recent history of Australian cricket; somebody used to getting beaten by England. He said: "Unfortunately I've lost a few Ashes series now and they're all pretty bad. But being the vice-captain, and having such a disappointing series with the bat, this probably is [the worst]."