Australia's preparations for recapturing the Ashes were again disrupted yesterday by the resignation of Allan Border as a selector. Although it was tempting to suppose that Border had simply thrown in the towel upon realising that it would be impossible to find a team to beat England, he supplied different official reasons.
"My various commitments are far heavier than I expected back in mid-year," he said. "I don't think it is appropriate to do what is a really important job if I am not able to give it the full attention it deserves."
Border, who was captain of Australia for almost 10 years in 93 Tests, has now resigned twice as a selector. He cited other commitments the first time and since he agreed to return to the four-man panel, which was only in June, he has not helped to pick a single Test squad.
The departure of Border, who will remain a board member of Cricket Australia, is merely the latest glitch in what is meant to be a serene and glorious machine. Australia are already looking for a new coach after John Buchanan's announcement of his intention to leave after the World Cup next spring.
This means that in three major tournaments - the Champions Trophy, in which Australia play their first match next Wednesday, the Ashes and the World Cup - the players will be listening to a man with one foot in the exit door. If that were not enough, Buchanan's position has been badly undermined by the comments of Shane Warne, who said the coach's role was unnecessary after a two-day boot camp in which the players were instructed to take part.
"John and I get along OK, but I think that his methods overcomplicate issues and at some stages he has lacked common sense," said Warne in a ringing denunciation.
That led to a phone call from the captain, Ricky Ponting, reminding Warne of his responsibilities. Unfortunately, that conversation merely reminded everybody that during the last Ashes it often looked like Warne was marshalling the side in the field, not Ponting.
These simmering ingredients have now been given a stir of which Gordon Ramsay could be proud by the former Australia captain Kim Hughes. Earlier this week he lambasted Warne for his comments, claiming he had shown a complete disregard for Buchanan's position. For good measure, Hughes added that Warne would have been an embarrassment if he had been captain of Australia and advised senior players to sit him down and tell him to shut up. As Warne took 40 wickets at 19.92 in the 2005 Ashes, this may not be wholly practicable.
Warne is not with the Australian squad who have arrived in India for the Champions Trophy, a competition they have, astonishingly, never won. But he is continuing to dominate team affairs.
Rumours are beginning to circulate about the state of his right shoulder. He returned to Australia during the English summer, when he was playing for Hampshire, for apparently routine treatment. But a conspiracy theory is now doing the rounds that the shoulder is in a delicate state.
The other night, at a dinner at Lord's, the chairman of the England selectors, David Graveney, said: "He has had some problems with that shoulder. It will be interesting to see how it turns out."
Of course, the Australians would say that this is a case of a drowning man clinging on to any piece of passing flotsam, but then they are at it themselves. Their veteran seam bowler Glenn McGrath said in Adelaide the other day that he fully expected Australia to win the Ashes series 5-0. This is McGrath's usual prediction but he is now 36 and only 70 per cent fit by his own admission.
In India, the Australians are as uncertain as England of team selection. With a week to go, they have three candidates as opening partner for Adam Gilchrist: Simon Katich, who has been unconvincing in the role, the newcomer Phil Jacques, the all-rounder Shane Watson and Matthew Hayden, who did the job for years.
Border has left this conundrum to others in order to concentrate on his other commitments. "I am really passionate and absolutely committed to making a continuing contribution to cricket through my board work and my involvement with the CA committee that will decide the next national coach," he said.
But his other work also embraces commentary. By doing that, of course, he can tell the selectors whom to pick without actually having to do so himself.