Clarke blunder sends Australia stumbling to seventh straight defeat

Sri Lanka 213-3 Australia 210
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The Independent Online

In Perth the sun shone on England; in Sydney it rained on Australia.

With the Ashes only 19 days away, the home side have now entered a full-blown crisis after they were beaten again by Sri Lanka for the third time in a week in a rain-interrupted contest at the SCG, their seventh successive loss in all forms of the game. It is their worst run for 13 years.

It was another unwanted first for Ricky Ponting, already twice an Ashes losing skipper, as no Australian captain had ever lost a home one-day series against Sri Lanka before. The sense of gloom enveloping cricket Down Under is visibly taking its toll as only 11,495 Sydneysiders turned up to watch the day/night game, the ground's lowest attendance for a one-day international in 17 years.

Those that did attend witnessed another shambolic performance both in the field and with the bat. It was summed up by one farcical attempt to run out Upul Tharanga, Sri Lanka's top scorer. Michael Clarke, who was later to fail again with the bat, making 25, hurled the ball from close range at the stumps only to hit Shane Watson, leaving the Chieftain tank-sized all-rounder hoping around in pain as Tharanga scampered home.

Set a revised target of 244 from 39 overs, Australia never looked like chasing it down, Watson's 40 the top score. Ponting made 10 before falling to an attempted pull, a mode of dismissal that illustrates once more that time is slowly catching up with one of the modern-day greats.

Such is the concern with the captain's form that he will not play in Brisbane tomorrow in the final game of the series, in order to get some extra practice playing for Tasmania.

"There's a lot of doom and gloom around about this team and about Australian cricket, I think we all feel a lot more positive inside the dressing room compared to what it looks like from the outside," claimed Ponting afterwards. "But we can change what it looks like from the outside by starting winning games, we're all very aware of that. That's why I'm a bit disappointed about the result, I would have thought the guys would have bounced back a bit better. It's about time we got back to playing the brand of cricket we know we are capable of and if we do that I am sure we will win some games."

Greg Chappell, a member of Australia's selection panel (NSP), said: "As the series against Sri Lanka has been decided the NSP has an ideal opportunity to provide Ricky with two solid weeks of red-ball cricket. This allows him what we believe to be the best preparation to lead the Australian Test match team in Brisbane."