Clarke comes under fire amid rumours of split in Aussie camp

Australia are in turmoil. The team have forgotten how to win, the dressing room is split, the future of the captaincy is the subject of heated debate and with only 20 days until the Ashes nobody can decide who their best bowlers are.

It would almost be time to bring on the violins if only their sound were not to be drowned out by the laughter. Having had it so good for so long, having sent irresistible expeditionary forces to every part of the cricketing globe and proved more or less impregnable at home for almost 20 years, Australia are coming back to the pack at an alarming rate.

The one-day defeat to Sri Lanka on Wednesday has had a stunning effect. The match was all but won. Australia had seemingly recovered from difficulties early in their innings and made 239 for 8, their pleasure reinforced by the return to form of the veteran Mike Hussey whose place in the Test side had been under threat.

When Sri Lanka lost their eighth wicket with the total barely past 100, it was all but done. But a one-day world record ninth-wicket partnership ensued between the improbable duo of Angelo Mathews and Lasith Malinga and the tourists got home by a wicket. Australia's misery was compounded by the fact that Melbourne Cricket Ground was barely a quarter full for the match and most of the crowd, Sri Lankan expatriates, were supporting the visitors.

It was a wretched experience for a side which had bestrode the planet not long ago and yesterday it grew worse. Tales of disharmony have been seeping through gradually for days as they tend to do from the dressing rooms of losing teams – and Australia have lost six times in a row.

Although damage-limitation exercises are being conducted by the cricketing establishment, like stretched emergency services trying to deal with a raging bush fire, the disarray is obvious. Michael Clarke, who led the side on Wednesday in the absence of the appointed captain, Ricky Ponting, at his grandmother's funeral, continues to be an object of scrutiny.

As the heir apparent to Ponting, it seems that Clarke is not to the liking of the whole team. Put baldly, the younger members back him, the senior players do not. Clarke did not help himself when he barely disguised his criticism of two players for taking part with their club side in the Twenty20 Champions League last month instead of being with Australia preparing for the first Test against India in Mohali (which the home side won by a wicket).

It was to transpire later that Hussey and Doug Bollinger had been instructed by Cricket Australia, part backers of the T20 tournament, to take part. Several players were annoyed by Clarke's insinuation that the pair had put cash before country.

Ponting's position is continually debated. It is openly suggested, indeed it is common knowledge, that it will be untenable should he lose the Ashes at home, itself unthinkable for a quarter of a century. So desperate is the situation that Marcus North, a middle-order batsman who is barely sure of his place in the Test team, was being touted yesterday as a possible successor.

North, who scored two Ashes hundreds against England last summer but has passed 21 only 10 times in his 32 Test innings, was forced to deny his possible candidacy yesterday. He did so charmingly but then he had no option.

"What I've woken up and read this morning is completely unfounded," he said. "I must be playing in another cricket team if that's a fact. Yesterday the feeling in the media is who can replace North and then the next minute I'm being touted as Australian captain. In an Ashes summer you can expect a bit of hype and a few stories but I think we're scraping the barrel there a bit."

But if not Ponting and if not Clarke and if not North, then who? North was due to captain Western Australia against England today and his name was proposed in the Perth media yesterday. Doubtless on the east coast a similar (and less fanciful) case might be made for Simon Katich, Test opener and long-time captain of New South Wales. The fact that the issue is being openly discussed is merely a further sign that Australia are floundering.

This is all a long way from saying that they will meekly surrender the Ashes, starting on 25 November in Brisbane. Aussies do nothing meekly and in their dictionaries there is usually a gap between surrealism and surreptitious (neither of which they are much good at either, although Shane Warne's much missed bowling was both at times).

England's players are doing their best to ignore Australia's travails but acknowledged that they are some way from the unit that won the Ashes series 5-0 in this country four years ago. "They're a different outfit from what we came up against last time around but it would be silly to start downplaying the opposition," said Paul Collingwood, England's senior professional yesterday. "It doesn't change our belief that we had before. We have beaten Australia in this past year quite a lot of times in some very important games, so that belief has always been growing and hopefully will continue to grow in these warm-up games we have got coming." England know that they can win. All of Australia knows it, too.

20 days to the Ashes

Number of Ashes appearances made by the Australia wicketkeeper Adam Gilchrist in four series between 2001 and 2007. He made 96 dismissals, averaging 2.4 per innings. It is the highest average for an Ashes wicketkeeper.

people And here is why...
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
voicesBy the man who has
Arsene Wenger tried to sign Eden Hazard
footballAfter 18 years with Arsenal, here are 18 things he has still never done as the Gunners' manager
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
The new Windows 10 Start Menu
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson star in The Twilight Saga but will not be starring in the new Facebook mini-movies
tvKristen Stewart and Stephenie Meyer will choose female directrs
Arts and Entertainment
Hilary North's 'How My Life Has Changed', 2001
books(and not a Buzzfeed article in sight)
William Hague
people... when he called Hague the county's greatest
More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete today
Arts and Entertainment
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey
comedyFirst national survey reveals Britain’s comedic tastes
Arts and Entertainment
Twerking girls: Miley Cyrus's video for 'Wrecking Ball'
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Sheeran performs at his Amazon Front Row event on Tuesday 30 September
musicHe spotted PM at private gig
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?