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.

Sport
Thiago Silva pulls Arjen Robben back to concede a penalty
world cup 2014Brazil 0 Netherlands 3: More misery for hosts as Dutch take third place
Sport
Robin van Persie hands his third-place medal to a supporter
Van Persie gives bronze medal to eccentric fan moments after being handed it by Blatter
News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
scienceScientists have developed a material so dark you can't see it...
News
Monkey business: Serkis is the king of the non-human character performance
peopleFirst Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Arts and Entertainment
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Voices
Mrs Brown's Boy: D'Movie has been a huge commercial success
voicesWhen it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Life and Style
Once a month, waistline watcher Suran steps into a 3D body scanner that maps his body shape and records measurements with pinpoint accuracy
techFrom heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
News
Soft power: Matthew Barzun
peopleThe US Ambassador to London, Matthew Barzun, holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence. He says it's all part of the job
Sport
Joe Root and James Anderson celebrate their record-beaking partnership
cricketEngland's last-wicket stand against India rewrites the history books
News
Gavin Maxwell in Sandaig with one of his pet otters
peopleWas the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?
News
Rowsell says: 'Wearing wigs is a way of looking normal. I pick a style and colour and stick to it because I don't want to keep wearing different styles'
peopleThe World Champion cyclist Joanna Rowsell on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?