'Fish rots from the head' – how the press turned on Baggy Green flops
Thoughts turn to captaincy succession amid growing feeling that Clarke may not be right man to step up
Cahal Milmo is the chief reporter of The Independent and has been with the paper since 2000. He was born in London and previously worked at the Press Association news agency. He has reported on assignment at home and abroad, including Rwanda, Sudan and Burkina Faso, the phone hacking scandal and the London Olympics. In his spare time he is a keen runner and cyclist, and keeps an allotment.
Wednesday 29 December 2010
Miserable, feeble, abject, catastrophic, humiliating, hopeless and all accompanied by the smell of rotting fish. Australians do not like losers; especially, it would seem, when they are wearing the treasured Baggy Green.
The reaction Down Under has grown ever more hostile to the home side as hopes of regaining the Ashes have dwindled and, by the time Ricky Ponting was making his lonely journey back to the bowels of the MCG, the prevalent sound ringing round the MCG was of butchers' knifes being sharpened up in the press box.
There was some sympathy for the beleaguered Australian skipper (or rather the soon to be "former Australian skipper"), his standing as one of the game's greats earning some wriggle room. Although not much.
"Fish rots from the head" fumed The Sydney Morning Herald's online edition, peculiarly over a large picture of Ponting's head. The Herald Sun in Melbourne wondered, "Is this the end?" alongside another close-up of the captain behind bars (of his helmet). Greg Baum, one of the leading cricket voices Down Under, wrote of how the "devils that multiplied in Ponting's mind" have left him with nowhere to go. England's imminent victory, said Baum, proved that Perth was nothing more than a "one-dead cat bounce" and Australia "must stop deluding themselves".
The Australian declared: "The urn is lost – and so is the captain." Ponting's demise, playing on via a bat that had come down once again from the direction of gully, left him looking as "shattered as his stumps", according to Peter Lawlor.
He added that "an ugly slice of history is his. The Ashes are lost and Ponting's career and captaincy are in doubt. The Tasmanian is in decline and will claim the ignominious distinction of being the only Australian captain to have lost the Ashes three times."
But if Ponting is "master and commander no more", who should take over at the helm? "The only question that remained was whether the captain would go down with his ship," said Malcolm Conn, also in The Australian. But the alarming lack of alternatives raises the prospect of Ponting limping on. Michael Clarke has been seen as heir apparent for almost as long as Prince Charles, but there appears a strengthening feeling across the Australian media that he is not the man for the job – though some see it coming his way regardless. According to The Australian, Ponting's finger injury provides the perfect excuse to "rest" him from the final Test and so begin the rebuilding job immediately.
There is plenty of concern over Clarke's position, not least his alarming lack of form. "His game is in disarray," said The Age. "There's a belief that Clarke's confidence is more shot to bits than Ponting's," suggested The Herald Sun, which also considered his popularity, or supposed lack of it, in the home dressing room.
Clarke is supposed to have been unhappy with the green-topped pitch at the Waca and to have given voice to his opinions, something that is thought not to have gone down well with other members of the team.
A rare voice of calm came from Shane Warne, who cautioned against change for change's sake for the final Test of the series in Sydney. He wrote: "Let's go away and think about things, rather than rush into any silly decisions."
But gnashing of teeth remained the overarching theme of the day. Back to The Herald Sun and Andrew Webster: "We can cop the hiding. We can swallow that England is better. We can even stomach the Barmy bloody Army. But what we want to know now is how Australian cricket, the national sport, will be recovered and rebuilt."
And finally, a historical summation from Baum: "Rarely since the First Fleet dropped anchor has Australia been so comprehensively claimed for England."
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