James Lawton: Hapless state of Australia's national game puts future of Test cricket in jeopardy

The fans streaming away from the vast ground made a withering statement about thestate of the match and the wretchedness of Australia's performance

Ian Chappell said it, roughly 50,000 Melbournites agreed as they went off early and trance-like to the beach or the barbie, and now anyone who knows anything about the fundamentals of high-level cricket has to conclude that the Australian Test team has ceased, for now and maybe a worryingly foreseeable future, to be fit for purpose.

News of their reinstatement as a serious force at the Waca last week always demanded grave suspicion from anyone who had seen the haplessness of their performances in Brisbane and Adelaide, in the wake of defeats by Pakistan and India and a lurch down to fifth place in the world rankings.

Among the doubters, most notably, were the likes of Chappell, Steve Waugh and Allan Border – men who had done so much to make them what they were for so long and were so manifestly not on the first day of the fourth Test at the MCG.

The fans streaming away from the vast ground made a withering statement about the state of the match and the wretchedness of Australia's performance. It is one that was likely to be repeated in the small hours of this morning, when talk of a record aggregate attendance had shrivelled to mute agreement with Chappell's solemn declaration that all the years of analysing feeble English efforts in the Ashes series had been supplanted by the crisis at home.

Chappell, who from time to time has remonstrated with Sir Ian Botham over the coarseness of his language, could hardly have been less stately in his view on the Australian problems. "Our policy for some time," he declared, "has been shit."

On Boxing Day there was no question it had hit the fan more profoundly than even in the innings defeat in Adelaide – and the moral one in Brisbane. Chappell's main contention is too many Australian cricketers earn far too much money and celebrity for failing to make a serious case for their inclusion in Test cricket, which according to the former captain should always be the dividing line between an opulent living and merely enjoying the privilege of playing first-class cricket for all expenses paid and some modest extra income.

It is maybe the spartan view of a man from another age, but if Chappell doesn't know cricket, and its place in Australian life, it is reasonable to wonder quite who does.

No one is saying, and certainly not Chappell, that England have, with their massed ranks of coaches and fitness gurus and video professors, arrived on some untouchable plane of their own. The Waca provided plenty of evidence that England are far from the finished product, though it has also to be said that if some important parts fell off the machine in Perth, there wasn't some overwhelming sense that their problems were structural rather than episodic.

That, surely, was what drove the great Australian crowd away from the MCG on a day when England had two great advantages – the winning of a valuable toss which gave them the best of the conditions and a scarcely believable display of incompetence at almost every point of the petrified Australian innings of 98. The horror was only compounded when Mike Hussey, the backbone of Australia for three Test matches, fell to one of many superb deliveries by Jimmy Anderson, who was supported magnificently by Chris Tremlett and Tim Bresnan.

It only remained for Mitchell Johnson, the lion of the Waca, to revert to the pathos-filled failure of The Gabba.

This, we were told, was the time when Australian cricket would reassert itself and make nonsense of suggestions that they had entered a period of open-ended decline. It was when some of us had to review the evidence of our own eyes, a challenge which was certainly not made any easier when Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook made it clear that if they fell it would not be by their own hand, which was the fate of every Australian batsman except Hussey.

There is, surely, no tribal gloating in such a reaction. The forlorn sight of the MCG emptying when it should have been warming and swelling to the prospect of a great Test match could only be welcomed by someone untouched by an understanding that this is the form of cricket on whose success or failure the game will ultimately live or die.

Who wants to see the parody of the game produced by Australia on a first day which, as much as any single one can ever have done, put a Test beyond the reach of one of the teams? This is the very antithesis of Test cricket and the fact that the team surrendering quite abjectly was Australia made it almost inconceivable that they had last lost a series to England on home soil 24 years ago.

There was no pleasure in seeing Johnson wrapping his Waca glory in a sandwich of outright humiliation. There was no kick watching Ricky Ponting, the greatest of Test warriors, inhabiting an ever-deepening nightmare – or Michael Clarke, the captain-elect, ready to snap like a broken violin string.

Who knows? There may have been another convulsion in the small hours this morning, but what we are seeing in this Ashes series is something, surely, that runs deeper than the odd ambush – or implosion by an England team who have displayed three times now their clear superiority.

It is a break in the continuity of an Australian cricket culture that will, as Ian Chappell points out, not be mended by spasmodic eruptions of defiant form. Form comes and goes, quality and technique and, yes, class are something that takes rather longer cultivation. England may never be world-beaters, may never get to the top of the greasy pole, but they have at last created some foundation to such a hope.

Australia are lost and will remain so until they listen to men like Chappell and Border and Waugh and begin to see quite where they have gone wrong. A short drive from the MCG, at least by Australian standards, is where they had the bad picnic at Hanging Rock. Back in town the national game is in similar peril.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
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

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower