Stephen Brenkley: Without Michael Clarke, Australia are engaged in an unequal struggle

 

Australia are up the creek. If Michael Clarke, their captain, remains unfit they will soon be without a paddle.

The defence of the Champions Trophy, which they retained in splendid style four years ago and won with barely less fuss four years before that, is already looking distinctly threadbare.

They lost to England by 48 runs in the Champions Trophy on Saturday but as their temporary captain, George Bailey, was candid enough to concede, that was flattering. "It was probably more like a 60 or 70 runs loss," he said.

Bailey and his men are engaged in an unequal struggle. Up the road in Edinburgh, the country's A team have been giving Scotland the runaround. But the A team contains five members of the squad who will contest the Ashes later in the summer.

Australia's selectors have drawn up clear dividing lines between limited-overs and Test cricket. The evidence on Saturday suggested they are wide of the mark, which is often the case when you appear to be picking teams using the pin the tail on the donkey method. Whether these tourists will suddenly be galvanised when the Test party assembles is doubtful. James Pattinson, their rapid opening bowler, was terrorising Scotland and he will definitely give England the hurry-up if his body holds together.

But, as Australia showed on Saturday, it is their batting which is all over the place and the upper order of the Test team, part of which in the shape of Shane Watson, David Warner and Phil Hughes, was on duty at Edgbaston on Saturday, does not exactly convey the sensation of the seventh cavalry galloping to the rescue.

Clarke is missed as much, probably far more, as a batsman than as a captain. He is a formidable operator in every form of the game and without him there is nobody on whom the less talented rest can lean and depend. England took full advantage of this.

There is slender hope that Clarke will return for the match against New Zealand on Wednesday, which Australia must win to have any realistic hope of progressing to the semi-finals. The genial Bailey, who has been handed a hospital pass, insisted that Clarke was desperate to play.

Make no mistake, however, that Australia are quite prepared to allow poor old George to lead them to disaster in the Champions Trophy if it means Clarke will be ready for the Ashes next month. They are confident that this will be the case but it is also true that Clarke's chronic back condition is showing no signs of easing.

Although some are already rushing to judgement, it is premature to suggest that this is the weakest Australian squad in living memory. It is bereft of great players but then it had more than its fair share of those for nearly 20 years.

The combination of Australia's weak batting and England's strong bowling, embodied by the match at Edgbaston, is one that may recur throughout the next few months. Initial evidence indicates that the upshot is likely to be similar on most occasions.

If there was a flicker of light it was in James Faulkner's 54 from 42 balls when the game was already up. Faulkner is in the Ashes squad but he has yet to play a Test. Perhaps it will all come together. Perhaps Bailey, who led with much more shrewdness and application than he gave himself credit for, will pick the team up sufficiently in the next few days to ensure they do not let go lightly of their title.

But they have stark deficiencies of style and temperament and England have the guile and experience to exploit them.

Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
News
Campbell: ‘Sometimes you have to be economical with the truth’
newsFormer spin doctor says MPs should study tactics of leading sports figures like José Mourinho
Sport
football
Life and Style
Agretti is often compared to its relative, samphire, though is closer in taste to spinach
food + drink
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Kelly Osbourne will play a flight attendant in Sharknado 2
people
News
Down-to-earth: Winstone isn't one for considering his 'legacy'
people
News
The dress can be seen in different colours
i100
Sport
Wes Brown is sent-off
football
Voices
Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey VC
voicesBeware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Alexander McQueen's AW 2009/10 collection during Paris Fashion Week
fashionMeet the collaborators who helped create the late designer’s notorious spectacles
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
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?