The cracks run deep for Australia

Bowling coach Craig McDermott fires first Ashes warning, but it cannot disguise the current state of the game Down Under

In case England were in any doubt whatever, they were reminded yesterday of the warmth of the welcome they can expect in Australia. The recalled fast-bowling coach, Craig McDermott, made it plain.

"I want to make sure we're bowling the right lengths mixed up with some really good bouncers and nailing the Poms as much as we can," he said. It does not sound as though he intends the Ashes to resemble a Sunday afternoon tea party.

If it was natural for McDermott to be trenchant – a trait he brought to his work while taking 291 Test wickets – his comments can hardly disguise Australia's fragility. They may be competing hard with India in a one-day series but the brutal truth is that they lost the Ashes to England last summer because they were up against opponents who knew how and when to react in the key moments of matches.

Indeed, almost at the same time as McDermott was speaking the Australia Cricketers' Association were expressing their displeasure about the measures taken to arrest the decline in standards at the top level.

Meeting in Sydney, more than 100 professional players seemed to be at odds with the way the recommendations of the Argus Report have been implemented.

The review of the country's cricket, instigated after the Ashes defeat in 2011, would ideally have produced immediate results. Instead, they lost the 2013 Ashes 3-0 and the whole country now fears that they will lose to England for the fourth consecutive time.

McDermott's return may prove to be sensible but it is also emblematic of the panic running through the ranks.

He resigned from the bowling coach's role 18 months ago, citing family reasons, and he has been brought back now to look after only the Test side, although such a move had been specifically ruled out only last month.

England leave for the tour on Wednesday and will play three warm-up matches before the Ashes start in Brisbane on 21 November. Their main concerns surround the No 6 batting position and how many of their gigantic fast-bowling battery to use. Australia have many more deeper worries.

The fitness of the captain

Michael Clarke's chronic back complaint has returned. It is doing so with increased regularity and requires constant care and attention.

Added to that is England's clear intention to bounce him at any given opportunity; his inherent dislike of the fast, rising ball is probably exacerbated by the state of the back. Clarke is Australia's best player by an outback mile and if he is exposed, there may be nowhere for the selectors to turn.

Spinning options

It took Australia until the third Test to pick the off-spinner Nathan Lyon last summer. He acquitted himself honestly but will for ever suffer from the fact that he is not Shane Warne, and it hardly matters that nobody else is either.

He should be more at home at home, as it were, but England's attacking middle-order will look to plunder him, especially if the fast men are putting the squeeze on. But the most important criterion is that Australia should recognise Lyon is the best they have.

Rest of the batting order

It was pretty clear from the frequent shifts in the summer that Australia have little clue of what their order should be or who should be in it.

They used three different first- wicket pairs and after stipulating that Shane Watson must open, saw him make 176 at the end batting at No 3. There is a lack of quality and patience probably caused by bringing a limited-overs mentality to the Test arena and finding it ruthlessly exploited by smart bowlers. David Warner also has much to prove after the travails of last summer.

Attitude of mind

The trouble with aggressive body language is that it looks daft if it is not backed up by ability. Australia are talking a good game – witness McDermott's comments and the belligerence of their coach Darren Lehmann – but their lack of cohesion is a more significant factor. This is demonstrated in their batting. In four of the five Tests last summer they had a first-innings lead yet still lost two of them. They may not like Stuart Broad much, but he has a focused fortitude that Australia lack.

Fast-bowling resources

This is putatively Australia's strength, and their system, almost despite itself, has thrown up a legion of tyro speed-merchants. But almost without exception they have struggled to stay fit, which has led to regular change and uncertainty.

Although there are more optimistic bulletins about James Pattinson after the back injury which forced his return from England, Pat Cummins will not be available and Josh Hazlewood may not be ready. A return for Mitchell Johnson could be either panacea or disaster. He may well roll up and win a Test, while contriving to be almost unbowlable a week later. Ryan Harris is a magnificent practitioner, clever and fast, but at some point he is bound to stretch the world supply of string and sealing wax with which his frame has occasionally been held together.

Ashes Test itinerary

First Test November 21-25 The Gabba, Brisbane - UK start time 00.00

Second Test December 5-9 Adelaide - 00.00

Third Test December 13-17 WACA Perth - 02.30

Fourth Test December 26-30 Melbourne - 23.30 (on December 25)

Fifth Test January 3-7 Sydney - 23.30 (on January 2)

Voices
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
Sport
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
Life and Style
food + drink
Voices
John Profumo and his wife Valerie Robson in 1959
voicesWard committed no crime, and the truth is still being covered up, writes Geoffrey Robertson QC
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
news... you won't believe how bad their skills were
News
people

Arts and Entertainment
Mark Wright and Mark Wright
tvStrictly goes head-to-head with Apprentice
Sport
footballPremier League preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's clashes
News
i100
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

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas