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)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Extras
indybest
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Sport
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
football
News
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Poet’s corner: Philip Larkin at the venetian window of his home in 1958
booksOr caring, playful man who lived for others? A new book has the answer
Arts and Entertainment
Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Metz - 23 May 2012
art
News
Matthew McConaughey and his son Levi at the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Houston Astros at Fenway Park on August 17, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts.
advertisingOscar-winner’s Lincoln deal is latest in a lucrative ad production line
Life and Style
Pick of the bunch: Sudi Pigott puts together roasted tomatoes with peppers, aubergines and Labneh cheese for a tomato-inspired vegetarian main dish
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
film
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

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape