'Time to go fishing' for Aussies

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For Australian cricket fans, it is the ultimate heartbreak, as was summed up in the back-page headline "Tail Of Woe" in yesterday's Daily Telegraph, a Sydney tabloid.

As of last night, Australia were on the brink of going down 2-0 to South Africa at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, following a stunning fightback by the Proteas. Regardless of the outcome of the third game in Sydney, a loss today would mean Australia's first home series defeat in 16 years, with their status as world No 1 also under threat.

The repercussions will be serious. According to the Telegraph, Andrew Symonds and Matthew Hayden are facing the sack, while Brett Lee is to be "rested indefinitely", as a result of the team's disappointing performance. In Melbourne, the headline of the Telegraph's tabloid stablemate, the Herald Sun, was: "C'mon fellas, it's time to go fishing." (Hayden and Symonds are fishing buddies). The Herald Sun wrote: "Only an unimaginable collapse by South Africa today can prevent Australia from its first home series loss since losing 1-3 to the West Indies in 1992-93."

But one of its commentators, Ron Reed, paid tribute to the captain, Ricky Ponting, who spent four hours at the crease yesterday. "As this Australian side grows older, more confused and less confident before our eyes, he is probably the only player you would have put money on to keep a lost cause alive," he wrote.

Reed added that Cricket Australia needed to look for new blood, saying: "One of the world's great sporting juggernauts has been brought to its knees far too quickly and comprehensively."

In the same paper, Trevor Grant wrote: "A great sports team in decline is never a pretty sight... Through inevitable attrition, Australia has been reduced to a shadow of the team that has not lost a home series since 1993. It now produces the all-round mediocrity it would once seize on in others and punish with unforgiving certainty."

The Australian newspaper described yesterday as the "day that shook the world champs", declaring: "Australia now has no choice but to abandon the present so it can rebuild for the future. There will be pain as the next generation develops under Ponting but it can be no more painful than watching Australian cricket go into freefall over the past two days."

Only the weather seemed likely to save Australia from ignominy today. As the Sydney Morning Herald had it in a headline in this morning's edition: "Give us a smile Ricky, it could rain today."