The Ashes: Ponting may survive but not selectors

By Peter Roebuck

England danced a jig and the Australians slumped. So often it has been the other way around. Yet defeat can be instructive. Strong sides expose faultlines in their opponents and ought to be thanked for their contribution.

The time to start the fightback is while the opponent is popping corks.

The fall has been quick but was a long time building. It's not the losses but their size that indicate the parlous state of the game. Two innings defeats at home are hard to swallow.

That both matches were effectively lost in the first hour was frustrating and showed England are a strong front-runner while Australia's batting lacks technique and tenacity. Now comes the reckoning.

Ricky Ponting has his failings and his record is blotted by the loss of three Ashes series. But he has two World Cups and umpteen victories to his name. His poor form is a concern but that does not mean it's over for him.

Plainly, though, the combination of captaining a struggling side and also batting first wicket down has taken a toll. He could be retained a while longer as captain and instructed to bat at third down instead. But he cannot continue to rule the roost.

For decades Cricket Australia (CA) set the benchmark for sporting administration. Now it seems overstaffed and heavy-handed. The decision to give coach Tim Neilson a three-year extension to his contract seemed ill-advised.

On the day of his removal, those responsible ought to go with him.

Neilson was outmanoeuvred by his counterpart and the same can be said about his batting and bowling coaches.

England's strategies and skills were superior in every area. Likewise, the appointment of a vice-captain from a different generation was risky. Michael Clarke has struggled to make the transition from good to great batsman.

But Australian cricket is also in trouble because the production line, once its pride and joy, is not working. Grade and Shield cricket have been undermined and are no longer putting youngsters through their paces.

No wonder CA is worried and encouraging the spread of Twenty20 franchises. Although rivals enjoy beating them, the last thing cricket needs is a weak Australia.


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