Australian cricket is looking increasingly like a dysfunctional family in the lead-up to the Ashes series – and now even the parents are squabbling.
The side has only one world-class batsmen, the fast bowlers are beset by injury and the skipper (the batsman, as it happens) has a dodgy back and a conga line of critics lining up whack him.
Swirling in the background is the disquiet over Ricky Ponting’s book At The Close Of Play, which has drawn attention to the fact that Michael Clarke, despite being the finest player in the country, sits outside the mainstream cricketing culture, seemingly because sitting around drinking beer in the dressing room with his teammates is not his idea of a good time.
First, former captain Mark Taylor weighed in, accusing Ponting of breaching the sanctity of the dressing room in the pursuit of book sales by giving his version of the infamous spat between Clarke and Simon Katich, in which Katich reportedly accosted Clarke for wanting to hit the town rather than wait around to sing the team song.
Taylor said he had left his version of similar events out of his book in the best interests of Australian cricket.
“I was actually really offended that Mark would come out and say that I would break what happens in the sanctuary in the change room,” responded Ponting, who likes beer, punting and greyhounds. “Everyone in Australia knows Michael Clarke and Simon Katich had an issue in the change room. I’ve just given my side of it.”
Now Shane Warne, who has a foot in both the ‘lad’ and the ‘supermodel’ camps, has joined in, telling a British paper that criticisms by Ponting of his “best friend” Clarke may be a result of “jealousy”.
“To bring up the stuff about Pup (Clarke) – maybe there was a bit of jealousy, because Pup was batting so well and Ricky was not making any runs,” Warne said.
“To me, Michael’s very well respected. The best captains keep stuff in the dressing room. No-one ever finds out about it. That’s what good leaders are about. So to hear all this in a book is pretty ordinary.'”
Warne also made pointed reference to Ponting’s Ashes record. “I know he beats himself up mercilessly about being the only Australian captain ever to lose three Ashes,” said Warne. “And I know Ricky made that horrific decision to put England in at Edgbaston in 2005. I don’t want to be mean about Ricky – he’s a good guy and he tried to do the best he could.”
Meanwhile, Matthew Hayden launched a broadside at Ian Chappell, for suggesting that George Bailey was not ready for Test cricket. The debate over Bailey – some say he is not ready for Test cricket, others think he should be named captain forthwith – is almost a microcosm of the problems of Australian cricket.
All this, of course, will be reduced to so much froth and bubble if Australia comes out blazing in the first Test. In the meantime, England is laughing all the way to the Gabba.