Australia have been humiliated by Zimbabwe in the most shambolic performance of the Darren Lehmann era.
Australia’s first ODI loss to the African minnows in 31 years was a disaster from the selection table to the playing field and could have far more serious consequences than plummeting from first to fourth in the world rankings.
Captain Michael Clarke is on the next plane home after re-injuring his hamstring during his brave knock of 68 not out in Australia’s 9-209, which was chased down with three wickets and 12 balls to spare.
Clarke will now be racing the clock to prove his fitness for October’s Test tour against Pakistan in the UAE.
Capitulating against a team that can’t afford assistant coaches, and whose players must work second jobs, sits alongside the infamous 50-over loss to Bangladesh in 2005 and the 1983 World Cup defeat at the hands of Zimbabwe as a historic low for Australian cricket.
Six days earlier Australia punished 10th-ranked Zimbabwe by 198 runs.
“There’s probably not enough expletives in the English language at the moment for the way I’m feeling,” said Lehmann.
“It’s just embarrassing for everyone involved in the touring party, and I hope they’re hurting. They should be.”
The only thing raging more than the turn at the Harare Sports Club were the fans packed into the stands, as Zimbabwean pair Elton Chigumbura (52 not out) and Prosper Utseya (30no) starred under pressure and made Australia pay for their poorly balanced attack.
Nathan Lyon took 4-44 but had no quality spin options to support him.
After experiencing the high of momentous Test series wins over England and South Africa earlier this year, Australia have been given a sobering reality check about their batting deficiencies against spin and their fragile skipper’s long-term durability.
Both are a major concern heading into the Test and limited overs tour against Pakistan.
As is the fact they’re no certainties to make Saturday’s tri-series final against South Africa, and the one-day World Cup is creeping up early next year.
“We’ve got to learn really quickly because teams are going to see that and they’re going to react to it,” he said.
Clarke – one of only three of Australian players alive when the country last lost to Zimbabwe in an ODI – has been ruled out of the rest of the tour after re-aggravating the left-hamstring which ruled him out of the first two matches.
The 33-year-old played through the pain barrier but was only supported by Brad Haddin’s 49 and Ben Cutting’s quick-fire 26 – as Australia were made to regret their decision to bat first.
Despite hobbling between wickets and retiring hurt, Clarke returned to bat with two balls to spare, came on to field after 18 overs and even bowled an over in desperation at the death.
However, with so much cricket to come over the next 12 months, the decision to bring Clarke back at all this series has to be queried.
It wasn’t the only calculated risk that backfired.
Selectors left out Steve Smith, a quality player of spin and handy part-time leg-spinner, in favour of pace allrounder James Faulkner, who was out for a golden duck and later floundered with the ball.
Zimbabwe’s spin battalion combined to take 6-117 from 36 overs.
“By the end of the result, we probably thought we did get it wrong,” said Lehmann of selections.
“But if we can’t beat Zimbabwe with that side we’ve got problems, so we’ve got to sort them out.”