Australia in upheaval ahead of Ashes bid
Sydney: Australia are bracing for a battle to regain the Ashes for the first time in six years but injuries, selection woes and a questionable build-up give every sign of a team in upheaval.
The signs are not promising in the home camp as Michael Clarke`s men try to stop old rivals England winning a fourth successive Ashes series, after their 3-0 victory in July and August.
England have not savoured four straight Test series wins against Australia since 1890, but they will be sniffing blood against a team under pressure.
The last time England made the long trip to Australia, in 2010-2011, the series ended in humiliation for the hosts who lost three Tests by an innings to capitulate 3-1.
Injuries have already put the Australians on the back foot with front-line pace bowlers Mitchell Starc, James Pattinson and Jackson Bird all out with back problems.
Skipper Clarke is battling a chronic disc injury, placing a question-mark over the ability of Australia`s only genuine world-class batsman to last the series.
In the recent Tests in England, Australia`s top six were changed so frequently that ex-skipper Ricky Ponting urged selectors to "pick and stick" with young batsmen such as Usman Khawaja and Phil Hughes.
"The lack of stability and the lack of confidence that some of our players have been taking, not just into each game but into each innings they play, that doesn`t make things any easier," Ponting said.
Coach Darren Lehmann, who presided over this year`s Ashes defeat after taking over from the sacked Mickey Arthur, even convened a forum of former Test stars to brainstorm the batting woes.
And in a move that highlights the hosts` edginess, Cricket Australia said it will not reveal any injuries -- unless a player has been ruled out of a Test -- to avoid giving a possible advantage to England.
As difficulties abound, criticism has been flowing freely and former selector Merv Hughes this week hit out at Australia`s pre-Ashes schedule.
While England are preparing on Australian pitches in Perth, the hosts -- albeit minus several key players -- are in the middle of a seven-game one-day series in India.
"I am just dumbfounded with England being in town and preparing for an Ashes that starts in about a month`s time and Australia has got a team playing in India, playing in sub-continent conditions preparing for the Ashes," said the former Test fast bowler.
"So who`s going to be better prepared come the first Test match? England appears to be doing everything right at the moment."
Ponting raised questions over Clarke`s captaincy in his recently released autobiography, adding to the pressure on the 32-year-old New South Welshman.
And Ponting also endorsed all-rounder Shane Watson, who is said to have an edgy relationship with the captain, as a potential future skipper.
Meanwhile, discarded coach Arthur warned that Clarke and key figures at Cricket Australia, including CEO James Sutherland, could be axed if England win again.
Lehmann and Clarke will be hoping to use the difficulties as motivation for their players as they set about building a steady team capable of stopping the rot.
Australia`s 2010 victory in Perth was the last time they have won an Ashes Test, and they last held the trophy in 2006-2007, when Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Adam Gilchrist were still playing.