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August 25, 2009

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Ashes loss fuels calls for Aussie cull

DUMP the captain, fire the coach, demanded the detractors. And make the selectors pay for obvious bad choices.

Australia's Ashes loss to England in the fifth test on Sunday wore heavily on the psyche of many Australians, as it will for the next 18 months until the teams meet again Down Under.

As it was, most Australians were sleeping overnight on Sunday when the end came. It was 2:48am local time yesterday on the east coast when Michael Hussey was finally out to complete a 197-run defeat at The Oval in London, sealing England's 2-1 win in the five-match series.

Ricky Ponting now has the dubious distinction of being only the second Australian captain - and the first since Billy Murdoch more than a century ago (1884 and 1890) - to lose the Ashes twice in England.

It didn't help that his runout - and that of his vice-captain Michael Clarke within the space of six balls - was the beginning of the end of any chance Australia had of achieving a record fourth-innings chase of 546 runs or batting through to force a draw at The Oval.

After a comprehensive victory in the fourth test to square the series at 1-1, after wasting the chance to open with a victory at Cardiff in the first test, Australia was favored to win or least hold on for a draw in the last match to retain the Ashes. In two overcast sessions, the entire series turned, and England had the upper hand from the second of five days.

Peter Roebuck, a veteran cricket writer for the Sydney Morning Herald and a strident Ponting critic in the past, supported the Australian skipper.

"Ponting will not be evicted, nor is he likely to step aside," Roebuck wrote. "Although the inside edges are a worry, he confirmed his batting skills in Cardiff and Headingley. And it is rare for an Australian captain to be allowed to keep playing once he has stood down."

Former Australia opening batsman Michael Slater wasn't so sure, criticizing Ponting and the selectors for allowing Australia to slip to No. 4 in the world rankings after defending the No. 1 ranking against the odds and against a better team in South Africa earlier this year.

"The fact of the matter is that we have gone over to England with the wrong squad," Slater said.

Malcolm Conn, writing in The Australian newspaper, suggested the entire selection panel needed to be reviewed. "Is Andrew Hilditch too conservative a chairman? How many hats should selector, tour group leader and commentator Merv Hughes be able to wear?" Conn wrote.

Hilditch said yesterday he has no intention of giving up the post he has held since mid-2006.

"The side will be doing a review of their own performances, coaching staff will be doing the same, selectors will be doing the same and we'll all sit back and see what we could've done better," Hilditch said.

The 34-year-old Ponting is among the leading batsmen of all time, with 38 test centuries and 11,345 runs at an average of 55.88. But his success rate has plummeted as captain in the wake of the retirements of some of the game's modern greats, including legspinner Shane Warne and paceman Glenn McGrath.


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