Melbourne - Australia's shock one-day international defeat to minnows Zimbabwe has raised alarm bells five months before the country co-hosts the World Cup while exposing the team's continued struggles to master spin bowling.
Coming off a long break following Test series wins against England and South Africa, Australia arrived in Harare for the triangular one-day tournament with South Africa refreshed and optimistic, but the three-wicket loss to Zimbabwe will have done little for the team's confidence after defeat to the Proteas and an injury to captain Michael Clarke.
Sunday's loss was Australia's first in 30 years to Zimbabwe and the nation's media ranked it highly among the country's deepest cricketing humiliations.
“There's one word that's been used more than any other to describe Australia's defeat at the hands of Zimbabwe on Sunday,” one critic wrote on a News Ltd website on Monday.
Clarke, who battled to an unbeaten 68 and retired hurt during a paltry innings of 209, was heading home to Australia on Monday for scans on his injured hamstring, leaving his team mates with some harsh parting words.
“It's a terrible performance, there's no doubt about it,” he told reporters. “Forget the opposition, I think we played some average cricket at best throughout the whole game.
“We play like that we're not going to beat any team so whatever team's selected we have to perform better than we did today.
“The players will be having a think about their performance as well.”
During the test series wins over the home summer, Australia's vaunted pace attack papered over the cracks of the team's batting lineup, but Zimbabwe spinners Sean Williams and Prosper Utseya captured four cheap wickets and slowed the scoring to a trickle as the tourists' vulnerability to disciplined spin re-appeared.
“I think credit needs to go to Zimbabwe,” Clarke added. “I think their spinners bowled really well to us, they used the conditions really well.
“Obviously we didn't bat very well at all. And then they played spin really well. They bowled a lot better than us.
“We continually talk about facing spin bowling as an Australian team. It seems to be an area that we continue to struggle in and today's another example of that.”
Since taking over from the sacked Mickey Arthur last year, laid-back Australia coach Darren Lehmann has had little cause to berate his team but was incensed by the bloodless performance at the Harare Sports Club.
“There's probably not enough expletives in the English language at the moment for the way I'm feeling,” Lehmann said in quotes published by News Ltd media on Monday.
“It's just embarrassing for everyone involved in the touring party, and I hope they're hurting.
“They should be.
“We've got to learn really quickly because teams are going to see that and they're going to react to it.”
Repairing dressing room harmony has been a corner-stone of Lehmann's tenure, but a frustrated Clarke made rare criticism of selectors for omitting middle order batsman Steven Smith.
“I think our middle order batting certainly missed Steven Smith,” he said. “He's a very good player of spin. It was disappointing he wasn't out there to combat those conditions but that was the way the selectors went.
“It's tough for the selectors to pick what you think is the best 11.
“Fortunately they won't have to worry about me in the next game, so there's one they won't have to worry about.”
Clarke will hope to be fit for the one-day series against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates starting Oct. 7.
Australia's next match in the triangular series is on Tuesday against South Africa when George Bailey is expected to lead the side. – Reuters