Just five months out from a home World Cup campaign, Australia's stunning loss to Zimbabwe in the troubled African nation has raised questions about selection policies, team attitude and medical diagnosis after what was a shocking decision to recall Michael Clarke on the eve of a long campaign.
The more palatable option for Cricket Australia would be to point out the loss - the first the team has had in one-day internationals against Zimbabwe since the 1983 World Cup - has come at the start of the season, and could actually be a timely reminder that international cricket can be an unforgiving environment, even when playing the 10th-ranked nation in the 50-over format.
That, however, would not justify the decision to let Clarke, the team's captain and arguably most important player, return to the field.
Clarke, 33, complained of soreness in his left hamstring two days after the team arrived in Harare last week. He sat out two matches but, under the watch of team medical staff, coach Darren Lehmann and selector-on-duty Trevor Hohns, returned for a third game in what is otherwise a nondescript tri-series, also featuring South Africa.
AFL and NRL players are generally given at least three weeks before returning from hamstring issues. Clarke had just days to recover, and even admitted pre-match that he could still feel the injury "a little bit batting but not much at all", although it wasn't restrictive. And yet he was allowed to play. Imagine if this had happened to a Chris Judd, Lance Franklin or Sonny Bill Williams. Club medical staff would instantly be under the microscope.
Watching him hobble between wickets during his gritty and unbeaten 68 before retiring hurt was a sorry sight. He would return for the final two balls of the innings but did not face a delivery as part of Australia's 9-209, its lowest score when batting first against Zimbabwe and again highlighting a weakness to spin bowling.
If Australia's batting wasn't bad enough, Clarke was so incensed by the poor attitude in the field that he left the dressing room in the 18th over and took charge. He would even bowl the 47th over with his left-arm orthodox, such was the need for spin. Which raises the question of selection.
Clarke said before leaving for Zimbabwe that every match between now and the World Cup was of vital importance. But the selections so far in this series have been odd.
Frontline spinner Nathan Lyon was left out of the loss to South Africa - and even more bewildering was when leg-spinning all-rounder Steve Smith did not play against Zimbabwe on a dry, turning deck. Instead, fast-bowling all-rounder James Faulkner, who has only one wicket in three matches, was given the nod.
This type of blunder is not something Australia, with all of its sophisticated pre-planning and large support staff, should be guilty of.
Clarke, no longer a selector, made his feelings clear after the three-wicket loss, laying the blame at the feet of Hohns and Lehmann.
"I think our middle-order batting certainly missed Steve Smith, he's a very good player of spin and it was disappointing he wasn't out there to combat those conditions, but that was the way the selectors went," Clarke said.
"I want to take nothing away from Zimbabwe. I think they outplayed us and they certainly deserved to win today. I think we've seen through Smithy's career he's a pretty good player of spin bowling and he can bowl some handy leg-spinners, so I think he would have been handy out there. But it means you've got to leave someone out as well so that's always difficult."
No, it's not. On the dry pitch offered up on Sunday, Smith was needed - unless Australia, already without a second frontline spinner in the squad, thought it could do as it pleased and even experiment on the host nation.
To his credit, or perhaps with little other option, Lehmann admitted the selection panel had made a key error.
"There's probably not enough expletives in the English language at the moment for the way I'm feeling," Lehmann said.
"It's just embarrassing for everyone involved in the touring party, and I hope they're hurting. By the end result, we probably thought we did get it wrong."
Australia, as a consequence, slipped from first to fourth on the ODI rankings, and now is in danger of missing the tri-series final. How it responds in Tuesday's clash against South Africa will say plenty.
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