Australia ill at ease as England land Down Under

By Ian Ransom

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - As England arrived in Perth on Friday confident of winning a fourth consecutive Ashes series, Australian media were already nominating scapegoats in the event of another crushing defeat.

Australia lost the first of back-to-back series 3-0 away, but failing to turn around the result on home soil would be infinitely more galling for the cricket-loving nation.

The hosts' 3-1 loss in the 2010-11 series which ended England's 24-year winning drought Down Under remains the lowest point in Australia's recent cricketing history and triggered root-and-branch reviews in a bid to ensure no repeat.

Nearly two years on, the negativity remains pervasive and Australia is still locked in introspection four weeks before the first test gets underway in Brisbane.

The prevailing mood has contrasted with the game's general financial health, which embattled Cricket Australia chief James Sutherland described in rosy terms on Thursday.

Revenues soared 68 percent to A$684 million in the four-year cycle from 2009-12 compared to the previous period, propelled by media rights deals. CA hopes to crack A$1 billion in revenues by the end of the decade.

But as local pundits pointed out, fans would be happy for the game to be awash in red ink if their test team were winning.

"The graphs and slides depicting Australian cricket in a strong state of financial and strategic health... will mean little if Australia sinks to a fourth consecutive Ashes defeat," The Age's cricket writer Chloe Saltau wrote on Friday.

BROAD BRACED

Sutherland has been a target of much of the criticism for Australia's struggles, accused of being asleep at the wheel when the national teams were in their heyday prior to 2007, before the retirements of a golden generation of cricketers.

The exhaustive Argus review into team performance in the wake of the 2010-11 Ashes defeat has done little to arrest Australia's slide, and players have banded together to present their own recommendations to CA on how the game should be run.

Sutherland says he stands above the team's troubles, and CA's chairman Wally Edwards backed his position after jilted former coach Mickey Arthur said the long-serving chief executive's head could be on the block if the Ashes went awry.

"If we lost the series 5-0, James Sutherland will still be the CEO of Australian cricket," Edwards said.

Australia's Ashes candidates have been divided between playing India in a commercially-designed one-day series or warming up for the home summer in the domestic one-day tournament.

England, however, arrived en masse in Perth, barring batsman Kevin Pietersen, who was excused on bereavement leave.

The visitors will have more preparation in longer-form cricket than Australia before the series starts.

Despite the long-haul flight and the arrival after midnight, paceman Stuart Broad made light of being the villain Down Under after being criticised for not 'walking' when he nicked a thick edge to the slips during the Ashes and was not given out.

Australia coach Darren Lehmann called Broad a "cheat" on a radio interview during the Ashes and called on local crowds to give the bowler a hard time in the return series

"It was an alright flight, but long," Broad told local reporters. "I'm expecting a lively reception from the crowds out here, but that's all in good fun."

(Editing by John O'Brien)

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