Clarke Time

 

Michael Clarke is overdue for a good Ashes series as both batsman and leader as he heads into the first Test. In Australia’s last two series against England he has passed 50 just three times in 19 innings. That’s a paltry return for a player who has been a run-scoring phenomenon over recent years.

Both last summer and during the previous one he was brilliant in series against India, South Africa and Sri Lanka, averaging over 100 in two of those series and 80 in the other. He peeled off a triple century and three doubles as his career soared to new heights. Yet England seems to have his measure.

Clarke had a Joe Root-type series in the winter in which one massive score masked a succession of moderate ones. On most occasions he looked in good nick but kept finding ways to get out. And now and then there was the Stuart Broad factor.

There is no doubt that Broad at his best worries Clarke, as he does most batsmen : images of the Englishman giving him a torrid half hour in the final Test at the Oval still live in the mind. Maybe it’s Broad’s trajectory, maybe he’s a little quicker than he looks. Certainly England stick to their plans better than any other team in the world..

But despite all this Clarke doesn’t have a definitive weakness against pace or short-pitched bowling. He handled Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel well last year, and his 151 against the same men at Cape Town a couple of years earlier was one of the great innings of modern Test cricket. Anyone who can achieve that against those two can play fast bowling.

His problem stems from his indecision over whether to play, hook or duck, and Broad seems to prey on that better than anyone. Clarke has apparently been working on this in his build-up in Brisbane and his response to the challenge could have a massive impact on the result of this series.

The other issue facing Clarke is the quality of his batting and leadership when the big moments arrive. Unlike Ricky Ponting in his prime, Clarke hasn’t yet shown himself to be capable of turning the tide of a game or series when the contest is at its most fierce. And his habit of sliding down the order hasn’t helped this perception.

In Perth last year he used a night-watchman on the first evening and ended up coming in at no.6 in the most important innings of the summer. Our batting surrendered and we got thrashed. As things unravelled so badly in India he was incapacitated by his back problem. And as Australia’s batting careered out of control at Nottingham, Lord’s and Durham –  the three Tests we lost –  he seemed powerless to stem the flow.

Our former champion leg-spinner was probably a little generous towards his mate in his recent assessment of Clarke and Alastair Cook as captains. Whilst it is indisputable that Clarke is the superior tactician, the track records of the two men over the last twelve months make for interesting reading.

Cook led England to one of its greatest-ever series victories in India, batting brilliantly at the top of the order and turning a one-nil defecit into a 2-1 triumph. That’s leadership. Against the same opposition on the same type of wickets Australia lost 4-0. Australia lost to South Africa but beat Sri Lanka. England drew with and beat New Zealand. Then there was Cook’s 3-0 triumph in the winter.

The good news for Clarke’s leadership is that Australia’s batting is far more settled than it was four months ago, and England has a major problem with its third pace bowler. It is going to take all of bowling coach David Saker’s expertise to get one of Steven Finn, Chris Tremlett or Boyd Rankin to do what Tremlett and Tim Bresnan did three years ago.

Forget all the talk about Mitchell Johnson’s pace, Jonathan Trott’s problems with the short ball and whatever else we’ve heard over recent weeks. The biggest issue as the series unfolds is going to be the depth of the England attack and how that will impact on Graeme Swann, James Anderson and Broad.

Michael Clarke will know that better than anyone. He bounced into the captaincy when Ponting’s time was up and took his own game to unprecedented levels, but his team has had a tough twelve months. He has a wonderful opportunity for some long-overdue revenge against the English. It will be surprising if he doesn’t exact it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Succinct and spot on as always , Brendan hope to catch up with you at 1 of , Mileseys
    Cricket coaching camps soon . Dont no whether it’s the pressure of a ashes battle his back or the poems sticking rigidly to there plans a combination of all , 3 I suspect
    Leadership on ground tactically I think he is the best since , Taylor but struggles off ground with relationships and communication so doesn’t fit the whole package .
    Brendan spot on if he can have a big 1st test and wear the pomms down it will have a huge bearing on the result of the series .
    The drop in pitch here in , Adelaide is fantastic should get a result on the 18 th day !
    Are you gracing us with your presence at the ad test ?
    Thanks Brendan

  2. I hope I am wrong, because I really enjoy watching Michael Clarke in full flight, but….
    I really think his weakness is in and around his off-stump, and I reckon Broad knows this. Broad’s ability to “soften up” Clarke with some short stuff then honing in on that off-stump is impressive. I am looking forward to this battle with much interest.

  3. Stuart Broad certainly had him sorted out today !

    Glen!

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