All eyes will be on Michael Clarke today as he leads the Aussies in to his first Test series since taking over the captaincy from Ricky Ponting.
Clarke has taken over the captaincy at an intriguing period of Australian cricket on and off the pitch.
Australian cricket fans have grown accustomed to the gritty, determined captain. Border, Taylor, Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting were no-nonsense sort of leaders who were prepared to get their hands dirty for the team.
Clarke is obviously well respected amongst the Australian players, but his unpopularity within the Australian public is no secret. The tattoo, the earring, the high-rise Bondi apartment — he certainly doesn’t typify the workmanlike Aussie captains of the past.
So how can Clarke win the support of the Australian public?
Simple: make runs and win games.
As a skipper, Clarke must let his bat do the talking. He currently is battling his worst form slump since being dropped six years ago. During the past 10 Tests, he has passed 50 just three times in 19 innings with a top score of 80; in fact, he hasn’t made three figures at Test level since scoring 168 against New Zealand in Wellington of March 2010.
Recent form though, has been steady. He scored 242 runs including two half-centuries in the recently ended one-day campaign against the Sri Lanka, and then followed that up with an unbeaten century against a Sri Lankan Board XI last week. He will be desperate to take that sort of form into the first Test.
Clarke’s leadership will be tested early. He has several selection conundrums to ponder ahead of the first Test in Galle starting today.
Which final specialist batsmen do they go with, a decision which has come down to a battle of two, Khawaja, who himself, scored an unbeaten ton in the recent practice match, or the more experienced Shawn Marsh, who is yet to wear the Baggy Green.
Marsh, who had a good limited-overs series in Sri Lanka, had looked to be the obvious candidate for the spot until Khawaja’s ton.
Another anticipated selection battle looms in the bowling ranks. Young New South Welshman, Trent Copeland, put in an impressive effort in the practice match taking five wickets on a spinner friendly wicket, shooting him in to the frame to for a Baggy Green, or do the Aussies go in with two spinners, Michael Beer and Nathan Lyon.
It’s wouldn’t be such a bad decision to go in with two spinners on a usually spinner friendly Galle wicket, in saying that, their contribution in the recent practice match was somewhat disappointing.
Expect plenty of aggressive tactical decisions. Early declarations and attacking fields. Expect him to be a thinker, expect him to bring a renewed energy to a team currently enduring a lengthy. transition period.
The next five years is crucial for Australian cricket to say the least. There’s an abundance of talent in Australian cricket, both playing talent and non-playing talent and Clarkes role in nurturing this young talent is crucial. He needs to instill some structure, confidence and belief within the team and build toward the future.
Will he thrive with the added responsibility of being a full-time captain or will it burden him? Only time will tell.
What we do know is that he has an excellent opportunity to lead Australian cricket into a successful new era.