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Clarke’s first year of captaincy better than expected

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    Michael Clarke denies the David Warner issue was dealt with inconsistently (AFP : Torsten Blackwood)

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    With Australian cricket’s drawn-out summer finally coming to a conclusion, it’s the perfect time to recap Michael Clarke’s first year in charge of the Baggy Greens.

    The summer should be considered a successful one, highlighted by the 4-0 drubbing of India in the home Test series. But how are we sitting leading into next summer, and our quest to regain that little urn in just over a year’s time?

    Cricket is a numbers game, let’s dissect the results and statistics. From August last year until May this year, Australia played 14 Test matches, winning nine, losing two, and drawing three, which saw them climb to third in the ICC Test Rankings, leapfrogging India.

    Those Test matches were made up of five series, of which three were won and two were drawn; 1-0 in Sri Lanka, 1-1 in South Africa, 1-1 against New Zealand and 4-0 against India at home, then 2-0 away in the West Indies.

    That means Australia’s record at home is an impressive 5-1, and away just as impressive with 4-1-3. In that time the side amassed 7,478 runs for the loss of 216 wickets at 34.62 runs apiece, while conceding 6,352 runs for 249 wickets at 25.51.

    Out of the 21 players used, nine were debutants compared to four last summer – a changing of the guard. It’s no secret that there is room for improvement in the batting, especially from the younger brigade, and the search for that new batting talent is ongoing.

    Despite a public outcry for the sacking of Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey back in August, they proved how invaluable they still are to the backbone of Australia’s batting. Together with Michael Clarke – who copped enough of his own criticism – they scored the bulk of the runs, with some very promising innings from the one-time Twenty20 specialist David Warner.

    In the 14 tests Clarke tallied 1,355 runs with five hundreds, including the mammoth 329 not out in Sydney, at an average of 58.91. Hussey and Ponting supported the new skipper with gusto, Hussey scoring 1,058 runs at 46 with three centuries, and Ponting 983 at 44.68 with a century in Sydney and a double hundred in Adelaide.

    The most promising numbers were of course Warner’s. In his first nine Tests he scored 590 runs at 42.14. His gutsy first hundred in Hobart and his astonishing 69-ball hundred in Perth were two contrasting yet equally important innings.

    There is still room for improvement, with a criticism of Warner being his lack of consistency, but he has definitely put his hand up to be more than a Twenty20 gun for hire.

    It’s obvious how much Australia rely on Clarke, Ponting and Hussey performing well to win Test matches, as evidenced by the 3-1 defeat when only Hussey had a successful series against England last summer.

    However, Hussey and Ponting both remain series-to-series prospects, and while their passion, drive and determination to succeed are clear for all to see, their age will eventually get the better of them. They are both past their best.

    Who will be the new backbone during the Clarke era’s next five years? The most pressing issue is the top three. The nasty dumping of Simon Katich has been forgotten with a winning season, but would Katich have been the perfect counterbalance to Warner?

    It’s interesting to note that barring the established Shane Watson, the four fringe players who have operated in that top three at various times throughout the summer have had similar results, all averaging between 27 and 29 (Watson averaged 25).

    However all have suffered criticism. Marsh and Hughes had to be dropped due to poor form, but both showed glimpses of brilliance by scoring hundreds, and both showed deficiencies in their techniques. The more stable Khawaja and incumbent Cowan have chipped away without solidifying their spots with big scores, but both seem to have the temperament needed for Tests.

    With Shane Watson being touted as Australia’s new number three, there is added pressure on him to find form next summer. He could create the new backbone when Ponting and Hussey call it a day. That means next summer for those six players, including Warner and the man waiting in the wings, Peter Forrest, is vital, and could make or break any or all of their careers. We are crying out for someone to stack on the runs year after year.

    Almost as important for some of those players is the upcoming Australia A Tour to England later this English summer, where Australia’s fringe players will be tested in first class matches in English conditions. The batting line-up for that tour should almost definitely look something like: Hughes, Quiney, Khawaja, Marsh, Forrest, Bailey.

    Steve Smith or Dan Christian are probably the likely all-rounders, with Nevill and Paine as keepers.

    Batting coach Justin Langer will need to be able to impart his vast knowledge of batting in English conditions to put them in a good position for 2013 and beyond.

    Places in the Australian top order are hotly contested due to not being able to find the man for the job, but competition for Australian fast bowling places comes thanks to having too many men for the job.

    James Pattinson, Patrick Cummins, and to a lesser extent Mitchell Starc, all emerged on the scene. Combined with the resurgence of Ben Hilfenhaus and Peter Siddle along with the dangerous Ryan Harris, it is hard to see Mitchell Johnson finding his way back into the side after a shocking summer in terms of form and injury.

    The most persistent bowlers for the entire summer were Siddle and Nathan Lyon. Lyon is another discussion on his own, while Siddle finally had some results come his way after toiling for a few seasons without luck. The big Victorian charged in again all summer for 43 wickets at 24.39, taking one every 47.9 deliveries. His knack for getting Clarke a wicket early in his spell was invaluable.

    Ben Hilfenhaus also came back to life this summer after sending down a lot of juicy deliveries to English batsmen last time around. His 37 wickets in only seven Tests at 18.18, taking a wicket every almost every seven overs, is remarkable.

    He, Siddle, and Harris are looking at being the senior members of a very dangerous fast bowling cartel. Harris’ 27 wickets at 23.07 was a healthy enough return to keep him wearing the Baggy Green, if only his body can stay healthy.

    Waiting in the wings is the new-new fast bowling cartel of Pattinson, Cummins and Starc, who all had a taste of Test cricket this summer. Pattinson’s destructive 26 wickets at 18.96 was extremely impressive. He showed a lot of fire that people want to see during an Ashes series and was able to snare a wicket every 33.8 balls.

    However he and the very promising Cummins, who shattered South Africa in his one Test match, have both been injured for long periods of time, which means Cricket Australia has the worrying tasks of continuing to build their strength for the rigours of Test cricket with plenty of four-day cricket without overloading them.

    While there is great competition – seven players for three spots – there is a cloud hanging over their fitness with all missing games due to injury at varying stages and lengths. The \ more experienced Siddle, Hilfenhaus and Harris appear to be favoured, while the powers that be manage the workloads of the younger three.

    Johnson will have to work his way back from scratch in Shield and maybe one-day cricket. His numbers of 9 wickets at 63.11 are terrible, especially considering he only took a wicket every 109.2 balls. It is becoming harder to see him pulling on a Baggy Green again.

    Craig McDermott did an exceptional job getting the quicks to pitch the ball up and getting the ball to swing, bringing the keeper and slips in to play – something that can only be beneficial in English conditions. There is also no shortage of good young quicks coming through at first-class level who should definitely be given a run on the A tour this year.

    Jackson Bird had a phenomenal year in Shield cricket, taking 53 wickets at 16, while Michael Hogan, Ben Cutting, James Faulkner and McDermott’s son Alister also had a fantastic year. The Trent Copeland experiment appears to be over, with the line and length man practically forgotten after a less than amazing Shield season.

    Coming back to Nathan Lyon, the off-spinner has had a great start to his career. Have we found our long term spin solution? His start of 42 wickets at 27.83 in 13 Tests, with a strike rate of 57.5, is a very good return for someone with such little first-class experience.

    Comparably England off-spinner Graeme Swann had a very similar return of 48 wickets from his first 12 Test matches at 30.39, striking every 61.2 deliveries.

    The most used Australian spinner since Shane Warne’s retirement, Nathan Hauritz took 63 wickets in 17 matches at 34.98 with a wicket every 66.6 deliveries. Interestingly the Sheik of Tweak himself had taken a similar 65 wickets after 17 Tests, at 28.18 runs apiece, with an unimpressive strike rate of a wicket every 75 balls.

    One of those, though, was the Ball of the Century, which none of the others have on their resumé.

    The next home summer will be a huge test for the ex-curator Lyon against the dominant South Africans and the fine players of spin from Sri Lanka. Following that Australia venture to India in early 2013 could make or break him leading into The Ashes.

    Of course sport is more than just statistics. As they say, “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” From a leadership perspective, the new selection panel as well as management and coaching team appear to be building for the future under Clarke’s leadership.

    His captaincy has proved doubters wrong; he has completely taken the reins as leader of the team. He has shown innovation and aggression with his bowling changes and field placements, while his personal game has gone to another level. His 329 not out in Sydney was an inspirational and determined captain’s knock to be remembered for generations to come.

    Ricky Ponting showed class to be able to step away as captain and not interfere with Clarke’s style or decisions, while still being an important senior player and returning to form. The selectors have given plenty of younger players a go, and haven’t been afraid to remove those who haven’t taken their chance – not to mention making the tough call to bring Ricky Ponting’s stellar ODI career to a justifiable end.

    All in all, Australian cricket looks to be on the mend, after a very good summer. There were a few road blocks along the way, including losing a Test match at home to New Zealand and being bowled out for 47 in South Africa. But Clarke and his men showed great character to bounce back and not fall into another low.

    There is still though a lot of work to do for Australian cricket to reach its once lofty heights, and only time and results will tell who will prevail.

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    The Crowd Says (14)

    • May 3rd 2012 @ 8:29am
      Bob said | May 3rd 2012 @ 8:29am | ! Report

      Interesting summation of the year that was. Clarke is an innovative captain and will go on to be one of the great Australian leaders in my opinion and sure others will disagree.

      Yes, Jackson Bird had a phenomenal year in Shield cricket, taking 53 wickets at 16 and that’s great, but Copeland started the same way, had 2 seasons like that at Shield level and earned his chance but the new selectors don’t want someone to bowl line and length consistently over after over building pressure because he’s “too slow”. Let’s see how Bird goes with the notorious second season syndrome before he’s the next big thing.

      I just don’t get why bowlers can be chosen for Aust A or AIS sqauds without having done the hard yards and proven themselves over a few seasons, yet we have top order batsmen like Quiney who do it season after season and don’t even get a mention. But were winning so none cares about the details anymore. Mickey Arthur obviously has his favourites and shows his hand by making comments publicly about them. “”We’ve got seven quick bowlers going for those positions … we’re in a really good position at the moment with that squad,” he said. So the rest of you Shield bowlers don’t bother trying too hard cause he’s already made up his mind!

      Poor public discussion, he can support his current players but that pretty much tells me that he isn’t too interested in anyone else, barring the new superstar Bird (after only 8 FC matches) of course, and his pet favourite N Coulter-Nile (13 FC matches), but sorry Copes, your record of 29 FC matches, 111wkts av 25 is going nowhere and stasnds for nothing. If they were a little smarter they would at least think about the prospect of Copeland being ideal on the English pitches and take a shot with an Aust A tour to show his worth. He already has a baggy green that he earned through hard work, why not use it instead of handing them out to the next best thing every 2 months!

      • May 3rd 2012 @ 9:41am
        natehornblower said | May 3rd 2012 @ 9:41am | ! Report

        great call about Copeland, he will be perfect in English conditions.

        Clarke was done a remarkable job, he is under more pressure than any Australian captain since Kim Hughes, esp from the public & media but he has risen to the high watermark expected of our leaders. Clarke will go down as one of our all-time great skippers.

        • May 3rd 2012 @ 10:13am
          Garfield Robinson said | May 3rd 2012 @ 10:13am | ! Report

          He will first need an all-time great team.

          • May 3rd 2012 @ 10:50am
            jameswm said | May 3rd 2012 @ 10:50am | ! Report

            Not necessarily. If he wins us back the Ashes and has us 1-2 in the world for the next 5 years, in a competitive environment, he’s done a fantastic job. You don’t have to have a world dominant team to be a great captain.

            He’s done very well so far, full credit to him. I didn’t expect him to do this well.

        • May 3rd 2012 @ 7:48pm
          Disco said | May 3rd 2012 @ 7:48pm | ! Report

          Copeland’s apparently persona non grata.

      • May 3rd 2012 @ 7:49pm
        Disco said | May 3rd 2012 @ 7:49pm | ! Report

        Arthur did the same thing with South Africa. He’s almost like an antidote to Argus transparency and fair selection policy.

    • May 3rd 2012 @ 10:20am
      Patrick Angel said | May 3rd 2012 @ 10:20am | ! Report

      Great article. One thing I always liked about Clarkey is he is willing to risk a loss to grab a win. Punter for mine was too willing to settle for stumps on day five, and too often put the opposing team in a position where they couldn’t win before he went on to try and beat them.

      The fact that he was dropped and played on with no whinging is incredibly commendable.

    • May 3rd 2012 @ 10:53am
      Pope Paul VII said | May 3rd 2012 @ 10:53am | ! Report

      Clarkey’s a good judge of the state of the game and the possibilites. Actually I was a bit disappointed he didn’t bat the Indians further into oblivion and get higher up the rankings in the 300 club. A ways to go yet with SA,India at home ( whom I hope they smash for the good of Indian cricket ) and England.

    • May 3rd 2012 @ 6:14pm
      Dinny Navaratnam said | May 3rd 2012 @ 6:14pm | ! Report

      The bowling attack looks good for now and the future but the batting needs a lot of work. Watson isn’t a number three, Warner really struggles against spin and Hussey and Ponting aren’t going to play forever. Not many standout candidates to replace them.

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    • May 3rd 2012 @ 7:46pm
      Disco said | May 3rd 2012 @ 7:46pm | ! Report

      “Justin Langer will need to be able to impart his vast knowledge of batting…”

      Will that mean he’ll continue to mentor young batsmen out of the side and provide one-eyed cheerleading?

      • May 3rd 2012 @ 8:46pm
        Christo the Daddyo said | May 3rd 2012 @ 8:46pm | ! Report


    • May 5th 2012 @ 2:31pm
      johno said | May 5th 2012 @ 2:31pm | ! Report

      clarke has done well yes, but i think you need to do your research better buddy.

      • May 6th 2012 @ 11:51am
        Bonco said | May 6th 2012 @ 11:51am | ! Report

        Such as?

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