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Clarke showing captain Cook the way

Michael Clarke - we would have loved to see more of this (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)
Roar Pro
13th December, 2013
11

The opening two Test matches of this Ashes series have revealed to cricket followers worldwide a number of telling realities that were perhaps unapparent prior to the series commencing.

Australia’s often unheralded pace attack is of high quality, and with the exhumation of Mitchell Johnson’s mojo (and mo for that matter), along with the absence of Tim Bresnan, superior to that of the Old Enemy’s.

David Warner is the real deal and a highly valuable asset for a Test cricket side, not just some exceptionally gifted batsman adopting the mindset of a rugby league player with his partiality for intolerable misdemeanors and flippantly unrefined dealings with the media and opponents.

Much to the pleasure of the game’s supporters down under, it appears Mr Warner has discovered which hook shot is better suited to a man in his position.

The Barmy Army are not what they used to be and now seem to be exhibiting signs indicative of ‘fair weather’ support.

The mentality of ‘we’ll be singing when we’re winning’ never used to exist within their ranks as members of the the 98/99 and 02/03 campaigns will attest to.

Perhaps an infiltration of Roosters supporters have managed to squeeze into their ranks?

England’s 3-0 trouncing of the convicts earlier this year wasn’t as one-sided as the scoreline suggests, with a number of game-breaking strokes of misfortune going against them in the form of weather and technology, along with some perplexing selections and fine line errors in execution.

Finally, and arguably most inconspicuous of all to the innocent viewer who merely marvels at the contest two proud cricketing nations provide, is the gulf that exists between the two captains in terms of leadership ability.

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Before the first Test I mentioned in an article this very difference would prove to be pivotal in the outcome of the series.

Has it shone through hitherto? Undoubtedly so.

Like in any context, a bulk of analysts will correctly argue it is easy to praise one’s performances when times are good and the circumstances propitious, only their true worth will be unveiled when they endure hardship and inauspicious times on the field.

Now we have seen both leaders on either side of the ship, we can legitimately assess their levels of competence as head boys.

I was thoroughly impressed with Clarke’s leadership right throughout the series in England this year.

Although some of his slightly audacious gambit-like endeavours were fruitless in return more often than not, he was always and continues to be imaginative, proactive and opts for attack over defence when line calls arise.

His field settings were often unique, yet logical at the same time and his astute rotation of bowlers ensures opposition batsmen are seldom comfortable.

His methodology remained once the series returned to Australia and this time its effect has come into fruition.

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Yes, he has had the benefit of a reinvented tear-away fast bowler at his disposal but these often unstable beasts need to be handled with care and unleashed at the right moments, which 17 wickets in two Test matches comfortably indicates is the case.

However, Johnson’s success and Clarke’s injection of him at correct moments hasn’t been the most impressive feature of Clarke’s captaincy.

Aside from the quality of his field settings and alternation of bowlers, two things are salient.

The first is his ability to identify what moments require merciless assaults of attack and which are better suited to strangling, war of attrition type tactics.

Whenever English partnerships have threatened to bring their side into commanding or at least promising positions, Clarke has opted for Peter Siddle and Shane Watson to operate in tandem.

Their highly accurate spells have been complented with herds of fielders stationed in front of the wicket for the likes of Kevin Pietersen and Joe Root, giving them about as much chance of rotating the strike as Nelson Mandela had escaping Robben Island.

Each time situations of both Test matches have called for these tactics, Clarke has inflicted them without hesitation and reaped the rewards.

The next moment came about just prior to tea on the fourth day of the Adelaide Test match.

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The English batsmen were finally beginning to show signs of resistance and determination that one expects to see from a top order Test cricketer and with the wicket now resembling the surface of the newly laid fifth lane of the M5 motorway in Sydney’s western suburbs, one could start to fathom this could go well into the fifth day.

After Pietersen was removed amidst a run of five consecutive maidens between that relenting duo of Watson and Siddle, Ian Bell strode to the crease.

Here was a man, who unlike his teammates could afford to have a bit of a pep in his step as he made his way to the barren strip of grass seeds and clay the Adelaide curator likes to call a wicket.

As his dressing room cronies negotiated the speed and awkwardness of Johnson’s slingy thunderbolts in the first innings with the unflinching courageousness of a bank teller filling in for a lion tamer, Bell stood tall and batted with the steadfastness of man fighting for his country.

Although his record doesn’t warrant confirmation, even the proverbial taunter himself, Shane Warne, confessed this guy is a class act.

Australia needed to remove him early, otherwise he could well have batted until stumps on day five should his partners allow him to.

With Bell just getting settled at the crease, Clarke had to make the right call hastily to see the back of him.

90 percent of the world’s population with an idea about cricket, international captains included, would have decided then and there to get the side’s two best bowlers in operation, being Ryan Harris and Johnson.

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But Clarke knew Bell had been an exception to those that fell around him in the first innings.

He was getting in behind Johnson’s rockets right from the get go and dispatching any off line offerings that were dispensed.

He has always demonstrated a high aptitude for counteracting excellent fast bowling, as his classically sound technique allows him.

However, ever since Warnie tormented him incessantly during his first two experiences of Ashes cricket with ball and words, he has always had a little bit more trouble negotiating leg spin than one might expect.

Enter par- timer Steven Smith, whose first four overs had gone for more than six an over.

Was he really the key to removing England’s best player with two men on the fence and largely disappointing spell behind him?

Clarke thought so, as did the scorebook.

As for Captain Cook, it really hasn’t been smooth sailing this time around.

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His limitations as a leader were disguised as his team knocked off sides all over the globe for the best part of three years.

Yet these were rarely, if ever, as a result of his shrewd decision making or boisterous energetically inspiring leadership.

Those in his defence have always said he has never been required to effect bold strategies or take educated risks due to the flawlessness of the players around him in executing their skills.

They have also espoused his mindset of consolidating a draw before seeking a victory.

Had the shoe been on the other foot, at 1-0 up with a third Test match at your opponents least favourite venue looming, would Alastair Cook have declared before the day’s play began on day four, opening the door for the opposition slightly?

There’d be a greater chance of him dropping a barrage of expletives at a press conference.

Clarke put his foot on the throat of every one of his adversaries in this situation and made sure that they would need to sacrifice more than broken arms to get themselves out of it.

For all his qualities as a cricketer and a human being, Alastair Cook is being severely outplayed in the department that his vital position demands.

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Yes there is room for calm temperaments and composed dispositions when it comes to leadership, but there are times when one has to be bold, gallant and innovative.

There have been far too many times already in this series where Cook’s presence has been redolent of a jaded John Howard in his final election campaign.

Time to steady the ship Alastair, and fast, otherwise Mr Clark and his men will leave you in their wake.