Can Captain Clarke do a Captain Cook?


Michael Clarke has the onerous task of nurturing a young side and carrying them along on a crucial journey wherein the Aussies will be challenged in many ways.

Michael Clarke finds himself in the same situation as Allan Border was in the late 1970s, when the cream of the Australian players jumped on the Kerry Packer bandwagon. He came to India in 1979 as a member of an inexperienced side led by Kim Hughes, but his grit and determination enabled him to fight, with his back to the wall more often than not. This was something he would carry on to do even after he became the captain and the team matured enough to win the Reliance Cup in 1987.

Border found an able mentor in Bobby Simpson, who was particular about discipline, both on and off the field. Both together took Australian cricket to different levels, and by the time Border retired, he handed over a formidable unit to his successor Mark Taylor.

While the captain of the future is spotted soon enough and nurtured in Australia, he does not always inherit a winning combination. Clarke now has the onerous task of nurturing a young side and carrying them along on a crucial journey wherein the Aussies will be challenged in more ways than one.

Clarke would have got a whiff of things to come in the first Test in Chennai as the home team mauled his attack on a very dry surface. The strategy of playing to their strength (relying on fast bowlers) is all right, but the lack of quality spinners hurt the Aussies badly enough. Nathan Lyon laboured in a manly fashion but was short-changed due to the lack of another spinner to build up pressure from the other end. The fast bowlers revved up enough pace on a dusty surface, but the absence of reverse swing undermined their efficacy.

The Australian captain made excellent use of his resources but he could only do so much given the limitations of his attack. That Clarke has passed his test, both as a batsman and a captain, is by no means a surprise but he has a lot of hard work to do yet in this series. He would, however, need to bowl more than he did at Chepauk as he has had some success against India. The second half of the series is where the Aussies can back themselves, as the pitches up north can be relatively conducive to fast bowling, but it is imperative that the tourists ward off the Indians until then. The Indians put up runs on the board at Chepauk and this is where the Aussies need to realise that the length they bowl needs to be adjusted a wee bit. Lyon needs to bowl at a slightly flatter arc at just the same pace as he did in Chennai, for the Indian batsmen revel when they get time in the air. Dhoni repeatedly smashed the ball into the stands when Lyon gave that little extra time in the air. The ploy of trying to flight the ball and deceive the batsmen is understandable, but unless enough spin is imparted the deception is non-existent. This is perhaps one lesson that Lyon would have learnt from the first Test but the biggest challenge for him will be in getting the ball to hasten after pitching.

Unlike the tracks in Australia, the ball does not hasten and bounce after pitching, which I think is making the Aussies look innocuous. The visiting sides generally take some time to settle down, and this being a four-Test series, the Aussies can come back strongly. However, for them to do so, Clarke needs to constantly provide inputs as he has enough experience of playing Test cricket in India. Some of the others have figured in the IPL but the tracks used for it are a world apart from the ones on which Test matches are played. Can Captain Clarke do a Captain Cook is the big question and only time will tell.