Australia v India, 3rd Test, Perth January 12, 2012

Pleased captaincy hasn't affected my batting - Clarke

Being handed the Test captaincy can weigh on the mind of a batsman when he's at the crease. Was it a mistake to bat first? Should I rein in my game to set an example? What happens if I fail a few times? What will our bowlers do on this pitch? When should I declare? The ideal captain is a man who can compartmentalise and focus on his own game when necessary, but keep the big picture in the back of his mind.

In that respect, Michael Clarke has been the perfect leader in the first ten Tests of his captaincy career. His unbeaten 329 at the SCG last week was a fine example: a well-paced innings full of determination that ended with a declaration that was designed only to give his team the best possible chance of victory. Personal milestones were ignored.

It was also his fourth hundred in ten Tests as captain. As leader, he has averaged 59.18. Ricky Ponting didn't manage a Test hundred as skipper until his tenth match in charge. Brian Lara took even longer. Sachin Tendulkar averaged 34.61 from his first ten Tests as captain. Not since Allan Border has Australia had a leader whose own game has thrived so much in the initial stages at the helm.

Clarke brushes off the idea that he has lifted his batting as leader. The stats suggest he is being overly modest. But what he doesn't deny is that it has been pleasing to prove that the captaincy has not been a burden on his own batting.

"It's nice to be getting some results now and it's even more special being captain," Clarke said. "There's always that stigma that the extra responsibility can affect your batting, so I'm pleased that it hasn't. But I don't feel any different, to be honest.

"I feel I'm doing the hard work and it's nice to see some results but I know things change quickly. I could be sitting here in a couple of games time under pressure that I haven't scored any runs. It's about making sure that my work ethic off the field is my No.1 priority.

"I think my game is continuing to improve. I hope it is. I think results have probably shown me that it is. I don't feel I've changed much since becoming captain. I feel I'm still able to do the work [on my batting] that I need to do in the nets, to prepare and improve on my weaknesses. That's what I've tried to do over the last two years."

After an innings of such strength and control as his tripled-hundred in Sydney, Clarke appears to be in the best form of his career. That it follows a captain's century in trying conditions in Cape Town in November and another ton against New Zealand in Brisbane in the first Test of the summer, only adds to the idea. But Clarke himself is not convinced.

"If I go and get a pair in this Test match, I'm then talking about my spot in the team, as I was two weeks ago," he said. "One innings ... it's fantastic, don't get me wrong, it's great to have made some runs in Sydney to contribute to the success we've had in this series so far … but it's irrelevant right now. It's gone. It's a completely different wicket, we're in completely different conditions, and I'm on zero when I walk out to bat."

And that different pitch is very different indeed. Australia and India were greeted in the few days before the Test, which starts on Friday, by a WACA surface with plenty of grass on it. The curator, Cameron Sutherland, expects pace and bounce just like last summer, when Australia used the conditions to complete their only win of the Ashes campaign. Clarke is looking forward to playing on the Perth pitch.

"I prefer the pace," he said. "I think I've had my most success in Australia on wickets like the Gabba and here in Perth. I like the ball coming on. For smaller guys like myself, it means you don't have to try and hit the ball too hard, you can use the pace to your advantage. And they're probably the best conditions to face spin on, because the ball bounces a lot more and you can hit through the line.

"But on wickets like this that do have pace and bounce it's really hard to start your innings. You'll see a lot of players through this Test match who will nick, it'll find the edges of their bat. But I think once you get in, generally the faster, bouncier wickets are as good to bat on as anywhere in the world."

That won't necessarily mean that he chooses to bat if he wins the toss. Nor will he second-guess his own decision once it is made. And when he's at the crease, don't expect anything but the battle between bat and ball to weigh on his mind.

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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