Clarke's chance to prove himself at home
Michael Clarke has led Australia to a Test series victory in Sri Lanka. He has since ushered the side through a tumultuous South African tour that plunged to rare depths but ended in a result that Peter Siddle has instructively termed a "good one-all series win". Yet Clarke and his team are still to register as an emerging unit with the Australian public, burdened as it is with memories of a humiliating Ashes defeat last summer. A modest but settled New Zealand side provides the first chance for Clarke's XI to prove itself worthy in the eyes of a country that has been losing interest in what is meant to be Australia's favourite sport.
Though many of Australian cricket's greatest exploits have taken place overseas, it is at home that reputations are made and broken. Kim Hughes' tear-stained exit was that much more painful for taking place in Brisbane rather than Barbados, Steve Waugh's most indelible innings was made that way by a teeming SCG as much as its last-gasp circumstances. Mark Taylor lost his first series as captain to Pakistan, but had the advantage of doing so on the subcontinent without any television coverage back home. Michael Bevan was a most accomplished debutant then, but later in 1994 against England's bowlers his mistakes were magnified by Channel Nine and he soon fell out of the team. Clarke has judged the network's audience so important he is speaking separately to Nine on match eve to preview each Test of the summer.
Damien Martyn, the former batsman, played many of his most outstanding innings on foreign soil, and endured some higher profile struggles at home. For this he felt under-appreciated, and is adamant that while there is greater cricketing difficulty in making runs overseas, an Australian cricketer's reputation must be made at home.
"Definitely [runs mean more at home], because people watch it at home in the summer," Martyn said in a 2009 interview. "If you make runs on primetime Channel Nine it's just more in people's faces. That's just the way it is, touring is much harder than playing in your home country. Every professional side loves playing at home. As individuals and groups we enjoy going away and playing well, whereas we feel some comfy at home and know all the wickets. It just worked out for me that way that I made most of those hundreds when I was away."
Clarke knows the importance of establishing his captaincy via success in Australia, not least to vindicate the many changes made to the structure around the team in the wake of the Argus review. Pat Howard, John Inverarity, Rod Marsh, Andy Bichel and Mickey Arthur all need time to settle into newly-minted roles, and further wins for Clarke against New Zealand would offer it to them. Given all the newness that surrounds him, Clarke must be grateful that Ricky Ponting stepped aside from the captaincy in April, allowing the new man time to get himself established - so few others are this week.
"I've been hearing it's the start of a new era for eight months now," Clarke said. "To me it will be no different, my captaincy will be no different to what it's been since I've taken over for the Bangladesh one-day tour. My goal is to win every game we play no matter what form of the game it is, at times the way I captain, I like to be attacking and positive but there's time throughout the game where you have to pull the reins in so I will do that to the best of my ability.
"I think I have to use the talent we have around the group in regards to our bowlers and our batting as well. We have a really good mix here of youth and experience and the experienced guys will need to stand up, me included, and make sure we lead from the front. The advice of some of the senior players is going to be very helpful throughout this Australian summer, as it has been in my brief captaincy stint. I'm looking forward to starting the summer, I'd love to get off to a flyer against the Kiwis and build this momentum we have since Bangladesh."
Since Bangladesh, Clarke's natural aptitude for tactical decisions has become clear. He wrong-footed Tillakaratne Dilshan plenty of times in Sri Lanka, and emerged with plenty of credit next to the more sturdy leadership of Graeme Smith in South Africa. Adept at managing a bowling attack, Clarke will have his hands full at the Gabba to extract the best from his country's least accomplished ensemble for 23 years. While Peter Siddle and Nathan Lyon provide a modicum of experience and skill, half Clarke's attack will be lacking entirely in Test match pedigree, and there will be no Shane Watson to plug whatever gaps develop.
"That's something we have had to think about as a selection panel as well, without Watto, we lose his bowling, so the bowlers have a big job to do," Clarke said. "They all have their individual roles, and like I've said before I don't expect them to do anything more than what they've done for their states. The key to having success in these conditions against good opposition is discipline and execution.
"We as an attack need to have that, as a batting unit exactly the same, if our shot selection is not spot on, if we're not disciplined, we've seen in the past what can happen. Our training and preparation has been outstanding and I'm confident we will have the discipline throughout this Test match to win the game."
Ultimately Australia's best attribute in Brisbane may not be any one bowler or batsman but the Gabba itself. The hosts have not lost a Test at the ground since 1988 against the West Indies, and have been promised a pitch far livelier than the surface that died a slow and painful death at the hands of Alastair Cook during the first Ashes Test last summer.
"The reason we've had so much success is because we know the conditions and know how different the Gabba is to anywhere in Australia," Clarke said. "In times gone by, probably even before my time, the Gabba and WACA were the two standout wickets that had a lot of pace and bounce but in my time it's been the Gabba that does have good pace and bounce and it's quite a tough place to start your innings on."
So far under Clarke, Australia have yet to lose a series of any kind. He will not want to do so against New Zealand, at a time when the nation cannot help but take notice.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo