Australia shake off New Year's lethargy
Ed Cowan confessed to a "pretty flat" net session as Australia trained ahead of the third Test in Sydney, and it was hard to escape a sense of New Year's lethargy around the SCG on the first morning of 2013. Given the injuries and poor results enveloping a bedraggled Sri Lanka, it may be attitude rather than opponent that provides the hosts' greatest barrier to completing a 3-0 series sweep.
As usual, Australia's search for an exemplar of preparation with purpose did not need to venture far past the captain Michael Clarke, who is no longer in much doubt to play. Fastidious as ever, he completed a fitness test in front of the team physio, Alex Kountouris, comfortably enough, and now appears highly likely to be ready in time to toss the coin on January 3.
Clarke and the rest have the motivation provided by Michael Hussey's final Test - as they did when succumbing to South Africa in Ricky Ponting's final match - while a schedule warped by the BBL also means this match will be the last chance for many members of the team to play in conditions that will give them some idea of the challenges presented by India in February. The SCG curator Tom Parker's pitch is well grassed but has time to dry, leaving both sides to consider twin spin.
"We have spoken at some length about our determination to make sure we win this series 3-0," Cowan said. "We experienced some disappointment earlier in the season, and this is us trying to vent that a little bit and we are pretty keen to see Mike off with flying colours.
"It's not like we're flying out [to India] tomorrow and are dumped in the middle of Hyderabad and told good luck. It's six weeks [away]. Some guys are going over earlier, there's going to be a huge amount of preparation time. I'm pretty keen to face spin [in the Sydney Test] if the wicket looks like that, because I don't think it's going to turn very much, so if Sri Lanka want to play two spinners that's probably to our favour."
Hussey's retirement, alongside Clarke's flirtation with hamstring trouble, has forced the rest of the team to at least think about walking taller. Such is the paucity of leadership and experience left now that Hussey and Ricky Ponting have both departed that Cowan has been seriously discussed as a potential captain, while even the uncomplicated fast man Peter Siddle fielded questions about his leadership capabilities.
"In the Australian cricket team it's important to have multiple leaders, and not just guys who are captaincy material," Cowan said. "We've seen people like Ponting and Hussey and those kinds of guys set standards around training, around how the team behaves on and off the field. For a strong group, which we aspire to be, you need to have a great captain, and we've got that. And you need some guys to step up and take over those responsibilities.
"It's nice to be mentioned, but I don't think that changes anything about how I try to contribute to the group. From the first day I've tried to be myself, and contribute and give to the team and make sure we're winning Test matches. If there's 10 or 11 other guys doing that, that's how culture is built. I believe pretty firmly in that."
Australia's culture did not look particularly strong on the 2012 ODI tour of England when the team was routed 4-0, when both Ponting (dropped) and Hussey (parental leave) were absent. Cowan acknowledged the hole they left, but argued that in Clarke the team had a captain worth following, and simply needed a new generation to step into the front rank.
"You can say what a hole it leaves; it's pretty obvious. He [Hussey] is a phenomenal player, he's still playing as well as he ever has, so sure it's going to leave a hole," Cowan said. "But the other side is it's an opportunity for this team to move forward how they want to, be shaped not by the past but have a real crack with a new group shaping a new Australian cricket team.
"That's exciting, and it has to be. If we don't think that's exciting then we've got an issue. I think we're inspired by the way the captain preforms. I think we're inspired by the way he goes about his business and gives of himself to the group, and so he's the guy who we'll continue to look to. And he's excited by it, so if he's excited I think you'll see a whole group of merry men following."
One area in which Cowan is seeking to improve in Sydney is to not allow himself to be distracted by a dismissal, as he admitted took place when Phillip Hughes was run out late on Boxing Day. There, Cowan lost focus, and nicked a skittish cut shot to slip to be out for 36 - the sort of middling score he needs to build on more often.
"On reflection, it probably did [affect me]. It shouldn't have, I was disappointed that it probably did," Cowan said. "It was one of those moments when you're travelling nicely in your own little bubble and controlling the game, and then when that bubble breaks momentarily it's hard to get back into it quickly when your emotions are flying around.
"In terms of learning, that's what I took out of the last innings, not letting little situations like that take their toll."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here