Australia v Sri Lanka, 3rd Test, Sydney, 4th day

Clarke drained by 'tough summer'

Daniel Brettig at the SCG

January 6, 2013

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Jackson Bird celebrates his first Test wicket, Australia v Sri Lanka, 2nd Test, Melbourne, 1st day, December 26, 2012
Jackson Bird has been one of the positives to emerge out of Australia's tough Test summer © Getty Images
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Australia have shored up a place at No. 3 on the ICC's Test rankings as a result of a 3-0 sweep of Sri Lanka. The difficulty their captain Michael Clarke now faces is the team that took them there will not be the one he leads first to India, and then to the Ashes beyond.

Losing Michael Hussey and Ricky Ponting in the space of a single summer, while at the same time grooving a policy of fast-bowler management has made it a draining six Tests for Clarke, and in the wake of the five-wicket victory at the SCG he acknowledged the size of the task ahead. He also admitted to the difficulty of guiding the team while shedding such an enormous amount of experience.

If Clarke was more emotional at the time of Ponting's exit in Perth, he was clearer headed about what Hussey's retirement meant for the tours of India and England - increased difficulty. "Another man down unfortunately," Clarke said. "It's been a tough summer to be honest. It's been nice to have some guys come in and make their debut but it's been tough to see two fantastic players in Ricky Ponting and Mike Hussey leave the game.

"We certainly have a tough year ahead, that's for sure. I think on our good days we're very good and can cut it with the best, like the No. 1 team in the world South Africa, but on our poor days there's a lot of areas we need to improve, both individually and as a team. I think what you've seen of the Australian team this summer probably sums up where we're at. We're fighting to get better every day, that's the positive."

Australia's performance in Sydney rather summed up the patchiness of their summer. Making an indifferent start after eminently debatable decisions both in team selection and at the coin toss, Clarke's men wrested back an advantage via the counter-punching of Matthew Wade and then pressured Sri Lanka's batsmen into a series of grievous errors on the third afternoon that ultimately determined the outcome of the match.

"The days we aren't performing as well as we can, whether that be with the ball or with the bat, we're letting ourselves down," Clarke said. "At the moment there's a bit of a gap between very good and not so good but we've got a team that's working very hard. Every day we get out of bed we're trying to get better.

"I certainly can't have a go at the boys. I think the commitment throughout the whole summer has been outstanding - the way we've trained and prepared, the role the support staff have played … We know we've got some work to do but we're up for the challenge."

While Jackson Bird's emergence as a commendably reliable paceman against Sri Lanka was arguably the most significant find of the Tests, Clarke and his fellow selectors will have some other revelations to consider ahead of India. One of the least convenient was the struggle of several batsmen against spin, notably the opener Ed Cowan, and another was the top order's lack of precision when running between the wickets. Shane Watson's future, and the team's balance, is clouded by his reluctance to continue bowling.

Clarke said the spectre of slow bowling on turning Indian pitches was something that would take plenty of skill and application to overcome, particularly now that Hussey has left the scene. "It will be really tough, especially in the second innings on the subcontinent is generally very tough to play spin bowling. I think we're improving," Clarke said. "There are areas we need to continually get better at. Spin bowling is one of those areas. In a couple of months, we're going to be faced with conditions that spin a lot, so there's no better place to get better than on the subcontinent.

"I'm really impressed with the way we finished this summer in the Test format. I was really proud of the way we fought it out against the No.1 Test team in the world. I think we have taken a lot from that series and I think we've shown improvement throughout this series."

The ODI team will be led by George Bailey for the first two matches of the series against Sri Lanka, as Clarke rests a tender hamstring, but he felt sure he would be fit and refreshed in time to return for game three in Brisbane. It will be the next phase of a year in which Clarke has now become more pivotal than ever.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

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Posted by Shaggy076 on (January 8, 2013, 12:22 GMT)

Wefinishthis - Got to take you to task on your emergency players, what message is that sending to all the AUstralian cricketers, Burns average 30, Nevill 37, Patterson hasnt even played a shield game this year. Hussey also averaging 16 this year and Zampa has only played one shield game. THe only message that is sending is it is ok to play for New South Wales.

Posted by Meety on (January 8, 2013, 3:31 GMT)

@RodStark on (January 07 2013, 00:26 AM GMT) - IMO, Pakistan can beat anyone, anywhere, anytime - but are just as likely to lose to anyone, anywhere, anytime. Sri Lanka just beat Sth Africa in Sth Africa & should of beaten Oz at the SCG. NZ knocked Oz off at Hobart (perfect Kiwi conditions). I don't believe the top 3 (Oz, SA & Eng) are that much beter than SL & Pakistan - with India dropping like a rock now, can only just beat NZ. BTW - I believe that Bangladesh are going to beat tough to beat on home soil in the not too distant future!

Posted by Wefinishthis on (January 8, 2013, 0:55 GMT)

Beertjie I think you're right about Ojha and Ashwin. The only things in Australia's favour are Michael Clarke, Jackson Bird and the fact that the Indians are also a team in transition after losing so many greats. The things in the Indian's favour are the chasm in class between Lyon and the Indian spinners and that Australia has a weak top 6 barring Warner and Clarke. Therfore the best money would be on India, despite their recent losses. I'd like to see something like Hughes, Warner, Khawaja, D.Hussey, Clarke, Watson, Wade, O'Keefe, Harris, Lyon, Bird and take along Burns, Patterson, Nevill, Zampa, Siddle and Pattinson in the squad. Johnson averages 40 in India so I can't see him doing any better this time around and Starc I'm still not convinced about with the new ball.

Posted by B.C.G on (January 7, 2013, 8:54 GMT)

@Moppa.The English would never dare to doctor the pitches;would they now.Still have nightmares of Warne probably.

Posted by sawifan on (January 7, 2013, 8:50 GMT)

@fazald... what points are u trying to make?! Clarke didn't make bad decisions, Australia won, and quite comfortably in the end. Re: his declaration. We could have easily lost that last wkt for no more runs and wasted time to prevent that tricky few overs for the Sri openers. Clarke forced them to start twice, and it worked, with the wkt of Dilshan. And MJ and Dimuth may have been thrashing the Aussie bowlers about for a while, but they got out! with the job for from done. The Aussies hung in and never gave up. The final 5 wkt margin was very flattering to Sri Lanka, and they will know that for sure. Sure they improved from the MCG, but lets be honest, they couldn't get any worse. Stop nit-picking about imaginary scenarios from the past.

Posted by SkylaDark on (January 7, 2013, 8:34 GMT)

Mr. Cricket and Ponting were both very important parts of the Australian team. Let's see how they fare against a broken India.

Posted by JoieDeVivre on (January 7, 2013, 6:32 GMT)

As an Indian fan, think it's fair to say Aussies will do in India given India is in such bad shape at the moment. As always Aussies will be extremely competetive and it shouldn't come as a shock to Indian fans if Aussies beat us at home. However as most people have been saying the true test will be Ashes series specailly the one in England. The thing that would concern Aussies the most will be their batting, with Michael Hussey gone dependence on Clarke would only increase and unless the young Aussie batters come to the party, England in England will be a tough nut to crack.

Posted by frankmac on (January 7, 2013, 4:45 GMT)

My concern for the Indian tour would be Cowan, Warner and Hughes against the spinners.

They will be on after 4 overs every innings.

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Daniel Brettig Assistant editor Daniel Brettig had been a journalist for eight years when he joined ESPNcricinfo, but his fascination with cricket dates back to the early 1990s, when his dad helped him sneak into the family lounge room to watch the end of day-night World Series matches well past bedtime. Unapologetically passionate about indie music and the South Australian Redbacks, Daniel's chief cricketing achievement was to dismiss Wisden Almanack editor Lawrence Booth in the 2010 Ashes press match in Perth - a rare Australian victory that summer.
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