Australia news March 30, 2011

Starting from the basement

Circumstances dictated that Michael Clarke began his public duties as Australian captain in the basement of the Bradman Stand at the SCG

Circumstances dictated that Michael Clarke would begin his public duties as Australian captain in the basement of the Bradman Stand at the SCG, rather than the more salubrious Members dining room where Ricky Ponting resigned his commission the day before.

Rankings dictate that Clarke will begin from a similarly humble starting point among Test match nations, and it is years since an Australian leader has taken the reins of the team when it was positioned - either anecdotally or empirically - a lowly fifth in the world.

Some early emotion was evident in Clarke's mildly wavering voice as he spoke of the honour bestowed upon him and new vice-captain Shane Watson. But he straightened up when confronted by the reality of his task, which is to engineer the regeneration of a team that lurched all too low in Ponting's latter days.

"I think the guys in the team generally know the way I go about my work and what I expect of all of us as the Australian cricket team," Clarke said, having previously led the side in one Test and a handful of one day matches. "Our goals are all exactly the same, we want to become the best team we can be, we want to become the No.1 ranked team in all forms, and that's going to take a long time.

"The key for me is that we go back to basics, old fashioned basics and make sure we're getting out of bed every day and trying to get better at the three major basics in cricket - batting, bowling fielding.

"That's one thing I'll be trying to push with coach Tim Nielsen that we can get stuck into. I'm not going to reinvent the wheel. We have a lot of talent in our group but we have a lot of inexperience too, so I think it's a great start to improve those basics."

Clarke, of course, is hardly exempt, having taken on the captaincy in the absence of any real Test match batting form over the past 12 months. It is a tenuous foundation on which to build respect and success, something Clarke is acutely aware of and intends to remedy.

"I hope it actually helps, in the games I've played where I've had the chance to captain Australia I think my form's been pretty good or it's made me step up," he said. "That's probably another thing Ricky has taught me, to be leading from the front on the field is so important.

"My form has been a lot more consistent in one day cricket of late than Test cricket, but in saying that if I look back past the Ashes I think my Test cricket form was pretty good. No doubt I have a lot of work to do and a lot of improvement left in my game."

The necessity to improve was underlined by Clarke's first Test as captain, an innings and 83-run hiding by a celebratory England at the SCG in January at the end of their victorious Ashes tour. Clarke marked the end of the match by retiring from Twenty20 cricket, and appeared drained by the job despite only having had it for five days.

"It certainly gave me a taste of captaining in Test cricket for sure," he said. "I think that was individually a very tough series as well, because I didn't get the results I was after, and I'm hoping I can learn a lot from that as an individual player but also as a teammate as well. The whole team will look back on that series and take a lot out of that, both positive and negative but constructive.

"Leading the team when we're under pressure or when things aren't going as well as we'd like is an important part of this team. There's going to be some tough games and there's going to be some great days."

Only the sunniest of optimists would predict the great days outnumbering the tough ones over the next 12 months at least, and Clarke said he would discover much about himself under the relentless glare to which Ponting was exposed.

"I'm about to find out. I think it's about consistency with everything we do as a team and for me as well, I think it's about enjoying as a team the good days and then working hard together the bad days to try to improve," Clarke said. "For me it's no different as the captain of the team, there's going to be some days much tougher than others and it's about working with the people around me, using the support I have, to try to get better, to learn.

"Watto [Shane Watson] and I have spoken a lot over the years and we know how important it is to have success in every game we play. We want to win every game we play, we know we have a lot of areas where we need to improve and get better, but I 100 per cent think we have a lot of talent in our squads … we've got the potential, we've got the talent, it's just about getting the best out of ourselves every day."

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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