Clarke smarting from 'kick up the backside'
As Michael Clarke left for India in February, he forecast the tour as the most difficult of his captaincy. He landed back in Sydney on Sunday with that grim prognostication very much intact, having presided over three consecutive defeats, a breakdown of team discipline ruled punishable by the suspension of four players, and the further deterioration of his troublesome back.
In Clarke's absence from Delhi, the tourists have belatedly found some semblance of the competitive under the interim leadership of Shane Watson, showing a visible rise in aggression on the second afternoon. Clarke watched these events in Singapore between his flights, and said he hoped the team would salvage a belated reward from the tour with a closing victory.
Such a result would indicate some progress within the team, but there are plenty of questions to be asked of a tour that now seems as though it was doomed before it began due to the players' scant preparation, faulty skills and jaded attitudes. Answering for the results in a clipped manner, Clarke conceded the unprecedented events before the Mohali Test had been a "kick up the backside" for all.
"It certainly made us realise that what we thought were the little things are quite large in our group and important to our group having success," Clarke said. "I think the team have responded very well, the players who were left out have come back really well, and it's good to see a few of those guys getting opportunities in this Test.
"It was one of the toughest challenges of my career and I'm sure it has been for the other guys as well. Travelling to India and playing there is always tough. We knew we were going to face a lot of spin bowling and we have done. I think we'll learn from that, everybody will walk out of India as a better player and certainly more well prepared next time we go there for Test matches."
Better prepared for India perhaps, but the most pressing matter now is how this series sets up the team for the Ashes. Clarke's own fitness is clouded after he missed a Test match due to his back problems for the first time. Clarke also admitted he was still carrying a tender hamstring from the home summer, and said he would "do as I'm told" by medical staff in deciding whether or not to return to India for the IPL.
"I'll have scans this week and spend plenty of time with the physio, fingers crossed it turns out okay," Clarke said. "Sitting down for 12 hours has made it a little bit stiff, but I'm really confident that I'm in good hands with my physio here in Sydney.
"I'd be silly to make that decision [on the IPL] right now, I think I need to wait on the results, listen to the experts and then make a plan from there. I've had my back issues since I was 17 years of age so this is no different. In regards to my hamstring I hurt it throughout the Australian summer and it has just lingered on. I haven't had the opportunity to get that 100% fit due to how much cricket we've had."
Plenty of other questions about the tour remain to be satisfactorily answered. Clarke said his deputy Watson was not included alongside the coach Mickey Arthur and the team manager Gavin Dovey in discussions around the decision to suspend four players in Mohali because "he was one of the players the decision was getting made on" but was otherwise steadily involved in decision-making.
Nathan Lyon's handling across the trip has also been wondered at by many, his omission from the team to play in Hyderabad made to look still more bizarre by his success as a confident and aggressive off spinner in Delhi.
"I think it's exciting for him, again to get a little reward at the end of the tour would be very satisfying for him, and I think for the team if we could get a win in the last Test would show the hard work we've put in and the lessons we've learned. It would be lovely to take a little reward away."
Clarke offered no substantial explanation for his call to limit James Pattinson to two spells of three overs each on Australia's first bowling day of the series, despite the young fast bowler ripping out two early wickets and looking the team's most dangerous bowler by a distance at arguably its most pivotal point.
"It's just the way it goes, sometimes you bowl 15 overs straight or 21 overs straight like Nathan Lyon yesterday, sometimes you bowl short spells," Clarke said. "There was no real reason behind that."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here