Clarke hopes to avoid 'unthinkable' loss
Michael Clarke must have a short memory. Four days ago, Australia were beaten by New Zealand in Perth. Then they decided to rest their captain and best batsman Ricky Ponting for the next two matches. Two years ago they also let Ponting sit out of the Chappell-Hadlee Series and were beaten 3-0.
And yet in the lead-up to Friday's second ODI in Melbourne, Clarke, the stand-in captain, said it was "unthinkable" that Australia would lose the series. Perhaps nobody has told him that in the five years the competition has been going, New Zealand have a 6-5 winning record despite being the permanent underdogs.
"New Zealand is a very good one-day team but I'm very confident in the Australian team at the moment," Clarke said ahead of Friday's second ODI in Melbourne. "We've got plenty of talent, plenty of potential, plenty of youth, plenty of excitement and if we play our best cricket we can beat the Kiwis. Right now for me certainly it is unthinkable [to lose]."
Perhaps that's because in his seven matches in charge of Australia at ODI and Twenty20 level, Clarke has never led a losing team. Friday will be his toughest challenge, when he is given the reins of a side extremely light on experience. Besides Ponting, Australia are also without Shaun Marsh, who has a hamstring problem, on top of their long-term injury concerns.
Callum Ferguson is likely to make his ODI debut, Adam Voges could come in for his second match and Clarke will need contributions from both men as Australia aim to retain the trophy they regained in 2007-08. The New Zealand captain Daniel Vettori said his squad was already visualising what Clarke felt was inconceivable.
"Our team's got to imagine that," Vettori said. "We've got to think about winning this series. We're 1-0 up and if we can grab these next two games then we win it. The Chappell-Hadlee is very important to us, and very important to the people back home. It's one of the series that they seem to be most up for, and that's probably because we've played relatively well in it over the last few years."
There is no doubt that New Zealand lift when the trophy is up for grabs. Part of the reason is that Australia, who have triumphed in all 11 non Chappell-Hadlee ODIs the teams have played since the trophy was struck, effectively treat it as a second-string event.
In 2006-07, Ponting and the vice-captain Adam Gilchrist were rested, while the previous year Glenn McGrath was given a break. Vettori would not be drawn on whether it was disrespectful for Australia to leave Ponting out but he said it would be difficult for Australia to adjust to not having him around the group.
"You always come back to what he brings to the table with performance and his record speaks for itself," Vettori said. "Any time you take that out it's always hard to adjust to. But from what I've seen of Michael Clarke he's a pretty good leader and a respected guy."
New Zealand are likely to take the same XI in to the MCG match following their Perth success, which was overshadowed by the controversy surrounding Brad Haddin's involvement in the dismissal of Neil Broom. For Clarke, the challenge is to ensure his men are focused on improving, especially with the bat, and leave the off-field argy-bargy behind them.
"We have been a little bit disappointing of late and we've got some work to do to get back to where we want to be and it starts tomorrow," Clarke said. "We had a really good chat yesterday. All the players had a really good opportunity to get whatever was on their chest off their chest, if anything."
Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo