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April 5, 2011
Like war a veteran grappling to come to terms with life in peacetime, Australia's new captain Michael Clarke seemed unreasonably happy to be flying to Bangladesh only a week after returning home from a failed World Cup campaign.
The captaincy helped, of course, but after more than six months of continuous cricket Clarke knows far more of hotels than of home, where in the space of a few days he was harangued on all sides for interviews about his leadership, then captured on tabloid cameras doing nothing much at all wrong to celebrate his 30th birthday.
"I think all the boys were pretty keen to get back on tour," Clarke said. "We've had a week at home and it's felt like a month at home to be honest with the amount of time we spend away these days, but it's going to be a tough tour no doubt."
Tough is not a word habitually associated with Bangladeshi cricket, though visitors to the youngest of Test-playing nations require a certain hardiness to learn to enjoy the heat and humidity, particularly as the climate heats up in April.
Nevertheless, the task for Clarke and company is vexing enough for an end-of-season assignment, taking in dusty pitches, wily slow bowlers and the start of the new International Cricket Council one-day rankings cycle.
Clarke noted quickly that Bangladesh, from their allrounder captain Shakib Al Hasan down, will be seeking to tease the Australians, their bevy of right-handers in particular. "I think the conditions will certainly suit Bangladesh," he said.
"I imagine they'll prepare pretty slow, turning wickets and they've got some very good spinners, especially left-arm orthodox spinners, which with a lot of right-hand batters we have in our line-up they're going to be quite tough. But it's going to be a good challenge, we're looking forward to it.
"We're going to have to learn from our time on the subcontinent recently during the World Cup and then get over there and play some good cricket."
There is much to gain for Clarke over the next week, as he asserts himself as the leader of a group that has only known a world in which Ricky Ponting was king of all he surveyed. Now, Ponting must defer to Clarke, something that will not be as natural in practice as it appeared in theory during last week's bloodless leadership handover.
Similarly, Clarke must take on all the tasks, pleasant and less so, that Ponting has managed. "I really enjoyed being vice-captain for a few years, that was a great experience for me, it showed me a lot of what goes on off the field as a leader in the Australian cricket team and how much it's not just about how you do on the field," said Clarke.
"Ricky's had such a huge role to play in Australian cricket not only on the field but off the field, so I guess that probably gave me the chance to see that and to learn from him.
"So now I have this chance to be captain of Australia I guess it's about using all the experiences I've had in the past when I've had the chance to captain in the one-dayers or Twenty20s, and the knowledge I've been able to build up and learn from Ricky. I think it's now an opportunity for me to go to Bangladesh and to use some of that."
The Australians' last tour of Bangladesh took place in April 2006, a visit marked by a Jason Gillespie double century in the second Test at Chittagong, an innings that has entered folklore almost solely through the relentless promotional efforts of its maker. But Clarke also remembered the first Test of the series, a match in which the Australians trailed by 158 on the first innings before squeaking home by three wickets.
"We've seen before in Test cricket in Bangladesh that if you're not at your best you're going to be put under a lot of pressure, and we know as individual players we have to get better," said Clarke. "As a team any opportunity we get to play on the subcontinent and face more spin bowling I think is going to help all of our players."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Daniel Brettig
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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