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April 13, 2011
Michael Clarke enjoyed plenty of firsts as Australia's full-time captain in Bangladesh. First tour, first century, first win, first series win and first world record (Shane Watson). In the third match he confronted a first of a different kind - the first time a match appeared, for a handful of overs at least, to be slipping away from him.
While it was never likely that a previously timid Bangladesh would be able to find the shots and the belief to sustain a chase of 362, there was an unmistakable sense around the 27th over that something was building. At that point the home side were a mere 21 runs behind Australia, with two more wickets in hand, and Clarke had brought himself on to bowl.
That alone demonstrated a trace of worry, and so it was valuable for Clarke to find a way of constricting the flow of runs, quietening the biggest and most vocal Mirpur crowd of the series, and ultimately closing in on victory with the capture of regular wickets. It was telling to note that at this time Clarke called freely on Ricky Ponting for advice, doing as he had said he would during times of on-field stress. Ponting was seen to direct a fielder or two, pointing and gesturing in that familiar way for the first time almost all week.
"I would've liked a couple more early wickets, it would've made life a lot easier, but credit to the Bangladesh top order, I thought they batted really well and took it to us," Clarke said. "We had to hang in there and fight hard to get over the line and get a couple of wickets through that middle period which brought momentum back our way."
The marriage of experience and youth, new leadership and old, was illustrated by the bowlers Clarke relied upon to swing the direction of the evening. Steve Smith's first four overs of legspin went for a slim 17 at just the time Bangladesh needed more than that, while the breakthrough wicket arrived via the fresh-faced source of the pace debutant James Pattinson. Imrul Kayes' thin edge behind the wicket was roundly and justly celebrated, but it deserved to be credited as much to Smith and Clarke as it did to the bowler.
"I think on wickets like that you have to bowl in partnerships, you have to work out who the batsman is you're trying to attack and which batsman, if someone's going well, you're trying to defend," he said. "It's about keeping the bloke who's going well off strike and I thought young James and Smithy did that really well.
"I thought Smithy bowled very well without too much luck to be honest, he changed his pace really well and probably could've had two or three wickets. So very exciting to see young Patto come in and do well, and I'm stoked with the result in the series."
Later in the innings, after the danger had been neutralised, Clarke added the most unwelcome of his firsts - a straightforward dropped catch. If he can be forgiven one grassed chance it is only out of grace for a beginner. Sri Lanka and South Africa will not be anywhere near as accommodating, as Clarke readily acknowledged.
"We've got to get ready for another big 12 months coming up," he said. "Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka for Tests and one-dayers, South Africa in South Africa, and New Zealand and India back in Australia, so we've got some tough cricket ahead of us. We know we have a lot of improvement left, both individually and as a team."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Daniel Brettig
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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