England v Australia, NatWest Series, Lord's June 29, 2012

Resourceful Clarke comes up short

Michael Clarke again demonstrated his captaincy skills but the more modest player pool at his disposal hampered Australia's efforts

A winning record, it is often said, does not necessarily make a captain great. Ricky Ponting has won more Test matches than any other captain in the history of the game, yet opinions on his leadership of Australia are mixed. Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards were similarly considered fine players and strong leaders, but their tactical ability was often called into question because of how a rich supply of West Indies fast bowlers and batsmen meant they were seldom short of options. By contrast, Stephen Fleming is regarded as a great leader of New Zealand, for he extracted the very most he could from a modest talent base.

Michael Clarke has greater resources at his disposal than Fleming, but considerably less than Lloyd and Richards. Certainly he has less than Ponting enjoyed in the first half of his captaincy. As a result, Clarke will have numerous days as captain of Australia where his own contribution, be it in the field or with the bat, will not be enough to guide his team to victory. At Lord's in Australia's first encounter with England since 2010-11, Clarke experienced one of those days. He did most things right in the field, and performed ably with the bat, but walked off at dusk with a 0-1 deficit to his opposite number Alastair Cook.

Before the match Clarke had said the major improvement in his side since the last Ashes was in work ethic, their willingness to train hard for a common goal. Asked whether the team's skills had improved he was less sure. "With hard work and a lot of training you hope your skills improve," he said. "I guess we'll see, over the next couple of weeks, how we go when we're under pressure against a very good and confident one-day team."

It turned out at Lord's that Australia's skills and composure were not yet at the level required to better England. The visitors may be No. 1 in the ICC's ODI rankings but it was the hosts who showed greater presence of mind at the important moments, and better skills at the right times. Eoin Morgan's late-innings hitting took the target beyond Clarke's ideal, then piercing spells by James Anderson and Tim Bresnan destabilised the chase. They were helped by Clarke's involvement in a run-out just when it seemed he and Matthew Wade might threaten the target, one of only two miscalculations Clarke could be said to have made across the day.

Clarke's captaincy for the majority of England's innings was admirably alert and typically assertive. He favoured slips and catching men long after the balls lost their shine, posted three men in the arc between gully and point to restrict Jonathan Trott's pet cut shot, and worked his angles neatly to limit the number of boundaries that can flow quickly at Lord's if field placings are imprecise.

His choice of bowlers was also shrewd, calling on Pat Cummins after one rain break for instance, then calling on Xavier Doherty for the first over following the conclusion of the batting Powerplay - a gambit for which he was rewarded with Trott's wicket. As a batsman Clarke is known for capitalising on the drifting nature of an ODI's middle overs, pushing singles here and there. But as a fielding captain he does not allow himself to be lulled, constantly seeking wickets and challenging the batsmen to hit through or over his field settings.

"Steve Smith's place in the Australia team remains hazily developmental, the one blind spot in the 'role clarity' espoused by captain and coach"

It was only towards the end of the innings, as Morgan tilted the match with a series of brazen blows that reaped 48 runs from the final four overs, that Clarke briefly resembled a more ordinary one-day captain. The bowlers did not let Clarke down entirely, as loose deliveries were few and each man generally bowled to his field. But they did not find an extra gear to match that reached by Morgan, and left a batting line-up of middling quality with about 20 more runs to chase than they would have preferred on a day when cloud and cold aided the England attack. With time, that gear will be found more often, as bowlers like Cummins, James Pattinson and Mitchell Starc develop, but it was absent here.

Australia's reply began soundly enough, David Warner showing typical spunk in his first international innings on English soil, and the No. 3 George Bailey aiding him in a useful partnership, though the Tasmania captain remains a somewhat optimistic choice at first wicket down. Clarke came to the crease with the task still in hand, and it would never slip away so long as he was there. However David Hussey and Steve Smith did not do enough to help him in the middle order, and were to be put in the shade by the combative Wade.

As captain, Clarke is responsible for Australia's batting order, and he appears to have erred by placing Smith ahead of Wade, who already has one match-winning Test innings to his credit. Smith's place in the Australia team remains hazily developmental, the one blind spot in the "role clarity" espoused by Clarke and the coach Mickey Arthur. He is a batsman and legspinner, but seldom bowls, and so far has not looked capable of holding his place with the bat alone. To play him at No. 6, ahead of Wade, was Clarke's second misstep, one that can be argued to have been made as much at the selection table as in the dressing room.

Brett Lee's bold rearguard came up short, leaving Clarke with a few areas to ponder ahead of Sunday's second match at The Oval. Where should Smith and Wade bat? How might his bowling attack be better balanced to cope with a late-innings acceleration? And what can be done to prevent Anderson and Bresnan, those familiar Ashes tormenters, from making the pivotal breaks? Clarke did little to detract from his growing reputation for agile captaincy at Lord's, but to win this series his team will need to be better.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

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  • Christopher on July 1, 2012, 13:59 GMT

    @whatawicket..Thanks for the heads up on Hughes.I'd be interested in your thoughts on any of his other innings.He has 533 runs,2 List A hundreds and 4 fifties with Worcester at 76 so far.Take a look at Hughes v SA 115 & Hughes v SA 160 on YouTube & describe if his current game matches the game shown there.I still remain unconvinced by any short run of form-both dismissals in his only 1st class game for Worcs were caught behind.Up to him joining the Aus squad for the Lions game in 09,he played his own technique with enormous success and none of the subsequent flaws evident.Everyone saw him roughed up,but his game plan and certain aspects of his technique were different.His areas of dismissal were far different.DeCosta made it clear that he was forced to prepare differently after joining the squad.Different grip,batswing,game plan,no trigger movement.My regard is see justice done and blame apportioned correctly.Hughes fate is in his own hands but the evidence indicates it wasn't in 09.

  • John on July 1, 2012, 9:10 GMT

    @Rahul_78 on (July 01 2012, 05:29 AM GMT) Mckay was the most economical bowler on both sides - unless you include Bopara with his 1 over

  • Andrew on July 1, 2012, 8:59 GMT

    @5wombats - I thought the Eng openers had difficult conditions to bat in, but the greasy nature of the run up, ball & outfield, means that it wasn't easy to bowl in either. @Hyclass - would like to know your opinion on why Hughes has joined Sth Ozzy (indirectly under Nielsen again)????

  • Rahul on July 1, 2012, 5:29 GMT

    It is not only OZ batting lineup but I couldn't fathom how Clint Mckay was picked ahead someone like Hilfi in English conditions? Clarke also has an option in Pattinson to go to. Not entirely convinced of playing Smith in the XI and not giving him a bowl either. MC could easily squeeze in 8-9 overs between him Smith and David hussey which would allow him on seamer friendly pitches to drop Doherty and play an extra fast bowler.

  • Garry on July 1, 2012, 1:48 GMT

    Can also add Callam Ferguson to that Aussie ODI list too. Cosgrove was mentioned but he needs to get fit and stop looking like a giant beachball. There are heaps of cricketers that have talent out there and even if you give it your best it still mightn't mean you regularly succeed at the highest level but to have the talent and be just plain lazy and not even give yourself a chance like Cosgrove has done so far in his career is far more disappointing. A lot of the players in these discussions have been dropped at various times and go away and work very hard (most get back), I'd like to see Cosgrove lose 25kgs this off-season and show that he's serious about his cricket, then we might see some of his potential realised.

  • Garry on July 1, 2012, 1:10 GMT

    Agree with Hyclass that they are better off leaving Hughes to do his thing and just keep churning out the runs in the UK domestic and then have a big season back at home for the Redbacks. I think considering form and fitness of other contenders for Australia I'd have a side for ODI's more like, Warner, S Marsh, Watson, Clarke, D Hussey, M Hussey, Wade, M Marsh, Johnson, O'Keefe & Lee, with Cummins, Voges White & Doherty to round out a squad. I still don't understand Smith's role (probably score 100 tonight) but if they wanted to take a punt on a youngster then I would have gone with Joe Burns, at least he's in the A squad. So we'll just have to sit with it for this series. England look impressive and match hardened but I expect the Aussies to make a better account of themselves this game (the margin was only 15 runs anyway). England have some impressive youngsters coming through too. Sam Billings is the top of my list with James Taylor. Plenty of good ones in all countries coming thru

  • Martin on June 30, 2012, 20:47 GMT

    @JG2704 - don't sweat it!

  • John on June 30, 2012, 19:02 GMT

    @CricHorizon - I agree with your post re Smith and Bailey. I like Smith alot but if he's not trusted to bowl or come in higher than number 6 it seems a luxury. I've not followed Aus cricket so not sure about Bailey but he didn't inspire me from what I saw in this match. Starc has looked good in shorter fmts for Yorks this year so I'd probably bring him in for Smith and someone like Rogers , Vogues or Hughes for Bailey - just because they all seem good in Eng conditions.

  • John on June 30, 2012, 19:01 GMT

    @5wombats on (June 30 2012, 09:03 AM GMT) I feel really guilty for disagreeing with you on the Morgan thread now . Still I'm all for healthy debate and I have always said that by and large we get healthier discussions with Aus fans. My point is that the Aus personnel hasn't changed too much under Clarke but guys like Hilf and Siddle look to be rejuvenated under MCs captaincy

  • frank on June 30, 2012, 15:31 GMT

    Surely it was Australia that had the advantage of cloud and cold when bowling, particularly early in the England innings.Clarke's field placings fed rather than restricted Trott,whose role in ODIs is to occupy the crease and accumulate, which left England with wickets in hand so they could accelerate in the closing overs.His lack of imagination in using only 5 bowlers meant England knew who was going to bowl,and what they were going to bowl,in the crucial death overs of England's innings.Chasing wickets is all very well,but if you don't get them you leave yourself open to a late overs blitz.Clarke's captaincy was ordinary.

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