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June 4, 2013
Australia took one look at their worst nightmare and discovered that it felt as real as ever.
Michael Clarke could count himself fortunate. He spent much of the match lying face down to the floor as he received treatment on the back injury that threatens to plague the rest of his career. But even from that position, he could not fail to be aware of a familiar story - that of Australian embarrassment whenever they set sight upon India.
Back in March, when Australia lost within three days of the fourth Test in Delhi, they consigned themselves to their worst Test series defeat since Graham Yallop's side, debilitated by desertions to World Series Cricket, went down 5-1 in 1978-79. Their 4-0 whitewash was the worst result by any nation on Indian soil in 70 Test series.
Still, they must have told themselves in Cardiff, this is different. This is the Champions Trophy, this is only a friendly, this is the tournament where we are aiming to go three-peat (an American basketball term - trademarked to retired coach Pat Riley - for a third consecutive victory, so certain to enter the worldwide lexicon you might as well get used to it), this is the tournament where we aim to make a statement ahead of the Ashes, this is the format in which we have won our last five matches. All good, heartwarming stuff.
Then they took one look at India and lost by 243 runs. To do that after having them 28 for 4 was quite something, but they let them escape to 308 and collapsed to 65 all out in reply. It was as if they were so in awe of MS Dhoni that they bowled to all his favourite shots in turn.
Cardiff has been an unhappy ground for Australia. They were beaten by Bangladesh here in 2005 and four years later they failed to finish off England in the first Ashes Test thanks to some last-wicket heroics from Monty Panesar and James Anderson, who clung on for 40 minutes to roars from the crowd.
Not surprisingly, the stand-in captain, George Bailey, preferred to imagine that Clarke would be fit enough to lead out Australia in their opening Champions Trophy tie against England at Edgbaston on Saturday. But Clarke is heading for London on Wednesday to see a specialist, and not the hottest show in town, the Pompeii Exhibition at the British Museum, which would have been more appropriate on account of its own obsession with the Ashes.
"It is just precautionary with him," Bailey said. "His back is always going to be the issue with Pup. He has just had some stiffness there in the past couple of days and with such an important tournament we didn't see fit to risk him in these games, especially with a reasonably big summer coming up as well. It is almost a case of managing him on a day-by-day basis.
|"Losing him would be a huge blow. He is our best batsman and captain and we look forward to having him in the side." George Bailey on Michael Clarke|
"Losing him would be a huge blow. There is no doubt he is our best batsman and captain and we look forward to having him in the side. As to whether I am ready to captain, I believe so, yeah. I have the belief that Pup is ready to go Saturday but I've enjoyed my time captaining these practice games, we have some good leaders around me."
Umesh Yadav is a skilful practitioner and he gives India hope of fielding a competitive seam attack in English conditions in an era of two new balls. But all he did was have a decent workout and he finished with 5 for 18 in five overs. Bailey was bowled by a good one, but Matthew Wade and Phil Hughes were bowled off the inside edge, pulling, and David Warner slashed at one and registered his second duck in a row. Mitchell March was unfortunate, adjudged caught off the pad.
When Shane Watson became the third batsman to chop on, this time against Ishant Sharma, it all began to look brainless. This was the same pitch on which Australia had made 259 for 6 to beat West Indies and it had not changed complexion all that much, but Watson had made 135 of those and others need to step up.
"I don't think it was doing a great deal," Bailey said. "There was a little bit of swing but nothing unplayable. It was a wicket we played on the other day and I don't think there were any gremlins in it. It was a good wicket, and a warning, I guess, about what two new balls are going to be capable of.
"I think you are going to have good techniques and be more patient than we are used to at the start of the innings in one-day cricket. There was some ordinary shot selection and they bowled quite nicely."
Australia at least deserved recognition for only playing 11, which showed some respect for the game that other nations have abandoned out of convenience, but they must have imagined that India were playing twice that number.
"These warm-up games are down to your attitude individually and a team," Bailey said. "We have tried to take them seriously. Given we have some guys who haven't played much one-day cricket, it's important to start to deal with the pressure of knowing your role, and knowing that you might be in at three for ten, knowing you have to bowl four or five overs because somebody is not going to bowl your 10, but it's not an ideal result knowing that's the side you might come up against in the semi-finals."
In terms of practicing for bad scenarios, Australia could not have prepared better.
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