'Clarke inclusion very un-Australian'
Former South Africa Captain Graeme Smith believes Australia's decision to include Michael Clarke in their World Cup squad despite serious injury concerns could be "disruptive", while former India Captain Rahul Dravid called the move "very un-Australian". Smith and Dravid were speaking on CONTENDERS, ESPNcricinfo's special build up program ahead of next month's tournament in Australia and New Zealand.
"Obviously, you want your captain to be playing now going into the tri-series because you are coming up with game-plans and formulas such as who is going to be playing, who bats where and start to get a feel of who bats where," Smith said. "I think he's been unsettled for a period of time, he was their top performer for the last two-three years and through injuries of late has been unsettled.
"I think in his injuries we've seen Steven Smith come to the fore and really perform well in Michael Clarke's role. So that's an interesting dynamic that has been created within the Australian set up now. If Clarke plays, does Smith play? It's almost hard to find a position for both of them."
Clarke hasn't played since picking up a hamstring injury in the first Test against India in Adelaide in early December, and he has been given a deadline of February 21, when Australia play Bangladesh in Brisbane, by the selectors to establish his fitness. This long rope given by the usually hard-nosed Australian selectors to Clarke has come as a surprise for Dravid.
"I just hope it is not an emotional decision," he said. "You just felt they had to take this decision. It's almost a very un-Australian decision. We've seen the Australian selectors take some very emotional decisions especially with Michael Clarke. Even with the decision to allow him to play in the Test match, you can understand that. That can be distracting to the rest of the rest of the squad. How they manage that environment and everything around that will be their biggest challenge in the lead up to the World Cup."
Owing to his injuries, Clarke played just six of Australia's 18 ODIs in 2014. In his absence, Steven Smith has made his opportunities count by scoring 578 runs from 13 ODIs at an average of nearly 49. With a packed middle order, Clarke's return could well force Steven Smith out of the playing XI, a situation that neither Dravid nor Smith feel is ideal.
"Clarke has been a very good performer for them," Dravid said. "But without him being in the squad and bring Smith into it, they don't look a weaker side at all. In fact some people may argue they actually look a better side with Smith bringing energy to the fielding department. Smith is as good a player of spin in the middle overs as Clarke and in the best form of his life."
"I think Smith has more of a power game than Clarke," Smith said. "I also feel it's all about personality. Going into a World Cup, it's all about how a team is run behind the scenes, it is a high pressure environment. Michael has been an outstanding captain, but is more of an abrasive personality. It will be interesting to see now that they have been under Smith for the last few months and if Michael moves back into that space, how then that shifts the personality of the team."