India v Australia, 3rd Test, Mohali, 5th day March 18, 2013

Clarke uncertain for Delhi Test

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Michael Clarke has never missed a Test match due to his ongoing back injury but faces an enormous challenge to prove his fitness over the next three days after struggling through the Mohali Test. Clarke has not given up hope of playing the fourth and final Test, which starts in Delhi on Friday, but when asked if he was confident of leading the side his uncertain facial expression and pause before answering betrayed a serious concern.

"My fingers are crossed I will be doing everything I can to give myself the best chance," Clarke said. "I guess I am always pretty positive, touch wood I haven't missed a Test match due to injury so far in my career and I wouldn't like this to be my first one. If I can't perform at my best, if I feel I am going to let the team down, I won't be taking the field."

Clarke was visibly hampered during his 52-minute innings on the final day in Mohali and batted at No.6 after being in too much pain to bat on the fourth afternoon. He had been on and off the field several times during India's innings on Sunday and left Brad Haddin in charge, but the vice-captain Shane Watson, who is rejoining the squad after flying home for the birth of his child, would be the likely leader in Delhi if Clarke is ruled out.

That would be a fascinating turn of events after Watson was one of four players left out of the Mohali Test due to their failure to complete a task set by the coach Mickey Arthur. Watson subsequently flew home for the birth of his first child but on the way said he thought the punishment was "very harsh" and that he would use his time at home to weigh up his cricket future.

"It's very positive that Watto is coming back," Clarke said. "I know all the boys are looking forward to having him back and no doubt if I am unavailable ... I haven't spoken to the selectors but I would imagine that Watto would be captain that's for sure."

Watson was in line for the captaincy for last year's Boxing Day Test against Sri Lanka on another occasion when Clarke had an injury concern - on that occasion a hamstring problem - but Clarke was passed fit. Clarke's back complaint has affected him for his entire career, and he said although it was painful he and the team physio Alex Kountouris were well versed with how to manage the problem when it flares up.

"It's pretty sore," Clarke said. "Fortunately I have got a few days before the next Test and I will spend as much time with Alex as I can to get it right. It is the same problem I have had since I was 17 and I have been trying to manage it throughout my career and the next four days will be no different to normal when my back goes on me like this. It's about plenty of treatment, listening to the expert and doing everything I can to get it right for the next Test match."

Clarke was in the field for all of India's second innings on the final day in Mohali, where he tried to rally his men to defend the small target of 133, but India's batsmen reached the target with 15 balls to spare. The loss left Australia 3-0 down in a series for the first time in nearly 25 years and Clarke will be doing everything in his power to avoid becoming the first captain since Bill Lawry in South Africa in 1969-70 to lead Australia on the wrong end of a 4-0 whitewash.

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • capros on March 21, 2013, 7:34 GMT

    India at home play exceptionally well as is evident so far in this series so all that is left for our boys is to knuckle down and show that as Australians our spirit will never be broken cmon Aussi cmon

  • dummy4fb on March 20, 2013, 13:35 GMT

    Just looking at the passion on this page is indicative of what the fans want and care about: Tests!!! We don't care about 7 ODI series and the plethora of 20-20 leagues. Only Test Cricket allows us to chew the fat. Can't wait for the 4th Test, loved SA v PAK, and of course the Ashes in 4 months!

  • dummy4fb on March 20, 2013, 6:51 GMT

    What a shambles! Before the start of the 3rd.Test Watson is dropped for disciplinary reasons, heads off in a fit of pique, not showing any leadership tendencies as Vice Captain, by not taking it on the chin and showing solidarity with Captain and Coach, and then a few days later is on the verge of CAPTAINING the team! What a joke! Can Aussie cricket sink any lower? And what's all this about leaving the door open for a return of Hussey just for the Ashes series, as a swansong? The current crop of cricketers playing for Australia seem lost and hopeless. Is it any wonder, when the planning for the tour showed plain ineptitude when the wicket keeper couldnt play in a Test, and there was no reserve keeper in the squad. So they send for a previous keeper who then finds himself acting as Captain when Clarke had to leave the field injured! With the appointed Vice Captain dropped for misbehaviour, AND NO OBVIOUS STAND IN, it was left to previously dropped Haddin to do the honours!

  • Paul_Rampley on March 20, 2013, 0:53 GMT

    As much as i want Clarke to play it can't be at the risk of him doing further injury. Khawaja would be a great replacment, he has warmed the bench for long enough, now its his time. Also Pattinson is a no brainer for Starc and I would also give Johnson a go given he like Khawaja hasn't played a game this series.

  • BG4cricket on March 19, 2013, 23:54 GMT

    Front Foot Lunge - you have to be kidding mate. Clarke is one of the preeminent batsmen in world cricket and our best player by miles - we have no hope if he doesn't play.

  • Front-Foot-Lunge on March 19, 2013, 17:07 GMT

    Clarke has been a terrible man-manager this series and has headed one of the most disasterous tours in the history of Australian cricket. Missing him out from the team will be a good thing for Australia, it really couldn't get any worse.

  • Jakespin on March 19, 2013, 16:51 GMT

    Hope Clarke is fit for the Ashes - a great player who has been in terrific form since taking on the captaincy and real fans want to see the best team Australia can put out. Like the Ashes of 2006 it would be a hollow victory if a whitewash followed only thanks to understrength opposition.

  • Arrow011 on March 19, 2013, 15:41 GMT

    I will list out the coincidences.

    1. Aus won India 4-0 - This time it looks India will win 4-0 against Australia.

    2. Clarke was captain in all 4 tests in Australia, Dhoni missed last test due to injury / Ban. This time Dhoni captains all 4 tests & Clarke is injured for the last test.

    3. People in India questioned Ravinder Jadeja in tests before this series started, people in Australia questioned Steve Smith as a test player, both proved their detractors wrong & are fine players.

    4. Australia decimated India at home with Pace, India crushed Australia with spin.

    5. Clarke scored the highest individual score against India with a 300+ at home, now Dhoni returned the compliment with an even more devastating 224, all between the captains.

    You can add more coincidences as I have typed whatever I noticed.

  • Clyde on March 19, 2013, 13:07 GMT

    It would be remiss not to think of the physical signs that would go with a crisis like Homeworkgate. In an environment fraught with the input of all kinds of off-field players, it might be difficult to stand up. Arthur comes across as far too involved (just as Fletcher does, I must say). Not too much notice must be taken of coaches. Let's just see the talent and accept the fact if it is not the world's best. Thank goodness I played cricket in a time when it was about your obvious ability, not what, ponderously, you might be coached up to, which I believe at that time would have been called a 'pipe dream'. Like much of economics, much of coaching is smoke and mirrors, which does fool quite a number of pundits, at various levels, not to mention coaches themselves.

  • djain-uk on March 19, 2013, 12:11 GMT

    Kudos to Clarke, battling a degenerative back condition since age seventeen. Total respect! Hope that he's good for the last test, otherwise a really unfair contest. Also hope he's totally well for England-Aus series.

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