Australia in India 2012-13 February 12, 2013

Toughest test of my captaincy - Clarke

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Haywire scheduling, key retirements and a stubbornly stiff right hamstring. Even before the vagaries of the subcontinent could be considered, Michael Clarke departed for India with the palpable sense that he is embarking upon the most difficult task of his captaincy so far.

Clarke was at pains to keep his selection options as open as possible before setting off to join the squad assembling in Chennai. The loss of Michael Hussey so soon after Ricky Ponting and the redefinition of Shane Watson have left the batting in particular with a whiff of the uncertain.

Add to this Clarke's hamstring trouble, which may yet rule him out of the full squad's only warm-up match, and there was every reason to believe the captain's pronouncement that he has not stared down a greater challenge than those to come over the four Tests.

For a reminder of the difficulty, Clarke needed only to look back at the 2010 visit, a tour hurriedly upgraded from ODIs to Tests by the BCCI and finishing in a 2-0 defeat for the team then captained by Ponting. Clarke cobbled 35 runs in four innings, his torpor summed up by a Bangalore stumping in which he did not realise his foot had dragged beyond the crease line.

"Touring India is as tough a challenge as I've had in my career," Clarke said in Sydney. "Every time I've been there on a Test tour it's been extremely difficult, hence the Australian team hasn't won that much over there. So it's a huge challenge, the players know that.

"That's partly why we're trying to prepare as well as we can by sending players early to get them used to conditions, to give ourselves the best chance. We know it's going to be tough, we know how good India is, but we look forward to it."

The Australian team's calendar for 2013 is so congested that this tour is the first to start before the home international program had finished. While Clarke is somewhere in the air between Sydney and Chennai, 11 members of his squad will be commencing a two-day warm-up match.

After Clarke has arrived, the coach Mickey Arthur will still be minding a severely weakened Twenty20 team in a match against the West Indies in Brisbane. Given the jarring adjustment from Australian climes and surfaces to those that may be found in India, it is hardly the ideal way to prepare. And preparation has always been one of Clarke's favourite buzzwords.

"What I've learned in the past is how important preparation is for my personal performance," Clarke said when asked about his dire 2010 tour. "I need to make sure I've done all my training to give myself the best chance of scoring runs.

"That's what I'm looking forward to over the next few days. Getting into the Indian conditions, batting on those wickets, facing a lot of reverse swing, a lot of spin bowling, and making sure when that first ball's bowled in that first Test that I'll be as well prepared as I was for this summer.

"I'd really like to play that three-dayer. I'll be advised by Alex [Kountouris] the physio once I land in India but at this stage my plan is to play that three-dayer. There is so much time I don't think there is any doubt I'll be fit for the first Test.

"In my mind cricket-wise I feel like I need that game to spend some time in the middle in Indian conditions both batting and bowling, but also with my captaincy as well because India is such a different place to Australia. But I'll listen to the expert and see what he has to say."

Among the players who have a headstart on Clarke by way of acclimatisation time are the allrounders Glenn Maxwell and Moises Henriques, plus the young batsman and sometime legspinner Steve Smith. One of the trio is likely to be chosen in the Tests as No. 6 or 7 batsman and fifth bowling option, now Watson can no longer provide it.

"It's very open, hence we've sent 17 players in three different stages to get over there as soon as possible to prepare and get used to conditions," Clarke said. "Runs and wickets will certainly play a big part in these practice games leading up to the first Test but for a lot of guys it's more about preparation and seeing conditions."

Those conditions will vary, as will the range of questions posed by an Indian side stung by recent defeats and intent on demonstrating, in the words of Harbhajan Singh, "how we play cricket here". Clarke's leadership, as both batsman and captain, is about to face its sternest examination yet.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • WonkyBail on February 15, 2013, 2:24 GMT

    I was thinking Aus might struggle but I have had a re-think as GSinge7 has predicted India 4-0 (who was expecting that); as he as poor a predictor as Paul the Octopus was Nostradamus like I have to go for the Aussie win (2-1).

  • dummy4fb on February 14, 2013, 17:53 GMT

    Clarke comments are safe and secure. I think it must be easier for them but not tougher. They beat WI 5-0 and in good form. But India lost tests with England. We Indians feel, Australia having better bowling attack and also better fielding side. Indians new faces must adjust before giving tough competition. Though Indian batting looks solid they are inexperienced but having good cricket averages for most of the batsmen. Any time India vs Australia is best cricket to watch. We are ready for the game. Sorry guys you kangaroos do not have TV rights this time to enjoy one of the best sides play.

  • AKS286 on February 14, 2013, 9:29 GMT

    about 2 players first clarke- he will do nothing while batting on number 5 with tailenders. secondly Bhuvaneswar kumar he only strike with new ball. MSD hided him on pak series with old ball, no one knows how he bowl with old ball no yorkers, bouncers we have seen. after 5 overs of B.Kumar MSD is on the stumps. bowling 5 days with no pace, no yorker and bouncer with old ball IMO B.Kumar is not an ideal choice. Oz need S.Marsh & Haddin in india. Cowan, Hughes, S.marsh, clarke, Voges, haddin, watson, MJ, Pattinsn, siddle, Beer/Starc.

  • JoieDeVivre on February 14, 2013, 3:31 GMT

    As an Indian fan, I'm hoping India wins the series but the reality is Australia have an excellent chance of repeating the 2004 series win and that is simply because India is going through one of the most toughest phases in it's history. While the Australian top order looks a bit unsettled the biggest strengths of this Aussie line up are their fast bowlers, lower order batsmen and ever impressive skipper Michael Clarke. Fair to say Australia start as favorites to win the series despite being the guests. For India to make any impression in this series batsmen have to find form, R Ashwin needs to bowl with truck loads of patience something that was clearly missing in the series against England and finally the selectors and MS Dhoni have to be a bit bold in their selection. The series has all the qualities of being an excellent one but like I mentioned Australia clearly start as favorites and Michael Clarke can take a lot from this series specially with back to back Ashes this year.

  • Al_Bundy1 on February 14, 2013, 3:18 GMT

    Agree with @mzm149 - Although I would give 2-1 in favor of Australia. Kohli, Tendulkar and Sehwag will be exposed once again. Pujara will score a few runs here and there. Bhuvaneshwar performs once in a while even when conditions support him. Ishant Sharma and Dinda are quite useless bowlers. Inning defeats are awaiting India and double centuries are awaiting Clarke. Things could get better for India if our Selectors do their job and select in-form players like Jaffer, Rayudu, Rasool, Ahmed, etc. but they prefer washed out players like Tendulkar, Sehwag, Ishant and Bhajji

  • IndianInnerEdge on February 14, 2013, 0:47 GMT

    Clarke is right in saying this will be a tough test of his captaincy, a tour of India is always demanding. Firstly, look at the scheduling-the oz players fresh off the plane will go headlong into the test, could have done with one more practice match. I predict a close series 2-1 to Australia. India's stocks have plummetted dramatically, the pace bowling is a joke with Ishant becoming an average county trundley(think of the missed potential here) - B kuimar is a new comer-predominantly swing bowler who due to lack of pace would struggle to swing in tests, the spinners are pathetic, the batting slightly better, the fielding-the usual. all in all, good chance for Aus to walk away with the series and test out their young pace quartert

  • Al_Bundy1 on February 14, 2013, 0:04 GMT

    Pup, you need not worry much about this Indian team. Our selectors already gave you 2 free wickets in the form of Sehwag and Tendulkar. About our bowling, the less said the better - we have a not so bright Ishant, a high jumper who I frankly believe is playing the wrong sport, and an over bright Ashwin who thinks bowling variations is more important than getting wickets.

  • dummy4fb on February 13, 2013, 20:08 GMT

    Michael Clarke:Sachin Tendulkar's Sign Of Greatness Is His Longevity!!

  • RK.Chandru on February 13, 2013, 17:52 GMT

    Chepauk pitch has changed a lot over the years and is unpredictable. The home team (TN) couldn't have any home advantage last season and hence, did very poor in the Ranji. India too of late, hasn't done well. The pitch sure is not aiding spinners nowadays. 3 pacers plus Ojha and Jadeja turning his arm around will be a good option. I doubt if Ashwin is really working on his bowling now and if he's desperate to do well as a bowler; if we got the alarm bells (poor performance as a bowler of late) and is finding ways to retain his place. Right now his confidence must be very low and should have hit the nadir.

  • AKS286 on February 13, 2013, 14:52 GMT

    Indians are favourite. Oz batting is inexperienced, incosistance, and no one is capable to score big like cook does. opening is problem, middle order is having problem, single clarke at no 5 can do nothing with tailenders, the whole wade is a problem like samit & dernbach done in odis. some players are extremely overrated like khwaja, maxwell, wade, lyon, doherty, warner. Oz will miss S.Marsh, BEER & haddin.