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Fresh from the success of his first series as captain, Michael Clarke speaks about the challenges ahead of him as the first Australian leader since Allan Border to be handed a middling team
April 18, 2011
You achieved success on the field in your first series but do you think there was enough achieved off the field as everyone settled into your captaincy?
You'd have to ask a few of the other players, but I think from my side it was very enjoyable. I certainly feel like I've got the support and respect as a player because I've played a lot of international cricket. For me it's about now gaining that respect as a captain, and I guess the foremost way to do that is to have some success on the field. Now is an opportunity for me to get home and have a really good think about what's happened over the last 12 months and where I see this team going over the next 12-24 months, and how we can have some targets we try to achieve.
I don't really know how the players feel. I guess they'd be happy because we won. I didn't want to change too many things straight away. It was about coming here [Bangladesh], training hard, preparing well and playing some good cricket on the field.
The heat was on for a little while in the field in the final match as Bangladesh made a strong start. We saw you conferring quite a lot with Ricky at that time.
I think our communication has been great through the series. In the final game he might have just come to me at that time to throw up an idea, but I think throughout the series he'd done that. If there's been something he's thought is worth a go, he's thrown that idea up - as a lot of the guys have. Ricky's knowledge and experience, not only as a player but as a leader, is something this team really needs at the moment. And it certainly helps me. For me it's about using everybody I have around me. Whether you've played 350 one-dayers or 10, I think we've got a lot of knowledge in the group, and natural talent.
I know it's a different game, but in one-day cricket have you rebuilt some of the confidence and runs you would have liked to have had in the Test matches against India and England?
It's certainly been nice to get some runs after a tough summer, a tough Ashes campaign. It was obviously very disappointing for me not to make anywhere near as many runs as I'd have liked. So to come back in those one-dayers against England and have some success, not only with the bat but the team winning, and leading the team in that series... Then I thought I performed pretty well throughout the World Cup, and then to make some runs here has been nice as well. I still think there are areas of my game that need a lot of improvement and I've got this time now to really work hard on my game. That was a big part of standing down from the Twenty20 stuff after the Ashes - to give me more time to focus on one-day cricket and Test cricket, because I've got a lot of improvement to achieve as an individual player and also now as the captain.
If there was any pattern to the Ashes it was the immaculate line the England bowlers put on you. Will you have to have a different approach to that line of attack in the future?
The England bowlers certainly deserve a lot of credit. They bowled really well to all of us, the whole top order. As a batsman the hardest part about batting is starting, your first 10-15 runs. Defence has always been an important part of my game, whether in Test cricket or one-day cricket. I need to continue to work on that and make sure my technique's in order, to give me a solid base, to have a solid defence.
Most observers would probably say that your definitive Test innings is still the first one (151 on debut against India in Bangalore in 2004). Which performances do you rank with that?
I think the innings where I batted the best was the second innings at Lord's [in 2009]. That's the best I've ever hit a cricket ball for a whole innings.
And probably the two most difficult innings I've played were when I got a hundred in the West Indies [in 2008] when my ex's father passed away. Going back and scoring a hundred was very special. Then when I went back to New Zealand after splitting up to make a hundred. That was very special as well. So I think I've had a lot of great, memorable innings throughout my career, though nowhere near as many as I'd like. But the one that's obviously remembered the most is making 150 on debut, but yeah, to me I've certainly had times when I've had to work hard to make runs, and enjoyed every hundred I've scored.
Now as the captain, though, does it become even more of a driving thing to play the big innings that influences the course of the match and also lifts the team?
I think it is important to lead from the front. Probably one of the things Ricky has taught me is that as a leader, as a senior player, and certainly as the captain, you need to be scoring runs as a batsman. I'm now the captain and I want to make sure I'm leading from the front.
As captain in the field, you will need to get more out of a bowling attack that lacked penetration during the Ashes. Also, there is the serious issue of lack of continuity in the spin bowling division.
We've certainly got a lot of talent with the ball. No doubt we continue to look at ways to keep getting teams out. Unfortunately for a while now we haven't been able to bowl teams out in Test cricket as often as we'd like. But we've just got to keep getting better. There's plenty of talent there.
It is about hard work, and our fielding as well. You've got to hold on to all your catches. If you look at the great Australian teams, yes, we had great bowlers but you need your fielders to be hanging on to those catches to take your 20 wickets.
With the spin department we've a few guys and it'll be interesting to see who the selectors end up going for for the Sri Lanka Tests. Whoever gets that opportunity needs to grab it with both hands. We've had a few injuries along the way as well, which has played a part in guys getting opportunities, but I'm certainly confident whatever squad we get we can play some really good cricket in Sri Lanka.
One thing about your background as a player is, you started in club cricket as a left-arm spinner. You became a batsman, but do you still try to look at the game through a spin bowler's eyes?
I think you have to, as a captain. You need to put yourself in the bowler's shoes as much as possible, especially spin. I think you need to communicate as much as you can with the spin bowler to get the best fields - understand what he's trying to do and set fields accordingly. In my mind I've always been a batsman who has bowled, but yeah I played first grade at 16 as a bowler and batted at No. 8. So I've always enjoyed bowling; it's no different now. In this series I had two better spinners in front of me in Xavier Doherty and Steve Smith. And it was a good opportunity to give those guys a good crack. I'll continue to bowl when the time is right.
The balance between performance and continuity for a spin bowler is a delicate one, the ultimate example being Shane Warne's first few Test matches.
It was tough during the Ashes summer as well, because we were playing such a big series and obviously our goal was to win that series, so we tried a few things. Injury played a part as well. Looking forward, I'm pretty confident the selectors will pick a spin bowler and stick with that guy. Guys are still injured at the moment so I'm not sure who they'll go for. But whoever they pick, they'll give him a good chance in Sri Lanka, and then we go to South Africa after that. So hopefully they'll bowl well and get a crack at both series, and stay in the team for a long time. The one thing we need to remember, though, is we're never going to get another Shane Warne. He's one of a kind, and I think [in terms of] the expectation we have with our spin bowlers, things have changed. We certainly haven't got Warney, but I do believe spin bowling will play a huge part in Australian cricket's success going forward.
On the subject of fielding, one thing this Australian team hasn't been able to do as much as they used to is extract run-outs. Would you like to see Ricky, in particular, become the predatory character in the field that he once was, getting direct hits on a regular basis?
I certainly think he's still one of the best fielders in the world at the moment. More than that, I see a good opportunity for the young blokes now to learn from someone like Punter, because he is such a great fielder, and I'm confident they will over time. We've got some really good athletes, really good fielders. It's just about hard work and actually getting on the training paddock and doing as much as you can. Catching a lot of balls, throwing a lot of balls at your targets, and making fielding a priority. That's something I'll be pushing, especially when we get to camp [in Coolum] in July. That's a good time for us to really focus hard on our fielding and make sure that when we get an opportunity in the game, we need to be taking that one-handed catch or hitting the stumps.
When you reach the end of a series you want to be the team that has engineered the more run-outs.
It's about creating opportunities. Direct hit run-outs, you get them every now and then, but it's more creating that run-out, doing something in the field - a great bit of fielding, a good catch, that energy and bubble, the support you get behind your bowler. That's certainly a big part of why we've had success over a long period.
There's three elements of management to ask about - your body generally, your back, but also your happiness away from home. You said last year that you'd play cricket every day if it was at the SCG, while living at home in Bondi.
I don't think that's going to happen in the near future, that's for sure!
Every day you manage your body as well as you possibly can. The greatest advantage of this break now is, you allow your body to have a bit of a rest. For me this is a great opportunity to get rid of any little niggles and get myself fit and strong for what's going to be another 12-24 months of competitive cricket. It's like pre-season for me now. I'll have probably two weeks off, no training at all, and then I'll be back into fitness.
I love that feeling of training. I love being healthy and active, and to me it's about maintaining high standards, making sure when we get to our camp and have the fitness test that I'm one of the fittest, and that I have trained hard throughout this break. At the moment I'm very happy with how my body's been throughout the summer. I don't want to miss any game for Australia.
The number of players going home from Bangladesh [five] against those going to India for the IPL [nine] is a strong sign of the way the game is heading. How do you balance it and educate guys to manage it intelligently?
For both sides, Twenty20 is great for cricket. The Big Bash is going to be fantastic for Australian cricket, and we've already seen the development of so many young players through playing in the IPL or playing in the Big Bash. They have grown so much. One thing I love most about tournaments like that is, it is up to each individual to make a decision on what they think they need, what they want to do and where their body's at. I've said openly I'd love to take part in the IPL at some stage. I'd love to play in the Big Bash at some stage. It's just about assessing where you're at individually. Right now this break is so important for me, not only for my body and for my mind, but planning for Australian cricket as well going forward, and to work really hard on my game.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Daniel Brettig
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