March 14, 2012

Why Clarke must give up the ODI captaincy

His injuries and absences are unsettling Australia's young side. The selectors must save him for Tests and hand the one-day reins to a deserving candidate

To ensure a longer Test career Michael Clarke must step down as captain of the ODI squad.

His injured back is not only taking a toll on his hamstrings, it is playing Russian roulette with his international future. Having your captain in and out of the side due to a recurring injury cannot but upset the rhythm and stability of any team at the international level. By his own admission Clarke came back too soon after injury. And because of the packed programme, his back-related hamstring woes are likely to continue.

If Clarke gives the ODI stuff away now, he can confidently build his stamina and gear all his energy towards playing Test cricket. He didn't play the deciding ODI in the CB Series at the Adelaide Oval against Sri Lanka, and he will also miss the one-day series in the West Indies. In a way, I think this was a blessing, for Clarke is a champion, and any nation wants its best to be consistently available to play Test cricket.

T20s and ODIs are okay in that they often bring new audiences to the game and help keep the money rolling in, and we enjoy the contest on the day. However, rarely do we remember much about a limited-overs match unless it's a crack century of the Warner kind (163 v Sri Lanka) or Mark Taylor's magnificent catches at first slip against the West Indians an age ago, which turned the match on its head. Each limited-overs game seems to roll into the other and we forget much of what happened. Not so in a Test match.

Clarke has played 212 ODIs, scoring 6953 runs at an average of 45.74, with seven hundreds and 51 half-centuries. He has taken 53 wickets at 37.84 and 81 catches. An enviable record, and he probably wants to play on, dominating Test and one-day cricket, but logic must prevail here.

If Clarke goes, it is almost certain Tasmania captain George Bailey will take over the reins. Bailey's selection as Australia's T20 captain raised a few eyebrows a few months back, but it is obvious that he has a flair for leadership. And this Australian bunch of selectors - the nucleus of which comprises John Inverarity, Rod Marsh and Andy Bichel - has, according to me, the same common-sense approach and credibility as the three-man selection team of Don Bradman, Neil Harvey and Jack Ryder that held centre stage when I first came into first-class cricket in the late 1960s.

Good judges close to the Australian team have a high regard for Bailey. They consider him an outstanding human being and a terrific captain. He got his chance in two T20s this summer, and while as a batsman he didn't spend a lot of time at the crease, his captaincy has shone.

In the recent Ryobi Cup final in Adelaide, Bailey showed he is made of stern stuff. He scored 101 and was out in the last over. But although Tasmania tied with South Australia, they lost the title because South Australia had the advantage of a home final. How absurd and how unfair. The match should have been replayed.

Shane Watson has done an okay job as leader in Clarke's absence, but he is too important a player right now, with critical roles as an opener or No. 3 batsman, and as a bowler who can take key wickets or stem the flow at the death, to be weighed down by the added responsibility of captaining this young side.

Within a few weeks we'll all know whether Bailey is the man to lead Australia's ODI outfit. I say to our national selectors: do as your most well-regarded Test selection committee of yesteryear would have done were they faced with such a dilemma. Save Clarke for the Tests and give Bailey leadership of the limited-overs squad. He is the man to lead this limited-overs team into the future. And that call should be made right now.

Ashley Mallett took 132 Tests wickets in 38 Tests for Australia. An author of over 25 books, he has written biographies of Clarrie Grimmett, Doug Walters, Jeff Thomson and Ian Chappell

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