Mark Nicholas
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Former Hampshire batsman; host of Channel 9's cricket coverage

Of Smith, Clarke and Cook

Which of the latter two will find the resolve and inner strength that has allowed South Africa's captain to climb the summit and remain at the top?

Mark Nicholas

March 21, 2013

Comments: 33 | Text size: A | A

Graeme Smith gets in some fielding drills, Cape Town, December 30, 2012
By his own admission Smith spent four years working out the job, a couple more getting a handle on it, and has only lately begun to nail it © Gallo Images
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In a fine recent article about Graeme Smith, Michael Atherton talked about the essence of Smith's achievement to captain his country in 100 Test matches. "To endure under such strain [and by this he refers to "nail-biting match situations, restless nights, troublesome selectors, meddling administrators and festering egos"; he does not mention the expectant public nor the prying eye of the media that fuels it] speaks of unshakeable resolve and inner strength."

I confess to being fascinated by Smith and the road he has travelled. Leading the South African cricket team has specific and inherent complications - not least that the best side is not necessarily the one on the park. Smith brushes this away, understanding the pointlessness of debate on a subject that serves no common purpose. When interviewed on Channel 9 early last December, he admitted that he spent four years working out the job, a couple more getting a handle on it, and that only of late had he begun to nail it. Ten years is a long time to do anything, never mind lead a sports team with the egos to which Atherton refers and the insecurities and uncertainties that hover and wait to kill. Moreover, a cricket captain must practise as he preaches, a devil of thing to achieve consistently throughout any decade, never mind the fast-moving one just past.

Most captains have a problem child lurking somewhere. Maybe Smith's has been the issue of "quotas". Brought up in the age of Nelson Mandela's triumphant return to centre stage, Smith sees things about black and white in black and white. He defers to no one on this. Integration and development are as much a mission as the need for success. He is concerned that Makhaya Ntini almost set the bar too high and those young Africans who aspire cannot hope to do so without the interim of hard yards. He is worried about the danger of fast-tracking talent not ready for the exposé that is modern international cricket and the knock-on effects. It is a valid point.

This is Smith's Kingdom of Days. South Africa are the best team in the world. He has a fast-bowling attack to savour, an ideal blend of batting types, and a colossus of an allrounder. The genie missed out on a spinner but the captain is making do. Relaxed, mature and well rewarded, he gets to play one-day cricket without the responsibility of tossing the coin, so he has bit of fun too.

This karma hangs by a thread. It is not so long ago that Faf du Plessis saved his bacon in Adelaide. Michael Clarke's second consecutive double-hundred rocked the South Africans and should have led to victory. The truth is that Australia, shorn of the injured James Pattinson for the fourth innings of the match, were not quite good enough to close the deal. From the great escape in Adelaide came the massacre of the wounded in Perth.

Clarke appears tired. The Australians' schedule is ridiculous; their dependency on his play unbelievable. Internal politics take the most from a team and an insufferable amount from the captain

Clarke's tale is not so happy right now. Beating Sri Lanka at home was a sinecure, the tour to India anything but. Increasingly Clarke's problem child has been Shane Watson, who produces less than his talent and preferences demand. Watson has become a riddle. Should he bowl, and where should be bat? Indeed, given the infrequency of his appearances, should he be vice-captain? It is remarkable that, should Clarke be confirmed unfit tomorrow morning, he will lead Australia for the first time in a Test match immediately after being dropped for insubordination. To be or not to be is the ongoing Watson question. In a stronger era, he might be sent away to prove sustainability of fitness and form in state cricket. In this era the argument for needs-must usually wins the day.

Much of this makes Watson out to be the bad guy, which he is not. He is a good man and there is a big heart in that strong frame that is generously spirited. His crime is self-absorption, nothing more. He wants all the ducks lined up and then, bang, he is a favourite to pick them off. It has been easy to feel sympathy for him, plagued as he has been by injury, but the time has come for the vice-captain to be just that - unshakeably loyal to his captain and coach and a Test cricketer of substance not promise. Australia's best XI has him opening the batting as well as bowling some overs when occasion demands. Now the offspring has arrived at home and mother and child are well, the duty is to Australian cricket abroad.

Clarke appears tired. The Australians' schedule is ridiculous; their dependency on his play unbelievable. Internal politics take the most from a team and an insufferable amount from the captain. Ask Andrew Strauss, who spent a summer fencing with Kevin Pietersen and retired from the game at the end of it. There is England's problem child, now wrapped up nice and cosy - for the moment - by Alastair Cook. Of the myriad stripes that will adorn Cook's shoulder when he settles on the farm for good, the one for solving the Pietersen affair will have been the trickiest to come by. There was a coach to convince, a team to persuade and a dissident star to embrace. England are settled because of Cook's reasoning and because of a strong core that Australia presently lack.

It is what Messrs Clarke and Arthur are looking at when they punish four players for their indifference. It is easy to mock the notion of incomplete "homework" but the truth lies in the management's concern about attitude. To ask an international sportsman for three points in self-appraisal is fair and relevant. To ignore the request is rude and disruptive. Yes, Arthur may live or die by this "line in the sand" moment but we must assume the potential sacrifice was essential.

Clarke just wants some peace, and a few blokes to hang on at the wicket with him. Now that India has effectively gone, attention will turn to the Ashes. Most English and Australian cricketers are defined by this old rivalry and their eras bracketed by the outcome of the fight for the little urn. Two magnificent cricketers, both with the makings of great leaders, have the mind for the contest. Which of them will best endure the strain and find the resolve and inner strength that has allowed one of their contemporaries to climb the summit and remain at the top?

Mark Nicholas, the former Hampshire captain, presents the cricket on Channel 9 in Australia and Channel 5 in the UK

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Posted by jay57870 on (March 24, 2013, 17:56 GMT)

Mark - Yes, SA is the world's best team presently. But Smith could not have done it alone. Not without master-coach - Gary Kirsten - a name conspicuously absent in Mark's column! Gary has instilled high standards: accountability & flexibility in a very mature & stable SA team. His coaching style is markedly different from his SA predecessor Mickey Arthur. They were a bunch of "chokers" then. Now they know how to win as a team: They climbed the summit - literally & actually - when Gary had his boys train hard last summer in the Alps with Mike Horn the adventurer. Even Kallis beat his fear of heights! They dethroned England. Remember Gary also took Team India to the top in Tests with captain Dhoni & a core group of senior players - Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman & Co. Again, he had Mike conduct motivational sessions, so India went on to win WC 2011! Dhoni was hailed as a great skipper - another obvious omission by Mark. Building a winning culture is key to climbing & staying at the top!

Posted by jay57870 on (March 24, 2013, 13:54 GMT)

Let's turn to Clarke & Arthur. Yes, they've looked stupid with the "Homework-gate" controversy in India. It was more of a "head-in-the-sand" situation than a "line-in-the-sand" moment. The ostrich had already laid eggs with the "secret dossier" of specific plans to wage "psychological warfare" on each SA player - "verbal attacks" on Amla, "bouncers" at Kallis & so on! Having Arthur as coach, Oz thought they had a big advantage, when Ponting claimed: "We've done our homework on aIl their players'! "Homework-gate" here too? It all boomeranged! Arthur & Clarke were outfoxed by Kirsten & Smith! Just like they've been by Dhoni & Co with a 4-0 whitewash! Team India has bounced back. Captain Cool's "resolve & inner strength" have been a big part of it. Like Cook, Dhoni too has "myriad stripes"- Tests (# 1 for ~ 2 years), WC 2011, WCT20 - as captain in all 3 formats in 4+ years! With India's upcoming SA tour, Mark's title should now read: "Of Smith, Clarke, Cook and Dhoni"!!!!

Posted by   on (March 23, 2013, 21:39 GMT)

This article is about comparing Cook and Clarke's relative merits and chances in this year's Ashes. Both are comfortably the best batsman of their respective teams, but Cook certainly has a more settled and experienced side at his disposal (not to mention a stronger bench). Let us just keep Smith away from this. Only when he is gone would people outside SA (and inside those fiercely political administrative corridors of SA) appreciate his contribution. He was an awkward 22 yr old kid, who looked older and bigger than his age but got bullied by men like Flemings, Pontings and Sangakkaras. He was simply saddled with the captaincy when still green to test cricket itself. He led former captains, an iconic black player, some fantastic talents and made a team out of it. Along the way, he didn't fare too badly as a batsman himself despite obvious technical shortcomings. He will end up in the top tiers of modern cricketing history, no debate.

Posted by Greatest_Game on (March 23, 2013, 18:06 GMT)

How short peoples memories are, or how little of history they know.

Smith inherited a team in disarray. A team that had been rocked by the double blows of Hansie Cronje's exposure, disgrace & lifetime ban, & another World cup debacle. Added to this was intense political pressure & interference in a country struggling to reinvent itself.

Smith had played 8 tests when he took on the captaincy. He was raw: raw to international cricket, raw to leadership of men far older & more experienced than he, & at 22, raw to the demands & challenged of adulthood.

The travails Cook faced with Pietersen was the difficulty of dealing with only ONE Saffa. (Smith would have dealt with that in 5 minutes, out back.) Clarke was schooled in a great team. While Cook & Clarke were learning the game & leadership, from others, Smith learned it by default.

Smith has inked his name in cricketing history. That is done, whatever your opinion. We all know that opinions mean little. Results matter. Smith has them.

Posted by Soso_killer on (March 23, 2013, 1:45 GMT)

Smith is the greatest Captain of all time period. He took a young team and molled them together when we were ranked fourth in the world. Where are we now? People can talk about running out of ideas and tactics but this has happened to everyone. Clarke who is being hailed as the best since sliced bread looked clueless when Amla was attacking to all parts of the ground. He was even negative and unsporting by wasting time to deny Amla from getting a 100 in a session.

I have never seen such a great leader of men. No doubt in my mind that he is an all time great!!

Posted by heathrf1974 on (March 22, 2013, 23:32 GMT)

I think Cook is the better captain at the moment. What he did in India and how they changed that series was amazing. Probably England's greatest series victory since 2005. Clarke needs a team that gives him 100% support. They are quite a young side and may need a couple more years to form a core group of players. The Aussie batting is also very brittle. Smith is like Ponting he is a pretty good captain, a better batsman and has a great team.

Posted by   on (March 22, 2013, 17:09 GMT)

Adam Grech on (March 22, 2013, 12:47 GMT) Smith often places the game on autopilot, waiting for wickets rather than changing the environment that will allow the wicket to fall. No imagination- Bowling Tahir when he was going for 10 an over, really, keeping him on is a good response?

That game where Tahir was getting Smacked everywhere Kallis had got injured so he didnt have much choice he did try Faf and it didnt work. In the first match when Hussey and Clarke rescued Aus his spinner Dumminy got injured before a ball was bowled and he did try himself Amla and Petersen just they didnt get the break through! doesnt mean he didnt try or he wasnt imaginative just means what he tried wasnt successful on those occasions - he still won the series though. Ask Clarke if its easy bowling teams out on a flat track with a bowler down?

As for him being frustrated when things are going to plan really? show me any captain who is happy losing?

Posted by   on (March 22, 2013, 14:30 GMT)

Smith's longevity as captain and near-50 averaging opening bat are remarkable, especially considering he's not a natural "classic left hander" but more of an improviser who relies on an exceptional eye and massive heart. The sadness for me, as I read about back-to-back Ashes series pitting Clarke's Aussies against Cook's English is that SA are effectively sidelined into playing sporadic 3-match series against also-rans in Test cricketing terms (NZ would't beat a second rate club outfit in SA in a 3-match series). The two Ashes series will be close-fought affairs, but in the end, neither team will do enough to overhaul SA at the top of the table and we - the Test cricket loving fraternity - will be denied seeing genuine strength vs strength on a regular basis. Eventually SA will be toppled - not overpowered, outwitted or out-spun - but simply through the passage of time and inactivity.

Posted by   on (March 22, 2013, 13:04 GMT)

Clarke should settle at a position no lower than 4 and then groom a team around him like Border did in late 80s. SA and Eng have done that and are reaping the rewards.

Posted by   on (March 22, 2013, 12:47 GMT)

@ B.C.G - The same Taylor led squad won the third test in 1998, no McGrath, but used his resources well. Calling the 99-01 australians the greatest attack ever is a big call, the windies of the 70's and 80's say hi.

@ Muzammil - I never said Smith wasnt a good batsman, Perth 08, Adelaide 12, 277 in england, whenever he posts a century, the team hasnt lost. Like Ponting, he showed when things were not going his way, to show his frustration, and not try anything new. Smith often places the game on autopilot, waiting for wickets rather than changing the environment that will allow the wicket to fall. No imagination- Bowling Tahir when he was going for 10 an over, really, keeping him on is a good response? 3 Wickets would fall in australias first innings for the first 2 tests, and smith seemed to rest on those laurels, not doing a thing and letting Clarke and Hussey get away with massive scores.

A very good batsman, to me, on field, he isnt anything special.

Posted by 2nd_Slip on (March 22, 2013, 8:12 GMT)

Smith is the best captain in world cricket at the moment without a doubt.Maturity and experience that is unparalleled. Thrust into the job at a tender age he has matured into a very fine leader, leading from the front( SA has never lost a test match when Smith has scored a century). Unlike Cook and Clarke who have limited responsibility Smith had to deal with the pressure of leading in all formats of the game.In thruth Cook is out of the question, its way too early to judge him. Clarke has seems too hyper-creative and thus loses the plot a little. For someone who has played test cricket for so long you would expect him to be a lot more knowledgable as to how to go about applying the finishing touches in a test match(which he clearlly didnt posses in the past series against SA when Aus were on top and could have won the first two tests). He has also failed to unify his troops in testing Indian conditions lately.

Posted by balajik1968 on (March 22, 2013, 2:43 GMT)

Smith was someone who wasn't an automatic selection when he became captain. But once selected he took the responsibility seriously and led from the front by setting a personal example. It took time for him to grow into the job, but grow he has and right now is reaping the fruit of a long hard grind. Cook inherited a more or less settled team. Credit to him for getting KP back into the scheme of things. The possible problem with this England team is that the current team is pretty strong the way the Aussies were at the beginning of the last decade, and could grow old together. Clarke inherited a team on the way down. He has done a fair job, but Australia is facing its worst drought of batsmen in a long time. It won't be easy. The weaknesses exposed in India could be brutally exploited elsewhere, forget the pitches, this Aussie team has shown the least grit I have seen in a long time, and I have been watching cricket since 1984.

Posted by RandyOZ on (March 22, 2013, 0:03 GMT)

Cook will certainly hope to not emulate the last English captain who was opener, with an average barely above 40. At least he isn;t South African so he is off to a good start.

Posted by   on (March 21, 2013, 19:33 GMT)

Its strange how people claim that Smith "is in the same enviable position as Ponting" because he has a formidable team and thus cannot be a great captain. I would like to remind. @Bob Young, that the enviable situation is partly down to his role in the development of Amla, De Villiers, Steyn, Philander (none of whom played before he started) "The mark of a top ranking captain is how he copes with something less" This is exactly what Smith proved by taking a team ranked 5th/6th ("something less") to no.1. @ Adam Grech, and how exactly did tactically astute Clarke respond when the chips were down whilst Dhawan was on top? Smith's 'struggles' in adelaide were not compounded by his bowlers breaking down? (steyn, Kallis, Philander not playing) When the chips are down Smith actually responds best, playing some of his great innings in trying circumstances

Posted by   on (March 21, 2013, 19:18 GMT)

Much too early to talk about Cooke. He's only just taken over. Not even a conversation worth starting for 3 years minimum. 5 years really. Smith is a decent tactician and has lead from the front for most of his career. Clarke will be tested being the standout batsman in a now very weak batting side.

Posted by B.C.G on (March 21, 2013, 17:44 GMT)

@Keith Waters,maddy20-You stole my words.

@Adam Grech-The same Taylor whom India thrashed by an innings and 219 runs.Without McGrath & Gillespie;Taylor was mediocre.Waugh was completely helpless when India mowed down his second string attack in 2003-04.Why with the greatest attack ever in 1999 & 2001;Waugh lost in India & Lanka.

Its pretty straight really.Some tactics work;some don't.Overall Smith has taken some pretty good choices.If he was a dunce;he would have been shown the door a long while ago.And then there's the never say die batting(courageous in Sydney 2009 & Durban 2004) & bucket catching to think of.Disposing of 3 English captains must be surely be every Australian captains dream!!!!!!!

Posted by   on (March 21, 2013, 16:55 GMT)

No-one has said that Smith inherited his first class team. What we are saying is that is what the team is now and what it has been for several years...That is not down to Smith alone, the selectors and the coaches have to take most of the credit for that. So to call Smith a great captain simply because his team has developed into the #1 in the world is ludicrous. As I said in an earlier post, how to judge a good captain is how he performs when the chips are down, and in that respect what you are judging is a man who has had ample time to grow into the job, to two others who are relative newbies.. A pointless exercise.

Posted by SICHO on (March 21, 2013, 14:22 GMT)

When Australia couldn't finish the job against South Africa, Clarke wasn't "tactical" enough to ensure Australia victory, mind you that happened twice. Smith might not be everyone's favourite but he does his job very well. Clarke, on the other hand is trying very hard to be this "great" captain to everyone. Clarke is very good batsman but when it comes to captaincy, I doubt that. On the 3rd Test vs India, he persisted with an attacking field even when his bowlers were rubbish and Dhawan was an unstoppable force. Then what did he do? He couldn't swallow his pride and set defensive fields just to let matters settle. I can't say much about Cook because he hasn't had a series against teams like SA, or even Aus.

Posted by   on (March 21, 2013, 12:52 GMT)

to say that smith has it easy becasue he has a settled team is such bollocks.......... he has worked his socks off to create that settled team , he did not inherit a great team like ricky pointing did .

He ralllied from the front and lead the current team to where it is in the world ranking which when i last check was sitting nicely at number ONE , so to all you haters out there nobody needs you to like the chap but show some decencey and respect what he has achieved . Hell i never liked Shane Warne but my god i respect his ability to change games.

Posted by DeckChairand6pack on (March 21, 2013, 12:44 GMT)

Look hard enough over a 10 year career as captain and you'll find evidence to support the assertion that someone is not 'tactically astute'. The truth is, you make choices. Some you lose and some you win. Recently Michael Clarke made the decision to declare against the WI with a 1st inning deficit. It turned out to be a brilliant decision and OZ won the game. Fast forward to India where the same man made a bold decision to declare with different results. Naturally there were other factors at play, not the least being Australian ineptitude, but you see my point about choices. To say Graeme Smith has inherited this team is being very disingenuous. He has had his fair share of average sides to captain over the years. He has always given everything regardless. He, more than anyone else, deserves this moment in the sun.

Posted by rohan34mca on (March 21, 2013, 12:20 GMT)

Captains CANNOT be evaluated on the number of matches lead, number of matches won OR EVEN ability to lead by example (which comes automatically during form). There are two parameters according to me -

1. His ability to handle various people 2. His ability to think differently and courage to implement thinking

With all due respect Smith does not score high in these.

Posted by djeykumar on (March 21, 2013, 12:10 GMT)

There's no doubt Smith is the best in business right now as he has the most settled team of all and a core of some of the best players of this generation to back him. Between Clarke and Cook however, I'd vote Cook a lot higher simply because of his man management skills. I remember reading in an article that the first thing Cook wanted to do after taking over from Strauss was to get Pietersen back in the team soon as possible and not only did he do that, he also coddled Pietersen's big ego to get the best out of him on the India trip. On the other hand the way Clarke handled the 'homework' saga was similar to Strauss' methods and we all know how that ended. Clarke is one the best player in the world right now but that doesn't make him a good leader. Cook IMO has what it takes to take England places...

Posted by   on (March 21, 2013, 12:00 GMT)

Smith may not be the most "tactically" astute captain of all time? not 100% sure what people mean by this ? tactics are tactics they sometimes work they sometimes dont? funny how Smith had no tactics in Adelaide and look frustrated which of course had nothing to with his strike spinner bowling worse than my 2 year old toddler and his All rounder was injured. but when Clarke had SA on the ropes and couldn't force a victory with nearly a day and a half to bowl at them he was tactically aware and a brilliant captain ? Yes Smith may have some quality players now! but he started as a 20 year old. just ask KP about being a young white player trying to make it in SA in those times! and at 22 he was thrust into captaining arguably the toughest nation and sent to England to take on attack that included Harmy, Flintoff, Anderson and Gough - How did he respond? 100+ tests and he's still kicking. Smith may not be everyones cuppa tea but he sure has some big Cahunas. To Cook and Clarke good luck

Posted by   on (March 21, 2013, 11:06 GMT)

Tactically Smith is a poor captain - When the chips are down (Brisbane and Adelaide) he had no tactics, and looked frustrated - Something Ricky Ponting was guilty of also, but was all smiles in perth. Mark Taylor was a wonderful captain because he was always trying something different, and when you looked at him, you could not tell if he was winning or losing. Tactically Clarke is a very good captain, but the honeymoon is over, and what doesnt help is Clarke has a coach that constantly spins a load of garbage, sports science trying to determine who should rest, and the selectors insistence of not fielding the absolute best team. Cook seems to be level headed, able to learn from mistakes (Victory in india after the first test) and is leading by example. Havent seen much of him captaincy wise, but has a no nonsense attitude. To me, Cook is the best of the bunch with Clarke a close second. Never have and will rate smith, the team does its own thing (Again, like Ricky Ponting)

Posted by   on (March 21, 2013, 10:36 GMT)

Smith is in the same enviable position as Ponting was back in the days of Australian supremacy, captain of a team which largely requres very little captaincy. The mark of a top ranking captain is how he copes with something less, as both Cook and Clarke are currently finding out. The time to judge those two is when, like Smith, they've been in the job for ten years, assuming either lasts that long.

Posted by kharidra on (March 21, 2013, 7:31 GMT)

The strength of the helmsman is derived from the strength manning all the departments that the helmsman heads. By and large Smith has had time on his side to go the through the life cycle to metamorphose into the entity that he currently is. Cook also has both time and also appears to have platform based on the recent results from the Ashes series and also the verdict with India both at home and away. Both Smith and Cook have remained injury free by and large which contributes in no less a manner towards performances on the field. As against this back drop the odds for Clarke are heavily stacked against him with very little transition period, a down sliding culture, injury problems - both his own and that of key team members, a squad that is very rarely at full strength, and last but not the least the impact of the retirements. The absence of veterans and seasoned campaigners who have withered battles with such amazing consistency and authority and have identified paths to the peak.

Posted by ygkd on (March 21, 2013, 6:58 GMT)

If Smith is worried about fast-tracking, then he only has to look to Australia to see what can go wrong. Too many veterans here have been overlooked for promising youngsters. The only problem with so many promising youngsters is that promise often doesn't amount to anything. The flip-side of this fast-tracking is the loss of the veterans who are over-looked. At least South Africa, consider such paths for the right reasons - engaging the black and coloured in their Rainbow Nation. Australia do it for ... um, I'm not sure why...

Posted by Clyde on (March 21, 2013, 6:09 GMT)

What would be worrying most about Mark's contention is the right to remain silent and the right not to incriminate oneself, things due to natural law and embodied in the Fifth Amendment. Only if there is a special edict for the case, such as from a grand jury or house of parliament can, can the right to silence be removed. I have no doubt in their hearts most Australian cricketers and cricket-followers are highly embarrassed about what has been revealed at the centre of Australian cricket. The centre is powerful and its behaviour reminds Australians and no doubt people in other countries of politics and more specifically political systems. As an Australian, when I heard about the homework affair I instinctively thought of a time when the rightist government then in Canberra tried to break the wharfies' (waterside workers) union, but it is even deeper than that. The centre, which appears to be Mr Arthur, for all practical purposes, pitted itself against even larger principles.

Posted by PrasPunter on (March 21, 2013, 5:40 GMT)

We have done it in the past and not sure why Clarke's team can't do it now. All we need to do is take a deep look at ourselves and realize the proud culture that we had. Need not go far - just turn to AB - he took us out of shambles in '89 and it lasted a good 15 years. We had quite a few characters like Waugh, Taylor, Boon, Marsh, Jones, Billy etc back then. Do we have such lion-hearted men now is the biggest question. CA would do well by using the services of these Legends - Go Aus !! God bless !! - from an Aussie who is desperate to see us back to those good old days.

Posted by gzawilliam on (March 21, 2013, 4:50 GMT)

Give Cook and Clarke the following cricketers to captain and I have no doubt they would.


Smith has the same advantage Ricky Ponting had during the last 10years of domination.

Posted by Babu22 on (March 21, 2013, 4:29 GMT)

Beautiful article Mark. Regarding Shane Watson, I think he is doing to Michael Clarke exactly what Clarke himself did to Ponting. During the Indian tour of 2010, Ponting was crying out for support and got nothing from Clarke, incl. not bowling because of bad back. Yet Clarke becomes Captain and scores more than 1500 runs in a year and bowls in tests. I can't understand the sudden transformation. On the bowling front, Watson said he might bowl during the second half of IPL. This means he should be practising bowling in the nets to be in a situation to bowl those 4 overs in an IPL match. You can't bowl in a match without doing any bowling for 4 months. If he is already practising in the nets, can't he bowl just 4 overs in a test match now? I was hoping he wouldn't go back to India for 4th test. Now I am resigned to accepting he could be captaining tomorrow.

Posted by jimbond on (March 21, 2013, 4:07 GMT)

Yes, SA is no. 1, but I am still not very sure of Smith's captaincy. Clarke is of course too raw to be called great. If he gets this team back on track, we can start believing his leadership skills. Cook is yet to face a real challenge. I for one believe, that the Peterson problem solved by itself. A bit of cooling off helped Petersen desperate for international cricket. And Cook has been served- greatly by his own batting form, and that of his top batsmen. Actually there is not much difference between the three. it is just that in Smith's and Cooke's case, the top order has been delivering of late, and the bowlers have been consistent. Let a few things go wrong, and we can know if they are made of the same stuff as a Steve Waugh, Alan Border, Lloyd or Imran Khan.

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Mark Nicholas A prolific and stylish middle-order batsman for Hampshire, Mark Nicholas was unlucky never to have played for England, but after captaining his county to four major trophies he made his reputation as a presenter, commentator and columnist. Named the UK Sports Presenter of the Year in 2001 and 2005 by the Royal Television Society, he has commentated all over the world, from the World Cup in the West Indies to the Indian Premier League. He now hosts the cricket coverage for Channel 9 in Australia and Channel 5 in England.

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