June 27, 2013

Clarke has it all to do

Australia's captain needs to buckle down into his relationship with the new coach, trade in some charm, and look to turn things around

Suddenly cricket is football. Two high-profile coaches sacked mid-season within a week or so of one another. First Surrey dumped Chris Adams and then Australia paid off (presumably) Mickey Arthur. In the age of instant gratification, instant success is an unremitting pressure. Both are good men but both have failed to convert the promise of their empire into results. When the names are big, the stakes are bigger. Mike Brearley once wrote: if the fish is rotten, look at its head.

Surrey's master plan for 2013 involved Graeme Smith but injury did for that. It is a team with some oldish cricketers and one who is struggling with the demands of a county calendar that brings no respite. Smith would have injected a sense of purpose and unity, along with a feeling for reality. The wounds of last summer may not yet have healed but they are unlikely to be the cause of the indifference that pushed the club's governance into such radical action. Tom Maynard is a dreadful loss in every way. Right now, though, his batting is most missed.

Smith was a good choice because it is clear he is the boss. Cricket teams run best when the captain is just that. Players like to know whom they must answer to. This could continue to be a difficult season for Surrey because the captaincy is in limbo. Bravely, Gareth Batty has once more stepped into the breach, and for another month he has Ricky Ponting close by. Also at hand are Stuart Barnes and Alec Stewart but the layers of management are not as crystal clear as they might otherwise have been. Such confusion is compounded by poor results, so the players must find something extra if the wheel is to turn for them.

If Surrey surprised us, Australia shocked us. Here, on enemy territory and on the eve of the battle, they court-martialled one of their own. Except he wasn't one of their own, he was a gentle, approachable, cap-doffing South African, and appointing him was a ghastly mistake. At least that is how it appears now. Back in the days when Arthur was going okay, the players spent a lot of rhetoric saying how they loved him. He was an arm-round-your-shoulder sort of guy, good at lifting you up when down at heel and better still at taking you to the clouds. But the players have cost him. First the tour of India and the "homework" saga; then David Warner's second face-off in a month (one by handheld phone, the other by fist); then the calamitous cricket in the Champions Trophy. Poor Mickey, we knew him well.

Clarke must be accountable. Not Lehmann or Pat Howard, Clarke

The appointment of Darren Lehmann is a good idea. There is huge respect for the way in which he approached his cricket and for the early signs in his coaching career. He knows the Australian way, and believe me, it takes some understanding. He arrives at a bad time or a good time, depending on the way you see it. If the Australians come out of the Ashes summer with their heads held high, he might be offered the job for life.

The smartest thing Lehmann can do is put the captain out front and slip in just behind him. Michael Clarke must be accountable; not Lehmann or Pat Howard, Clarke. When Kevin Pietersen organised the coup that did for Peter Moores, he also did for himself. The result was that England made new appointments and created a clear structure of management. Hugh Morris is managing director of England Cricket. He, along with his board and the selectors, choose the captain and coach and then let them get on with the cricket. Andrew Strauss was made captain after the Pietersen-Moores affair, and Andy Flower was appointed coach. Though they worked together, the buck stopped with Strauss, as it does with Alastair Cook.

Pat Howard's job description is subtly different. His title is General Manager Team Performance and, thus, he is more hands on than Morris, which is not a good thing. If the lads are out on the piss at 2 o'clock in the morning, who takes the rap? Captain, coach or GM Team Performance? The CEO, James Sutherland, called the incident "despicable" and you had to wonder how things had got so out of hand. Well, the captain was in London and the GM in Australia, all of which left the coach drowning.

Clarke cannot stand away from the team. Though not a selector, he should drive its culture with his every move and word. The team should perform in his image. This may not please all Australians, a number of whom still find him hard to trust, but at least Australia will know where they stand.

The first thing Clarke must do with Lehmann is establish the responsibilities of every member of the touring party, both on and off the field, and then spell them out one on one. There is but one week till Trent Bridge and the first Test against an increasingly buoyant England, who are looking on with much amusement. By then each member of the team must know exactly what is required of them. And that should literally mean how to bowl and bat and when to party. Damn the diets and sleep patterns, close ranks and give 'em nothing. You, yes you! Bat for the morning session, come what may. And you! Bowl a foot outside off stump at all the England right-handers. And you, bowl gun-barrel straight with another fielder leg side. Oh, and you Davy, get out of the bar and smash these Poms to Sherwood Forest and back. Forget the blocking, that notion that you must play an innings: bat like you hate the bastards.

As for Clarke himself? He should think back to Allan Border in 1989, who arrived in England with yet another of those teams considered to be the worst that ever left the Great Southern Land. He put the happy go lucky AB of 1985 - when the Australians got beat with a smile on their face - he put that fellow on the back burner and morphed into more than just Captain Grumpy. He played it hard as nails and the Aussies won 4-0 against an English team led by David Gower that never got off the floor after the pounding they took on the first couple of days of the first Test at Headingley. Gower had put them in to bat. The response was 600 and a declaration. It was one of the great psychological heists, one that turned the predicted result on its head. Charming as Clarke is by nature, he must de-charm himself pretty damn quick and throw his every waking hour at overturning the odds.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • thomas on June 29, 2013, 12:57 GMT

    @Meety. True for the batsmen, but Alderman certainly had performed in tests before, including in England. He took 42 wickets @ 21.2 in 1981.

  • Jason on June 29, 2013, 0:38 GMT

    Good point, Mark. Clarke had a short period where the legends of 2005 lingered in his side, and he was able to captain one way. Now HE is the senior player, and he must learn to captain in a different fashion - he must be the Head Prefect, not just the precocious talent with a cricket brain. His instincts are excellent, and he is as good a batsman as I have seen (you don't make triple centuries at the SCG without that kind of talent) but he is going to have to crack some heads. The off-field stuff since he has not been on the field has been simply ludicrous, and Boof will stop the sports science department getting too involved in selection, so this is the time to get fair dinkum about being a captain and fill the role. One gets the feeling that he has not yet fully accepted that Punter and Huss are gone, or at least adjusted to it, and he has to do it without them - thank heavens for the return of Haddin.

  • Mariam on June 28, 2013, 14:44 GMT

    Clarke is key, but he will have the likes of Watson and Khawaja batting around him to provide support. Also don't forget Warner, he will be more hungry then ever when he returns.

  • Amith on June 28, 2013, 14:39 GMT

    In Englandwe need Watto as opener, while he is on reduced bowling, he opens, Clarke bats 4, and Khawaja 3.Hopefully after 4-9 tests, Ussie has cemented his place as our number 3 as he is the best long term batsman for that position, with Warner and Hughes also in the lineup. .In all of this we need another middle order bat, a spot that's wide open, though not for Steve Smith and not for Bailey as Ferguson is far ahead of him. This is predicated on the assumption that withint he next 6 months, Watson will resume normal bowling duties. I sort of understand, from the inside, that he's moved physios/trainers, and they've identified glaring physical weaknesses that are contributing to the injuries. 4/5, we then just need to sort out the top 3.

  • Andrew on June 28, 2013, 1:14 GMT

    @ CutHis_ArminHalf on (June 27, 2013, 10:10 GMT) - bear in mind that of the 1989 crew you noted - only Jones & Border had done anything at Test level BEFORE that Ashes battle. Yes Waugh was important in the 87 W/Cup - but he had been a tried & tested Test dud at that point, Boon went from mediocre to near greatness from that point, Taylor was close to an unknown quantity & Jones was more regarded for his ODI play. So the "hope" from Ozzy fans is 1) Hughes delivers on his promise (albeit unorthodox), 2) Watto lives up to his reputation from now on, 3) Clarke (does do a Border & hold the side together with the bat), & 4) Ussie delivers what he can & 5) Our seamers do what we know they can. ONE series & we all COULD have different perspectives on players - I know I sure did with Waugh & Taylor after 89.

  • Anneeq on June 27, 2013, 23:45 GMT

    This is the best chance England have ever had to smash Australia 5-0. Even tho England have a tendency to choke, i still predict that itl be 4-0 to England. I think Clarke will play one of those one man innings to scrape a draw in one of the tests. Maybe therel be a closely fought test match or two, but i can defo envisage there being an innings defeat by England.......

  • Gopala on June 27, 2013, 19:28 GMT

    This is Ashes, a fiercely competitive cricket between two nations as per tradition. It does not matter if Australia has Derran as coast or Mickey, they compete. My money is on Australia even in this state, because every time they are underestimated they came back very very strong. That is their culture and they way they play cricket. This is what we all have been seeing from ages isin't it. So we cricket fans just focus on how they compete on field rather than just looking at what is happening off the field. One thing I have to say here to OZ bowlers and batsmen.The first day of the first test is going to decide the fate of their glory.if they bowl first in first test they have to see they get all Poms wickets within 300-350, if they bat first they will have to score 300-350 in their first innings. That is it, from there they will take the urn.

  • Android on June 27, 2013, 18:00 GMT

    it'll be exciting to see how lehmann and clarke rescues aussie cricket... i still miss those heady warne/mcgrath/hayden/symonds days...

  • suresh on June 27, 2013, 17:53 GMT

    Aggression is not grinding your teeth or acting macho. It is not for show. It is inside you.......there is no need for sledging and no need to react to sledging. If this is understood the young aussies can play better.

  • srikanth on June 27, 2013, 15:51 GMT

    Mark Nicholas - I don't usually comment on cricinfo but am forced to after reading your article. I have recently read Steve Waugh's autobiography and you hit the nail on the head when you said Clarke needs to go back to Border. I just hope Australia gives a fight otherwise these back to back ashes are a bore and will act as testicides (a new term I learnt today thanks to cricinfo). It's all about winning sessions and Clarke needs to stress that.