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

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

Mark Nicholas

June 27, 2013

Comments: 31 | Text size: A | A

Michael Clarke leads his team out, Somerset v Australians, Taunton, 1st day, June 26, 2013
Clarke: time he grit his teeth and dug in © PA Photos
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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

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Posted by tjsimonsen 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.

Posted by OzMongrel 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.

Posted by Mary_786 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.

Posted by Amith_S 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.

Posted by Meety 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.

Posted by 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.......

Posted by gop_cricket 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.

Posted by   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...

Posted by sharidas 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.

Posted by srikanthyanamanagandla 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.

Posted by pundit14 on (June 27, 2013, 13:48 GMT)

Funny that Clarke is now deemed such a weak captain. Not too long ago (remember the declaration from behind against WI?) many of you were saying how he is one of the best captains in recent history, and lauded how he's creating a good "winning culture" for Australia (at this time last year he didn't lose a Test/ODI series yet). Okay so he's not the best captain, but one bad series (and some transgressions from teammates) doesn't erase his commendable leadership in the previous five. And it's too easy to blame the captain, the coach, etc for the lack of so-called "team culture", but forget that ultimately the players are grown-up professionals, who really should know better.

Posted by Mitty2 on (June 27, 2013, 13:08 GMT)

Nicholas, you're writing generally and imprecisely. You're telling Clarke to be gritty and even inferring that he be more Australian - if there is such a thing - but with no actual suggestions as to how.

You want him to be accountable, and then link that to him not being with the team when he was getting back treatment... What is more beneficial to the team may I ask; him being fit for the ashes as the only world class batsmen in the line up, or him giving the ODI players a pat on the back in meaningless series and missing the massively important series not just as Aus' best batsmen, but as a great tactician.

You ask for the minimising in accountability of Howard, Lehmann, Sutherland and co, and yet make links to problems that were directly caused by Howard, Sutherland and the previous coach.

You even talk about the Warner incident in which Clarke was absent and infer the blame on Clarke.

I ask, what more can he do?

Posted by RandyOZ on (June 27, 2013, 12:34 GMT)

More rhetoric from Mark, with another poorly researched article.

Posted by heathrf1974 on (June 27, 2013, 12:23 GMT)

@Governor. I think you may have hit the nail on the head.

Posted by heathrf1974 on (June 27, 2013, 12:23 GMT)

All this criticism of Clarke is just speculation and story-telling. No one knows what goes on behind closed doors. Most of the players seem supportive of Clarke and it is a handful that are causing trouble. But the media makes out it's the whole squad. These players are men and it is high time they all start acting like one.

Posted by Chris_Howard on (June 27, 2013, 12:02 GMT)

Trying to draw hope from 1989 is rather optimistic. Reading the report from that first Test, England screwed up. First they left out their #1 spinner, Emburey, and second, they sent Australia in on a very good batting strip (hoping the cloud would bring some swing). Further Botham and Gatting were out injured.

England in '89 were somewhat in disarray and confused, and as the report says, planned poorly for the series. Further, they we also not playing well over the previous couple of years, and hardly had a memorable bowling line up (opening bowlers De Fraitas and Foster wouldn't scare many batsmen)

Compare that to 2013 and there is no comparison. England 2013 are a strong unit, with, like Australia, a raft of very good bowlers to choose from. On form, their batsmen are ahead of Australia, on performance, they are ahead. And you can be sure that this England team will be planning astutely for this series.

I think Australia will do ok, just not win. Maybe 2-1, England's way.

Posted by CutHis_ArminHalf on (June 27, 2013, 10:10 GMT)

I'm not sure we can compare this side to 1989. Check out their line-up!

No reputations but some of the best cricketers australia has produced.

By the time the poms got steve waugh out - in the 3rd Test!- he had already amassed 393 runs!

He ended up averaging 126.5 for the series. and 500+ runs

Taylor 800+ @ 80+ Jones 500+ @ 70+ Border 440 @ 70 Boon 440 @ 55

If anyone has some inside knowledge about our batting line-up please let me know cos the odds for an Aus win are pretty good!

Posted by CutHis_ArminHalf on (June 27, 2013, 9:53 GMT)

Not being australian I don't think Mark should be talking about how australians feel about Clarke.

#clueless pom

Posted by Reverend-Cavalier on (June 27, 2013, 8:56 GMT)

I've always though that Clarke should stop all the talk and just bat..and bat at 3. He is our best by a fair margin. Stamping his authority on the Poms is so crucial to the success from Australia's point of view. I loved how Border placed winning the Ashes above his friendships with the Poms, especially Gower. Gower has quoted that it really shocked him. Border even gave it to his own players. He told McDermott in an early Count game in 89 that if he kept "bowling that shit he would be on the next plane to Australia." He then proceeded to throw the bowl from mid off not to McDermott walking back to his bowling mark, but to the mid off boundary so McDermott had to fetch it ! I love it. Clarke could gain some pointers from these truths.

Posted by Amit_13 on (June 27, 2013, 8:33 GMT)

For my money, this is a shrewd move by CA. If they loose, its expected and if they win, its gambler's luck. (Gambler's / MSD might prefer to call it intuition). Similarly, its a win win for Darren Lehman, the person. He might hate his guts for loosing The Ashes though. But he has a herculean task of overcoming everything Andy Flower has managed in his time with England. Good luck! The Australian way has been skill and hard work... all the management faff came in to prepare for the post genius' era. They basically tried to wrap a structure around a well structured and highly functional Australian cricket team. It didn't go wrong with Micky Arthur being appointed, it went with proving the need for him in the first place.

This is that brilliant moment when the dice has been rolled and everyone's waiting for it to stop spinning. Welcome The Ashes!!!

Posted by Front-Foot-Lunge on (June 27, 2013, 7:34 GMT)

Clarke is a poor leader and a weak decision maker. That much is proven, especially given what has happened in the last few months. Time for a new captain, Khawaja is the last man standing.

Posted by electric_loco_WAP4 on (June 27, 2013, 7:33 GMT)

Surely ,this Aus team are too strong for Eng with or W/o a coach . But what the change has done is for Lehmann to enjoy b2b Ashes W/washes of 'old enemy' Eng after the many he was lucky to be part of with that great Aus team . Good on him but spare a thought for Mickey from whom CA virtually 'snatched' 2 shining Ashes trophies from for no fault . Anyway expect Aus to turn up and beat struggling Eng 5-0 in the Ashes . The world's best pace battery will be good watching for those who love em Zipping @95mph and Aus have a few who will provide the thrills .

Posted by   on (June 27, 2013, 7:31 GMT)

It would be great if it were 1989 all over again, but I feel that moment is a couple of years away just yet, it's a little more like 1986 right now I feel where we are still assessing, searching for combinations and gathering experience, steeling ourselves for bigger things.. But then again you just never know!

Posted by Governor on (June 27, 2013, 7:16 GMT)

Darren Lehmann will do an excellent job. He was mentored by the late David Hookes and his theory on cricket was based on the Ian Chappell and Sir Les Favell theory of playing attacking cricket.

Darren Lehmann will be a great sounding board and mentor for Michael Clarke. He will teach him the importance of getting to know his players on a one to one basis. He will teach Michael Clarke on how to get his players to play for him.

Michael Clarke is a great on field leader and tactician. However, he lacks the ability to perform the off field task of been a mini shrink. Ian Chappell got the best out of Doug Walters, Dennis Lillee and Rod Marsh. Mark Taylor got the best out of Shane Warne and Mark Waugh. The two captains made the time to get to know their players on a one to one basis.

Mike Brearley was a brilliant captain. He was a great mini shrink who got the best out of Ian Botham in 1981.

Posted by   on (June 27, 2013, 5:31 GMT)

Robert Roemer, how on earth do you know what happens in the change rooms? I have spoken to plenty of people who have played with Clarke and he is very easy to get along with in the sheds. Funnily enough the one the guys couldn't stand was Simon Katich who was way too intense. Btw, it was Pontng not Clarke who saw him off. A lot of stuff written about the team isn't true. Unless you're there in teh sheds, how would you know?

Posted by   on (June 27, 2013, 4:54 GMT)

Michael Clarke, Mickey Arthur and the Ashes I agree is high profile.But who cares about Chris Adams, Surry and English County Cricket any more ? :-) Hardly high profile!

Posted by Sir_Ivor on (June 27, 2013, 4:43 GMT)

I am sure Darren Lehman will be a big success in his coaching assignment.From what we have seen,some of the Australian players who are considered match-winners also think they are not accountable by their actions off the field. That explains how Warner and his group found it necessary to go on a drinking binge on that fateful evening in Birmingham after they had badly lost a game to their arch ememy. Financial well being has probably also contributed to the hot headedness that I am talking about.The question is how Lehmann can bring about a change. Being an Australian himself,I think Darren will be more of a natural with his boys to begin with. Then there is the matter of how he was as a player. He will be respected on that count without a doubt. He has been good with the IPL franchise he was with also. He has the right parental approach as well.So it all points to him being a very good coach for Australia.Australian cricket seems to be at a make or break stage. I hope it is '89 again.

Posted by   on (June 27, 2013, 4:02 GMT)

Agreed. Nice points Mr Nicholas. I couldn't stand Mickey but he got highjacked in a big way - and the same people who brought him down had better stand up for Lehmann. But if some of our 'young gun' batsmen don't find some steel this could be a very long English summer.

Posted by   on (June 27, 2013, 3:36 GMT)

Good article Nico, Clarke needs to lead from the front and consider how he contributed to the situation getting so bad that they needed to sack Arthur. The worst is behind us now, get the mongrel back boys, we can win this!

Posted by   on (June 27, 2013, 3:28 GMT)

..I actually don't think Clarke is charming - at all. If that's what they call it when someone ingratiates themselves incessantly to the media in order to look good, whilst behaving in a completely different manner in the changerooms, then I guess charming is the word to use.

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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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