England v Australia, 3rd Investec Test, Old Trafford, 5th day August 5, 2013

Still reasons for Clarke to smile

Australia were always going to lose this Ashes. A victory in this Test wouldn't change that. But just by winning this Test they could have proved something to themselves
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Michael Clarke is a man with a smile. Whether it's standing beside his wife on her wedding horse, in his tight underwear on a billboard or as he makes an iconic innings at his home ground, he lights up a picture. In real life, he seems to smile even more. He very rarely looks angry, or upset. He's composed, calm and happy.

None of those descriptions could be used as he barked and pleaded with Marais Erasmus to stay on the ground at the end of the fourth day at Old Trafford. Clarke had carried his team on day one and two. His bowlers had backed him up on day three. On day four they had put themselves in a position to win the Test. Clarke knew it as much as England did. All they needed was time. But when time was taken from Clarke, he exploded.

Clarke knew coming off the field that he couldn't regain the Ashes, and that Cricket Australia's #returntheurn hashtag would have discarded. It was a culmination of poor preparation, random cricket logic and a team that wasn't as good as the opposition. Australia were always going to lose this Ashes. A victory in this Test wouldn't change that. It would have prolonged it.

But just by winning this Test they could have proved something to themselves. That they could win a Test against England. That the incompetence of Lord's and the streakiness of Trent Bridge were only part of their story. That they could compete and beat England when it mattered. And they did everything they could to do it.

Chris Rogers' first innings was the sort of knock that not even Rogers would have expected to play at Test level. It surprised England as well, while setting the scene for Australia. He drove the ball like an eager teenager, not a crusty old opener. He scored freely against a quality attack. He handled Graeme Swann well. As a 34-year-old you only get so many chances, and he may not have cemented his spot, but he will get at least all five of this Ashes based on an innings of that quality.

The second innings situation was perfect for David Warner. No matter where he batted in the order, the need to score quickly and not have all the fielders up couldn't have been more perfect for him. His 41 was not a massive total, or one that will rock your world, but he did his job, looked comfortable doing so and looked like the David Warner Australia want him to be. With the press, Barmy Army and Aussie Fanatics he played with his new pantomime villain status. To use the lexicon, he is definitely a positive to be taken.

Steven Smith is a rough batsman. On skill and technique he is not in Australia's best six. On fight and confidence, he might be. He is a perfect flawed batsman for a flawed team. He scores quickly, believes in himself, and when he plays spin it's hard to believe he is really Australian. His wickets at Lord's were handy and his fielding is going to live with us forever on Youtube highlight reels. If this team was better, they wouldn't need him. He should have got a hundred in the first innings at Old Trafford. And a proper Test batsman would have converted it. Or at least got out in a nicer way. But as a No. 6, or even a seven, he is the sort of junkyard dog cricketer a team like the current Australia can really use.

Ryan Harris' spell this morning proved yet again that he is one of the best Test bowlers on the planet. He's quick enough to hurry anyone. He's smart enough to out-think quality players

It some ways, Brad Haddin is not needed by Australia. His selection in this team was more about team bonding and attitude. Something that Warner's punch and Arthur's sacking fixed much quicker. His first innings hitting was exactly what Australia needed. Haddin saves his best cricket for the Ashes, and in two innings he has shown good form and timely runs. His wicketkeeping is not going to get any better - keepers' hands and knees don't get better - and Mitchell Starc is not an easy man to keep too. Or on some occasions, even reach. But he's in form, and clearly is desperate to stay in this team. If nothing else, he'll force Matthew Wade to improve.

Ryan Harris' spell this morning proved yet again that he is one of the best Test bowlers on the planet. He's quick enough to hurry anyone. He's smart enough to out-think quality players. And he does enough with the ball beat anyone. At his best he's a carnivorous force that will stalk you until you are head. At his worst, he is injured. There is little Australia can do about that. When he is fit, he should be given the new ball and the best medical treatment they can afford.

Merv Hughes was a decent Test-quality bowler who helped keep the flame alive between Lillee and McGrath. Hughes' job was mostly to try hard, bowl the dog spells, bounce out batsmen on flat tracks and use the conditions when they suited him.

Peter Siddle also averages 28 and takes four wickets a match. In almost every Test he is used in a different way. He's bowled with the new ball, come on third change, and will bowl into the wind or with it. But no matter what you do with Siddle, he tries very hard, hits the pitch very hard and makes you beat him. It's hard to hate a man who went to Euro Disney between series and gave up bacon and steak to be a better player.

Starc is capable of amazing feats with the ball, and even the bat. Playing him is a chance that Australia sometimes likes to take. Shane Watson's comeback at the top of the order might already be over. He also only has one wicket. But his bowling has been very handy, and he deserves more. No cricketer in this series has the ability to improve more than Watson. Usman Khawaja doesn't look a Test No. 3 right now, but it's hard to believe a man who bats with that much time can't make runs at this level.

Nathan Lyon is not Graeme Swann. One is a fridge that cools things, and the other an American style fridge freezer that will give you water and ice on demand. Everyone wants the bigger fridge, but life doesn't work that way. Lyon bowls good dipping offspin outside off stump spun well toward the stumps. But Swann's straight ball is far more devious. Swann gets more spin. Swann is smarter. Swann is a top fielder and a handy slogger. In some ways, the difference between the two teams is summed up in the spinners. Lyon tries hard; Swann has 19 wickets in this series.

Every player in this team has something holding them back including age, consistency, injury and skill. Clarke is their best cricketer. But his back is a problem. When he fiddles with his back, takes a pain pill, or does a stretch, there is little smiling. And while he might have lost the anger he had when screaming at Erasmus, that won't be replaced with smiles knowing they have already lost their chance to retain the Ashes.

This team is not perfect, and it's not going to be for a while. But they came into this Test as gruesome victims on a hotel bathroom floor, and they outplayed a better opposition for the entire Test. It's not a win, but it is something to smile about.

Jarrod Kimber is 50% of the Two Chucks, and the mind responsible for cricketwithballs.com

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • LittleDavyWonka_astallasoompaloompa on August 7, 2013, 10:28 GMT

    I'd be first to admit that Clarke batted beautifully at Old Trafford, which is no surprise as he is a high quality player. Where I was surprised however was in what I would consider to be his average at best captaincy. Firstly, he won a very good toss to win. There are 5 situations I feel he could have handled better; He declared 1st innings at the precise time that Haddin and Starc were flaying very tired England bowlers to all corners. Eng have been 3/30 more than once and that could have been achieved the following morning with in excess of 400 needed to avoid the follow on. He was half asleep when at first slip for a catch from Cook off Lyon. Also he pulled Lyon out far too early when KP was attacking him. A skied catch then and Australia win. He failed to review KP's lbw off Watson - an ashes losing error, and worst of all he batted on far too long in 2nd innings when everyone knew the rain was coming. He broke the 6 game losing streak but 5-0 will now be 4-0, that's all.

  • dummy4fb on August 7, 2013, 7:22 GMT

    @landl47 is quite wrong to think there will be a get them in Australia feeling. However, realistically you could expect the Aussies will play better on their own turf. It is hard to believe they would perform as badly as they did in 2010/11. That was an aborration for most of the players. I think the clues for likely performance are more in how the Aussies played against the South Africans. The Aussies were by far the better team statisticlyagainst the Saffas as they were in England in 2009. It's whether they have enough mentally to finish teams off. If you look at the stats of the players who played in the recent Third Test, there are some interesting figure comparisons. There's no doubt that Siddle, Starc and Harris are better performed than the English quicks. Swann is of course better than Lyon (or Agar). Haddin's keeping and batting is better atm than Prior and the batsmen are relatively comparable. Yet the series score is 2-0.

  • Wefinishthis on August 6, 2013, 23:30 GMT

    It's pretty obvious to anyone that Clarke and Harris are the only two world-class players in the Australian lineup (ie would walk into any team - even South Africa). The problem is that neither of them are young and they only have a handful of years left in them - possibly only until the next England ashes series at the latest. Rogers will probably be retired at the end of the return ashes series in Australia. Pattinson lost his pace and accuracy in England and got punished heavily for it. Starc is like Watson, an ODI specialist and not test material. The tail has better batting records than the top order. The selectors keep picking incompetent spinners who cost us 100's of runs and ignoring our best spinner (O'Keefe) and best emerging spinner (Zampa) from Aus A. The only good potential we have is Bird, Sayers, Cummins, Maddinson, Silk, Patterson and possibly Steve Smith if he can learn to score big test centuries.

  • usernames on August 6, 2013, 22:42 GMT

    Warner, Rogers, Khawaja, Clarke, Smith, Watson, Haddin, Agar/Lyon, Harris, Siddle, Bird -- looks a solid bunch to me.

  • Paul_Rampley on August 6, 2013, 19:13 GMT

    Harris and Siddle have big hearts and they always give more then 100% and we are lucky to have them. Smith batted well and Clarke was amazing. Khawaja got a bad call otherwise he was setup for a big score and in my opinion will be our long term number 3, he has the game to do it and its only his second game back and he top score in lords. Have faith in Lyon, it was only his first game back.

  • Sunil_Batra on August 6, 2013, 18:23 GMT

    Good article by Kimber. Agree that Rhino was fantastic and so was Haddin and Smith. Disagree on Khawaja not being the right man at 3, he is just what we need at 3, young and has the game to excel at that position. Top scorer in Lords, got a shocking call in this game and went for quick runs in the team's interest in the second innings, i predict he will be a key batsman for us in the comign tests. And I know Lyon didn't perform in this game but he will come good in future tests though this pitch might not suit him entirely.

  • Edwards_Anderson on August 6, 2013, 18:08 GMT

    I like how we played in this match. Umpiring was terrible and Khawaja got a shocker but aside from that the game was high quality. For the coming match Bird should be bought in if its a green deck. Rogers and Watson should be persisted with as openers and Khawaja will come good for us at 3 as he did at Lords as he is a long term option for us at 3. Smith is looking good in the middle order and hopefully our young batsman can convert their starts. The team is starting to come together under boof.

  • hhillbumper on August 6, 2013, 18:02 GMT

    I do lie the Aussie optimism.They were better against South Africa_ You lost, Should have won this test but you didn't.England are nowhere near their peak and have beaten you.There are times in each test match where you have chances to win and England have taken theirs. It is ironic how the moaning re umpires decisions comes down to bad luck.In the 98-99 series if Slater had been given out then we would have tied the series.But he wasn't and we didn't. Aus have a good bowling attack and an awful batting line up minus Clarke.How would it go if England chose a proper bowler instead of Bresnan and a proper batsman instead of Bairstow.Also there is pleanty of young talent coming through in our bowling such as Overton and Topley.There is far more potential then is being shown in this England team.So well done on the third test but you did not win it.

  • landl47 on August 6, 2013, 12:27 GMT

    Oh, no- now we're getting the 'wait till we get you in Australia' line (TheBigBoodha, Daniel Sijmons). We saw this is 2010 before the Ashes series. Let me remind you of that series. England's scores included 1-513, 5-620, 517 and 644. Their top 5 in batting were Cook 766 @127, Trott, 445 @ 89, Bell 329 @ 65, KP 360 @ 60, Prior 252 @53. Bowling: Bresnan 11 @ 19, Tremlett 17 @23, Anderson 24 @26, Finn 14 @33, Swann 15 @39 (and if you don't think much of Swann's figures, the combined Aus spinners took 5 @ 135, which tells you what the wickets were like for spin). All those players are still in the squad.

    Aus's best players in this series so far have been Clarke, Siddle and Harris. Did they play in 2010? Yep- Clarke and Siddle all 5 games, Harris 3. Harris bowled well at Perth in the Aus win but otherwise did nothing before going down injured. The only player who stood out for the Aussies was Mike Hussey, 570 runs @ 63 and he's gone.

    See you in Australia.

  • dummy4fb on August 6, 2013, 11:28 GMT

    Rogers is 35 (nearly 36) not 34