England v Australia, 1st NatWest ODI, Headingley September 5, 2013

Clarke remains to seek one-day solace

A number of high-profile names are missing the one-day series, but Michael Clarke is not one of them despite his bad back

Why are you still here? For Michael Clarke, seeking to recover Australia's pride at the start of the NatWest Series, the question was not just implied, it was asked directly. Look, you've got a bad back, you've lost the Ashes, you deserve sympathy. Shouldn't you be resting up at home?

If anything is designed to get Clarke's back up, as it were, it is dollops of sympathy from English cricket journalists. He has remained on what now must seem an overlong tour, knowing he must leave England with a one-day trinket or face the back-biting. As two unproven one-day sides face up to other in a best-of-five series, nobody can confidently predict the outcome.

Clarke now seeks solace, as well as the never-ending need to communicate to the Australian public that the decline hurts him just as much as it does them. Or maybe that is not the case anymore. Perhaps he needs to persuade the Australian public that he cares more than they do, to lead an Australian side which performs so well it shocks the public into sharing the responsibility for doing something about it.

It is one of the ironies of Australian cricket that many suspect their captain for being a little too urban, too capable and cool, for their tastes, when for many in the cities the café latte culture cannot grow fast enough.

He insisted at Headingley, ahead of the opening ODI, that England (not just the trendier parts of London) is where he wants to be. "It's important that I'm here," Clarke said. "I didn't take any part in the Champions Trophy because of injury, I really enjoy one-day cricket and it's important that I'm here with the team, perform and lead from the front. I want to see this one-day team get back to where it belongs: the top of the tree. We are going to try to play our full-strength team whenever we can and have some success.

"Every game you play for Australia is just as important. It was a no-brainer for me to stay here. I will prepare for this series just as if it was the first day of the Ashes series."

But what about your back, Michael, your chronic condition? Suggestions that Clarke would prolong his Test career by following his retirement from T20 internationals by stepping down from the one-day game were quickly discounted.

"Right now I haven't even thought about it. I love Test cricket and one-day cricket and I am enjoying leading both teams. With my body I don't know if standing down from one-day cricket would make much difference. Look at my preparation for the Champions Trophy: I had time off, I didn't go to the IPL so I could get myself ready, my preparation was outstanding then five days after arriving in England I did my back. I don't know what the perfect preparation is for my back, I just know I love playing Test and one-day cricket and I think I can manage my back."

If Australia's obsession with short-form cricket is harming their status at Test level then the fallout from T20 theoretically should not be as harmful in the 50-over game. It did not seem like that during the Champions Trophy.

As the Australian cricket writer and novelist, Malcolm Knox, perceptively wrote last month, England "has a superhuman belief in the powers of Australian sportsmen." Indeed they do. It would be possible for England to whup Australia for the best part of the 21st century and deep in the English psyche would be the belief that something rather wonderful and unexpected had happened.

It stretches into other sports, too. The British Lions might have beaten Australia at rugby union, but for a confusing collection of nations, simultaneously supportive and rebellious towards each other, behaving with the complexity of combative lovers, to gather together such unity is a short-lived phenomenon, achieved alongside the awe-struck, deeply-held conviction that Australians, all sinew-strong and brazen-eyed, are imbued with sporting excellence from birth. Nowhere is that sense stronger than in cricket.

Perhaps one explanation for the lack of enthusiasm in some sections of the media for England's Ashes victory was nothing to do with the belief that England had won without style, but a sub-conscious disbelief - dejection even - that Australia were defeated so easily, and that England could even risk a strut or two without entirely earning it. Everybody had turned up for Batman v Superman and what they got was Batman v Clark Kent. Come to think of it, Clark Kent is the perfect name for a middling Australian cricket professional.

(Apologies, incidentally, to India for the comparison. India can be Dr Manhattan if it so wishes. Dr Manhattan is invincible, immortal and is capable of destroying entire worlds if it wants to so that seems about right).

That reference to Batman v Clark Kent, which was a bit of a cheap shot, was deliberate. If England win this series as comprehensively as the Tests, it will be fast reaching the point where English observers are reduced to vaguely goading Australia into playing better. When England's cricket was suffering Ashes thrashing after thrashing, this writer was once grabbed around the neck by an Australian journalist, shades of Charles Saatchi, and impassionedly told: "At least tell them to throw a punch occasionally." It is finally becoming possible to understand how he felt.

Australia are ranked No. 2 in one-day cricket, for those who take such rankings seriously. Clarke could not quite remember Australia's Test ranking at Headingley - it has fallen to No. 5 - but he knew that the one-day ranking was quite a bit better. From that he draws hope that he can find consolation.

If Australia's obsession with short-form cricket is harming their status at Test level then the fallout from Twenty20 theoretically should not be as harmful in the 50-over game. It might even help, although it did not seem like that when Australia put up a sub-standard performance in the Champions Trophy. And the Australian media seems to have done a runner; if one-day cricket is now dominant nobody seems to have persuaded the media moguls to spend any money on covering it.

The one fact England cricket lovers know about Australia's side for the NatWest Series is that David Warner has gone home. Warner blundered into trouble in the Champions Trophy and was rightly condemned for it, but at least England knew he was up for a fight.

Add the leakage of several fast bowlers because of injury and casual cricket supporters are not entirely sure which players are left. The job of Clarke, and his players, is to let them know. Announcing a squad is one thing. Demanding that people take notice of it is quite another.

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

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