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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • j on September 6, 2013, 18:54 GMT

    Clarke was totally out-captained by Cook in the Ashes and got thrashed 3-0 as a result. There's going to be 2 new teams this series though, should be fun.

  • Rod on September 6, 2013, 13:05 GMT

    Clarke's a class act and his captaincy and honesty during the recent test series had to be admired. one also has to admire him for putting himself through this but where is his successor? He learnt his captaincy during the Punter & Pup era but there seems to be no vice-captain currently being prepared for the captaincy the way he was prepared. Watson isn't going to be captain and Haddin is nearing the end of his career. People were talking about Warner but he's never going to lead the side now. Smith seems the only obvious deputy of standing and longevity, yet he has left the tour with an injury of unknown severity. Perhaps someone would like to suggest an alternative captain to Clarke? It isn't obvious, given the need to lead from the front and man-manage from behind, and clearly he is irreplaceable as a player for Australia, but it's hard to watch a man struggling against his own mortality and his team's glorious history.

  • John on September 6, 2013, 10:31 GMT

    @jmcilhinney: I chose to compare KP And Watson also because I see them both as big strong men with a front foot technique, but who can both pull powerfully off the front foot if the bowler should be tempted to drop one in short. But thousands of words have been written abut Watson's front foot play, but no mention of KP in this regard. I note also that Captain Cook regularly got into difficulty playing forward.

  • John on September 6, 2013, 10:26 GMT

    @jmcilhinney: I chose to compare KP And Watson also because I see them both as big strong men with a front foot technique, but who can both pull powerfully off the front foot if the bowler should be tempted to drop one in short. But thousands of words have been written abut Watson's front foot play, but no mention of KP in this regard. I note also that Captain Cook regularly got into difficulty playing forward.

  • John on September 6, 2013, 9:52 GMT

    @dinosaurus on (September 6, 2013, 6:42 GMT), if you listen to many Australian fans then it's the Australian attack that is vastly superior. Regardless, pretty much any England fan would say that KP and several other England batsman were below their best this Ashes series and stats bear that out. KP's average is over 12 runs higher than Watson's. Even with Watson's bowling, I think that most teams would prefer KP in their side.

  • John on September 6, 2013, 6:42 GMT

    Reading the many contributions on this site gives a vivid demonstration of the rarity of encountering useful analysis. Many and discursive are the contributions on Kevin Pietersen, which form a neat contrast with the (usually feigned) soulful regrets that Shane Watson offers the exemplar of the ills that plague today's Australian cricket. Yet an analysis of their respective contributions to the recently concluded Ashes series reveals a remarkably similar contribution by both players. While Watson's figure are marginally better (probably within the margin of error) it must be borne in mind that Watson's runs were scored against the (claimed) vastly superior English attack and should therefore be weighted up!

  • disco on September 6, 2013, 6:26 GMT

    Deal out a 2nd 5-0 Ashes whitewash at home and all will be forgiven.

  • sam on September 6, 2013, 6:15 GMT

    Handy tons from 2 young Aus batsmen vs Scots. Got few more OD games against supposedly 'better' opposition and Ashes rivals for these and a few other Aus young batters to add to their 100s tally vs the Eng bowling .And with a lot of batting places at grabs in Aus' batting ordes for home Ashes there's a good chance we see a rash of triple figs. from these young bats in upcoming ODs v Eng.Oh,and off course the 1 brilliant game in series from Watson off course .And against this Eng bowling it can be anything from 170 or 230 on Watson's good day .

  • Khawaja on September 6, 2013, 6:06 GMT

    methinks clarke does have a problem with captaincy and two bad series have caused just one good batting display in teh second one...many feel that his bad back and all makes captaincy too much for him and he seems tobe waiting rather than planning...look at how he barely gives teh ball to steve smith...he should have rested his two best bowlers for teh last test but did not...in teh one day side due to luck he might have just teh batsmen that can steady teh game as well as play aggressively...it wont be that teh entire team is grovelling for some batting sense in their displays...he might also have steadier bowlers in faulkner and coulter nile...and mckay...maxwell, finch, voges and the returning to form watson might be there to save his skin for the return ashes...

  • Dummy4 on September 6, 2013, 3:41 GMT

    I think, there is still plenty left in Australian cricket. It may not be of that class for 90s and early 2000s but still there is enough talent which can make them succeed in shorter forms of the game. In fact, I was bit surprised by the selection of clarke to continue with ODIs on this tour. This could have been the right opportunity to test someone young to lead. My statement will seem to odd many people but Aus don't really need a "leader" right now but a "team" itself. And, sometimes without any such leader a team finds that there is nothing to loose and play their natural cricket and enjoy it. This is the scenario which works well in junior cricket very well. In fact, Indian team which won 2007 T20 world cup was pretty much like that. Dhoni hardly had any leadership quality but victories at crucial stages and some gamble made him succeed. So, there is no reason that why can't this happen to Aus. Best of Luck to Aus btw.