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Firdose Moonda in Durban
October 27, 2011
For the first time in his seven months as captain, Michael Clarke faces the possibility of a series defeat. Since March, when Clarke was given the full-time responsibility of leading the team, he has achieved ODI series wins against Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, and was able to wrap up both victories before the final game. Now, with the three-match rubber against South Africa poised at 1-1, Clarke is facing arguably his biggest test.
A visibly unruffled Clarke said his Australia outfit are not the only ones feeling the heat ahead of the series decider on Friday. "Both teams are under pressure," Clarke said at Kingsmead. Instead of focusing on avoiding defeat, Clarke said he is encouraging the team to improve in every match, especially since the No. 1 ranking is secure. "To be the best we can be is the most motivating factor, individually and as a team," he said. "That's probably one of my mottos, I want us to try and become better. I guess there's no better way to do that than to get out in the middle and play against quality opposition."
The standard of Australia's opposition is high enough to include the world's top-ranked ODI bowler and batsmen, Morne Morkel and Hashim Amla, which should provide Australia with a good yardstick to measure any progress. Clarke said that while they pride themselves on their status as the best in the 50-over format, they have not paid much attention to the individual positions. "It doesn't really change much from our side of things," he said. "South Africa have a strong team and if you look at individual rankings, there is proof of that. But, we have to beat them as a team not as individuals."
There are some individual issues Australia are grappling with ahead of the match. The fitness of openers, Shaun Marsh and Shane Watson, is yet to be fully determined, although the camp has remained hopeful that they will play. Marsh appeared to be back to his best during Wednesday's net session while Watson also batted well, but did not bowl until Thursday.
"He wanted to have a good bat yesterday [Wedneday] and run around," Clarke said. "The bowling is more for his preparation for the game. He doesn't feel as though he needs overs under his belt, he has bowled a fair bit in the last six to 12 months." If Watson does not play, David Warner will keep his place at the top of the batting line-up.
With players like Warner, James Pattinson and Patrick Cummins in the squad, Clarke feels the team is building well, and has a good blend of old and new. "Our mix is spot on at the moment," he said. "I'm excited about what lies ahead, come tomorrow I think we will have a great game."
Australia have a good record at Kingsmead and have won four of the six matches they have played there, a stat Clarke was not aware of. "It's nice to know and I will make sure the boys know as well," he said. "It can help your confidence, to walk out on a ground you have had success on."
With two Test matches ahead, Clarke also thinks the team can take some momentum with them into those fixtures, if they win the crucial ODI. "More than anything, you will take confidence into the Test series if you win the one-day series," he said. "There's nothing better than winning as a team, it's a great feeling."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondentFeeds: Firdose Moonda
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