Australia v England, 2nd Test, Adelaide, 4th day December 6, 2010

Clarke reasserts his credentials

Australia's vice-captain made a tough start to the Ashes series, but dug deep when his team really needed it only to fall with the job half done

Michael Clarke passed his latest audition to be Australia's next Test captain, but he couldn't turn his return to form into a match-saving vigil. After Ricky Ponting failed again, taking his series tally to 70 runs in four innings, Clarke steadied the side with an 80 that mixed bouts of flair with determined defence and risk.

But just as he was preparing for stumps he was given a final assignment of overcoming six balls from Kevin Pietersen. He glanced the second straight to short leg and Alastair Cook, a regular target throughout his innings. There was no walking and the replay showed he had struck it clearly, forcing him to depart with many of the hopes of his team.

The edge provided another trying episode in a difficult year for Clarke, who has been groomed for the A-list and the Australian leadership since he first emerged as a precocious teen. He has already proven himself as a very good batsman at five-day level, but on the verge of becoming a great he has stumbled. The past two series against Pakistan and India were uncharacteristically lean and this one started the same way with 9 in Brisbane and 2 in the first innings here.

Questions were starting to alter from "Is Clarke the next captain?" to "Is Clarke's spot in danger?" Clarke will be the next Test leader, a title he could assume as early as the conclusion of this series. Unless Ponting can avoid a third Ashes defeat, Clarke will be the man to build the next generation around.

His run drought was always a temporary trough, but the issue was compounded by a persistent back injury that flared in the lead-up to the opening Test. With every low score and uncertain step, in the nets or in the middle, Clarke's batting wobbles were highlighted.

So it was crucial that when he entered after Ponting's edge he showed he was the man to steer through a crisis. With the team in its current state, there are likely to be many setbacks to deal with when he takes over full-time. Australia began their second innings 375 behind and had to survive on a pitch providing significant turn as well as conditions that were encouraging for reverse swing.

Simon Katich had edged Graeme Swann behind and Ponting's bright start burned when he was tricked by one not spinning as much as he had calculated. Australia were 2 for 98 and England were closing in like the storm to the north of the city.

Clarke's first ball, from Swann, was glanced for a confident single, and he followed up with a fierce straight drive on the up for four off Stuart Broad. When he hit a three through cover for his next effort there was a fear he was following the same shooting-star path as his captain. Having gained the early confidence an out-of-form player craves, he settled back to get himself in.

England think he has a weakness against the short ball so he was required to deal with that threat at one end. At the other he danced forward or leaned back to Swann. A Broad short ball was pulled, almost off the front foot in his usual style, but the next danger was a 136kph bouncer that was ducked in awkward fashion.

One of the reasons Mitchell Johnson was dropped was because he couldn't fix his technique in the middle, but for a batsman the remedy has to arrive with real runs. Shortly before the rain break after tea, Clarke was in good enough touch to cut James Anderson through two men at gully.

To the spin his feet are light, and his first instinct is to skip down the wicket. This gives him a chance to drive full-tosses or half-volleys, while taking the catching men almost out of play. In India in October, his judgment to the slow men disappeared, so starting against Swann was a severe challenge, especially with four close-in fielders pegged around him.

The suffocating attention didn't stir him and when necessary he was content to wait on Swann to get off strike. He played one crisp cover drive to the boundary but was more mouse than cat. That scene was reversed after he spent almost an hour off the ground while the storm passed.

Clarke returned with slightly too much energy, gliding Anderson for a boundary to bring up his half-century and then pulling the next delivery for four. Swann was taken for seven in two attempts in a repeat of Clarke's initial burst, but this ride was scarier. He survived one referral after being given out caught-behind on 67, and quickly swept one hard into the back of Cook.

Late in the day Cook was hit on the knee on the full from another swipe, although it was too mean to call it a chance. The locals were now wishing their man to survive until stumps, but he couldn't quite get there. His dismissal changed the nature of the contest in the moments it took to confirm his dismissal.

Despite Clarke's status as a highly accomplished Test run-maker, he is derided as an upstart who has forgotten his roots and drowns himself in bling and tattoos. He's also the one with the poor Twenty20 strike-rate. The relationship with the public is so delicate that he apologised on twitter as soon as he was allowed to use his phone. Even in Clarke's preferred format people don't remember his fine 136 in the second innings at Lord's, which delayed the first loss in the 2009 Ashes, as much as his double failure at The Oval in the decider.

Saving such a critical home Test would have elevated Clarke's status significantly as a batsman and a future leader, but he left with his mission half-finished. What he has done is give Australia a chance. What happens next depends as much on the weather as the remaining batsmen.

Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Liam on December 7, 2010, 0:39 GMT

    "The job half done" sums up his career and attitude, he should never captain Australia.

  • Farhan on December 6, 2010, 23:29 GMT

    I have said it before, and I will reiterate; Mr. Ricky Pointing term is over, this is his last series. Australia is going to loose again. Unfortunately I don't see a great leader in Clarke, he is a good batsman but not a great leader, and leadership often makes him go wrong in his own technique. However said this, there still is a good potential in Australian Cricket, as their domestic circuit is very strong. Leadership needs to be groomed over time, hence maybe Shane Watson or Brad Haddin or may be even David Hussey in the ODI and T20 format; Hussey could have been a better choice but unfortunately he is nearing retirement. LET RICKY GO LIKE A TRUE CHAMPION, HE HAS BEEN A GREAT SERVANT TO THE GAME AND AUSTRALIAN CRICKET. Let him concentrate on his batting and retire with something close to what Tendliya has.

  • Nick on December 6, 2010, 23:26 GMT

    Chris_Howard has hit the nail on the head. I am now expecting Clarke to get out at a break every time his country needs him and he never disappoints. This is no coincidence, but a big mental weakness. No way should Clarke ever be captain. Time to go for a new, younger captain like Ferguson. I think there needs to 5-6 changes in the team in time for the next ashes series

  • Ashwin on December 6, 2010, 23:12 GMT

    Clarke is emerging as one of the most overrated cricketers going in International cricket today. The Aussie media aided by the selectors to nominate him as the future leader before he had grounded himself well in the hard arena of test cricket have done him no good If you look at the past you see Mark Taylor, Steve Waugh,,these guys earned their leadership It was not thrust on them

    Clarke has slowly declined to being an ordinary batsman and the resultant worry has shown him up as being selfish and under pressure His performance in the first innings in this test are illustrative of the change that has befallen him and the manner in which he succumbed to KP in the second shows he is not up to it now The Aussie think tank need to scratch their heads for long in order to dig out a solution to the ills that plague the team; Clarke being the major one

  • Dummy4 on December 6, 2010, 22:55 GMT

    I think Mike Hussey would make a better captain. He is a typically tough australian player with a very good cricketing brain.

  • simon mulligan on December 6, 2010, 22:00 GMT

    Clarke is not a team man otherwise why did the Simon K have him by the throat?,good player not a leader of men. I reckon you need to skip him and get a new captain in . The great thing about Aussie selection is they pick 11 first, then the captain. Still think it will be 0-0 result in the series. North and Mr Cricket to save the test.

  • jack on December 6, 2010, 21:54 GMT

    reasserts himself... he got 80 on a pitch where england got 5/620 and once again got out when he needed to dig in. once again shows his flaws, scores runs on good wickets with a flashy innings before getting out when the team really needs him.

  • Weir on December 6, 2010, 21:23 GMT

    Clarke is a selfish player, nobody likes him and if he is made captain as expected, then I will stop supporting Australia.

  • al on December 6, 2010, 21:00 GMT

    Clarke is the best Batsman Australia have today. Sadly.

  • rahul on December 6, 2010, 20:42 GMT

    The fair weather walker strikes again. Most overrated Aussie player since Andrew Symonds.

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