Clarke needs runs to be long-term leader - Strauss
Andrew Strauss believes that his new opposite number, Michael Clarke, has the tactical acumen to cope with the challenge of captaining Australia in the fifth Test in Sydney, but warns that he'll find it hard to lead from the front in the long term unless he regains the batting form that has deserted him since the tour of New Zealand in March.
Strauss knows from personal experience how invigorating the captaincy can be for a batsman - his average when leading the side in 31 Tests rises to 46.60, compared to an overall mark of 43.02. But Clarke has inherited the role with his form in the doldrums. He has made 148 runs at 21.14 in the series to date, and has made just one hundred in his last 35 innings in all international cricket - although that unbeaten 111 at Visakhapatnam did come while captaining the one-day side in Ricky Ponting's absence in India back in October.
"It's a lot tougher," admitted Strauss. "You have the double whammy of the side not playing well and if you're not playing well either, there's almost not enough time of the day to think about why you're not playing well and pick yourself up. But it's always temporary. If you're a good player, personal form is not going to desert you for too long. And you usually come out of the other side."
With Ponting ruled out of the Test with a broken finger, Clarke is set to become Australia's 43rd Test captain, despite having never previously led a team in first-class cricket. Strauss, however, who cut his teeth as Middlesex's skipper long before he was handed the England job, said it was not a necessary pre-requisite.
"Captaining in a Test is very different to captaining a first-class game," he said. "Clarke has long been earmarked as a captain, and by all accounts, tactically he is pretty good. As I found though, you have to learn on the job and you have to learn reasonably quickly. People sink or swim. It is like your Test debut. People either stand up and deliver or it becomes difficult. Clarke has delivered plenty of times with the bat so he is in a position to do well."
From Strauss's point of view, it makes no difference who lines up alongside him for the toss on Monday morning. "It is a big day for Clarke coming in and captaining a Test match but from our point of view we know the formula that has worked for us and it is important to adopt that again, and maybe, make any slight changes that we need to for the Sydney wicket. We won't worry too much about what is happening in their camp. There is an opportunity for them to play with a bit more freedom, so we have to be on our game."
There are sure to be nerves aplenty in the Australian dressing-room, with two Test debutants lining up for Clarke's first match in charge. But despite the confidence in the England camp at present, Strauss insisted that they would play their opponents on merit - particularly the left-arm spinner, Michael Beer, who is set to become Australia's 10th slow bowler in Test cricket since Shane Warne's retirement on this ground in January 2007.
"We will play the situation and if there is an opportunity to be positive I would like our batsmen to take that," said Strauss. "If he is bowling well and there is turn for him we have to be respectful. Generally it is important that you don't play the man but play the ball coming down at you. It will be just the same for Beer and any of their seamers."
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo.