The Ashes 2013-14 October 29, 2013

Ashes captains back to back


About the same time as Australia's captain Michael Clarke put his fragile back through a final training session before his expected Sheffield Shield return with New South Wales, his opposite number Alastair Cook was jogging gingerly around the fringes of England's training session in Perth with a back problem of his own.

Cook's apparent lack of mobility can be attributed, at least partly, to the rigours of a long-haul flight - the same problem that caused Clarke's more serious back ailment to flare up before the Ashes series in England.

It is not thought to be serious, but Cook was unable to bat and it remains to be seen whether he will take his place in the England XI for the tour opener against a Western Australia XI at the WACA ground from Thursday.

Stuart Broad trained with similar conservatism, but it was the sight of Cook struggling to get limber that provided a reminder that problems of Clarke's ilk are common to many batsmen, and that a freeze-up can occur at any time.

The degenerative discs that had Clarke sounding unusually downbeat about his Gabba prospects earlier in the month are now cause for greater optimism. Clarke's assiduous training and fitness habits have allowed him to regain his former flexibility, though it remains to be seen how his back responds this time to a steady diet of cricket.

"I've been able to manage it with a lot of help from my physio and doctors since I've been 17 years of age and I've only missed one Test to date so hopefully that's a real positive sign for me going forward," Clarke said. "I certainly don't believe my back will play a part in regards to shortening my career. It will be more a case of if I'm not performing the selectors will drop me, and hopefully I can get to a day where a few years on from now I'll have the opportunity to retire."

Clarke offered a little more insight into his plans to be ready for what is likely to be a tall and bounce-extracting English pace attack, devised, at least partly, to stiffen the Australia captain's back through constant ducking and weaving. Clarke had his throwdowns and bowling machine offerings delivered from a greater height before facing up to Morne Morkel last summer, and will do so again over the next three weeks.

"Little things like getting throwdowns or using the bowling machine, put up on a platform to give it more height, we can do a lot of stuff like that," Clarke said "I've probably done that over the past couple of years before we played South Africa and Morne Morkel and also before the Ashes. We'll get an opportunity when we get to Brisbane to prepare as well as we can, but the guys will be preparing in their own individual ways to combat our opposition."

The other combat Clarke spoke of at the SCG nets was not of the kind that he will want to perpetuate - the history wars currently being fought around the release of his predecessor Ricky Ponting's autobiography. Some of its most pungent passages are reserved for Clarke, who is portrayed less as a loyal vice-captain than a leader-in-training who also possessed a little too much eagerness to get away from the dressing room.

Ponting has said he hopes Clarke reads the book himself before discussing the issues he raised, maintaining his account is truthful and balanced, if not always airbrushed to his successor's liking. Clarke was privately angered by his portrayal, but at the SCG nets was not prepared to diverge from his current narrative of rejuventation in time to prepare for the first Test against England at the Gabba.

"Ricky has my number. We've spoken for the last 15 years so I don't think anything will change," Clarke said. "I'm very focused on what's in front of me and making sure I'm as well prepared as I can be for this first Sheffield Shield game. I've said what I had to say on that issue. For me it's about looking forward and preparing for tomorrow's game and looking forward to a huge summer. I'm very focused on cricket and I certainly won't let anything take my mind off that."

What Clarke had said over the weekend was that he wished Ponting had spoken to him privately about his concerns before publishing them. Ponting, though, has written that there had been plenty of opportunities for Clarke to pay heed to the counsel of both his then captain and also the coach at the time, Tim Nielsen.

It is an issue Clarke does not need nor want to deal with on the outskirts of an Ashes series in which he will be under pressure both to perform and also to emerge victorious. But like the back ailment he has carried since his teenage years, and the gingerness which may be causing a momentary hiccup for Cook, Ponting's words cannot be easily ignored.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • David on October 30, 2013, 11:39 GMT

    @yorkshire-86 on (October 30, 2013, 10:15 GMT). You are quite right. I have said before and I'll say again, Carberry was only picked by Flower-Miller because he's the "anybody but Compton or Taylor" pick. Childish method for selection.

  • Jeff on October 30, 2013, 10:15 GMT

    We will have a serious problem if we lose just one batsmen for the tests, as we have no proper reserve batsmen. Assuming cook rout Trott KP bell balance prior is the top six, one injury means either playing our reserve keeper (Bairstow) as a batsmen, picking the dreadful Carberry to play international cricket, which he is nowhere near competent enough to do, or playing five bowlers with prior at six and stokes at seven. Picking an ancient county circuit journeyman close to retirement who has looked dreadful at this level instead of a proper batsmen like Taylor, Compton or the like could come back to haunt us!

  • Richard on October 30, 2013, 9:36 GMT

    @ Shaggy076 - I think it's pretty clear that it was just an example of the great sides we could've fielded had the so-called 'experts' handled things better and that the Argus reviews, 15 degree bends, 'player management' and DRS's effect on the game for the better has left a lot to be desired.

    Maybe Katich would have proven to be useless. Maybe Patto could still have broken down. But one thing is for sure, we wouldn't have had the Cowan/ spinner/ Arthur/ Khawaja/ Hughes/ Watson/ Warner/ revolving door/team song handover debacles and a little bit better knowledge of who the best players are. At one stage one scribe had Luke Pommersbach opening for the Ashes as the miracle cure! Why would they pick a rookie left arm paceman on a hunch when they knew the opposition's trump card is an offspinner?

    Now have a look at the team I listed on the 29th again, and see what such a rock-hard team we might've had now, and together ask the board to fix it or find someone who will. PLEASE!

  • Martin on October 30, 2013, 8:29 GMT

    Well, well, well - look what the bandicoot dragged in: @RandyOZ on (October 29, 2013, 21:55 GMT). While you've been away..... not much has happened really. Things have continued pretty much as they did before. But good to see you back pretty much as you were before; "Old man Anderson....." roflmao.... By the way @Randy - this article does not mention Bailey, Anderson or Broad, so we're wondering why you are? Just askin'.

  • j on October 30, 2013, 7:37 GMT

    Ah welcome back RandyOz, haven't seen you here since....England hammered Australia in the Ashes yet again, this time 4-0. The thing about Bailey is that he's got a batting average whic is very very average, is certainly past his age peak and we've heard all of this all before. Before the last Ashes, and the one before that. And the one before that. And when

  • Graham on October 30, 2013, 3:20 GMT

    Jagger you picked three blokes retired from first class cricket and another 2 injured.

  • Simon on October 29, 2013, 23:38 GMT

    Australia's injury problems have been highlighted because they've been losing. England's injury problems have seemed comparatively inconsequential in hindsight because they've been winning anyway. It comes to something when the darkest cloud for England is the fact that Anderson has rarely been injured in recent years! Obviously you never want to wish anyone ill, but part of me would like to see him rested or unable to play for a game or two, and then this myth that the England attack would be impotent without him could be laid to rest.

  • James on October 29, 2013, 23:18 GMT

    I think you'll see our young guys continuing to improve with the bat this series. They will relish playing in Australian conditions, and Swann won't be as dangerous here. I wouldn't be surprised to see guys like Warner and Hughes make a lot of runs, perhaps even Khawaja, depending on who plays. These guys are slowly gaining in experience, and that will pay off if we persist with them - as long as they are making at least some healthy scores. They have the talent, and technique can be improved. If you look at England's batting mainstays - Cook, Trott and Bell, they are not super-talented players. They are guys who are methodical and technically adept.

  • John on October 29, 2013, 21:56 GMT

    @First Drop - Not sure if you read my other message in response to your other post. But , yes Jimmy has avoided injuries over the years. There was a comment on one of these threads saying that Jimmy and Siddle have actions which are less likely to bring on injuries. I'm not sure what Siddle's injury record is like or whether there is truth in this. But re our guys - in addition to what I've already posted. Broad and Bres have been constantly on the treatment table and many of us think that both have been hampered when playing for much of the time in between the injuries and if Starc , Cummings and Pattinson are key losses to Australia (one of those names constantly dropped and one is unproven and the other IMO eratic) then Broad,Tremlett,Bres and to a lesser degree Finn are at least as important to us. Yes Jimmy would be a huge loss but in the last series Eng won 1 of the tests with Jimmy totally out of form so maybe Eng aren't just a 1 paceman attack

  • Varun on October 29, 2013, 21:56 GMT

    My AUS XI (not the ideal one, but the one I think CA will pick): Warner, Rogers, Watson, Clarke (C), Smith, Hughes/Bailey, Haddin (wk), Johnson, Harris, Siddle, Lyon.

    My ENG XI: Cook (C), Root, Trott, Pietersen, Bell, Ballance, Prior (wk), Broad, Swann, Anderson, Finn/Tremlett. Bresnan might come in later on in the series depending on how fit he is.

    The England team looks better on the whole, but Australia has an excellent bowling attack and batsmen like Warner, Watson and Clarke playing at home. This series will be way more interesting than the one in England: the teams look better matched, and the pitches won't be low, slow and boring, but will aid the fast bowlers and also the batsmen from both sides to make for some quality competitive cricket.

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