Australia v England, 1st Test, Brisbane November 20, 2013

Clarke conveys Australia's nerves

Michael Clarke appeared distracted during his pre-series press conference, despite the many reasons he might have had for confidence
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Few can recall a nervier Michael Clarke press conference than the one he delivered in Brisbane on the eve of Australia's bid to wrest the Ashes back from England at home. Where usually he is polished, sunny and even given to the odd bout of verbosity, this time Clarke was clipped, terse and taciturn. Tense from the moment he walked into the Champions Room at the Gabba, Clarke's prickliness was so evident that his media minder could be heard offering the aside "be nice and positive" in the seconds after the tapes started rolling.

While it cannot be known exactly why Clarke was so distracted, it was fair to surmise that the imminent start of this series provided good reason for introspection. Clarke, his team and Cricket Australia have reached a moment of enormous import not only to all of their careers, but to the game down under. For some weeks, the hosts have projected an image of stability, calm confidence and greater enjoyment under the mentoring of the newish coach Darren Lehmann. But now, with the curtain about to rise, Clarke's mien conveyed the nervousness that bubbles underneath.

Enough members of Clarke's team experienced the humiliation of a 3-1 defeat in the last home Ashes series in 2010-11 to know that failure is not an option. That result caused major upheaval in Australian cricket, hastening the exit of the captain Ricky Ponting, the coach Tim Nielsen, and the chairman of selectors Andrew Hilditch. A second such loss on home shores would leave plenty of CA staff looking over their shoulders, not least the industrious team performance manager Pat Howard, anointed by the Argus review as the single point of accountability for the performance of the national side.

Clarke struck a curious note before the previous series also, stressing that Ashes results would not define his captaincy. These words were in contrast with those of his opposite number Alastair Cook, who acknowledged the seemingly obvious point that yes, he would be historically judged largely on the strength of his results against Australia. This time, Clarke's most expansive response suggested that he could not promise victory, and hoped Australian fans would understand this and remain supportive.

"I'm certainly not going to sit here and promise the world and say everything's going to be different," Clarke said. "It's going to be a tough battle like it was in England, and we have to play our best cricket to have success no matter what conditions you play in. It is nice to be playing in front of our home fans, we've got a lot of support throughout the country and it's going to be great to see so many people turn out and support some fantastic cricket."

Numerous reasons do exist for Clarke and his team to enter this series with a "nice and positive" mindset. Under Lehmann's confident stewardship the dressing room ructions of India and England appear to have settled down, while time in the job has allowed the coach to identify and imbue belief in the players he has deemed worthy. The likes of Chris Rogers, Brad Haddin, Ryan Harris and even the debutant George Bailey have brought solid character and life experience to the team, balancing the brio of David Warner, the fearlessness of James Faulkner and the youthful enthusiasm of Nathan Lyon.

Craig McDermott, John Davison and Mike Young have been called in to bolster the pace, spin and catching departments, even if the latter's presence seemed to infringe on the role of the incumbent fielding coach Steve Rixon. The team doctor Peter Brukner has maintained his recent success in building up the fitness of Shane Watson, who now appears capable of bowling as well as batting. Former players have buzzed smilingly around the team, including Mark Taylor and Glenn McGrath, while recognition of Haddin's 50th Test has offered an individual motivator in addition to the team imperatives.

Plenty may be drawn also from the surrounds in which the Australians find themselves this week. They have not lost a Test match at the Gabba since falling foul of the West Indies in 1988, and not really looked like doing so for equally as long. So pronounced is the Gabba advantage that England regarded their second innings rearguard four summers ago as near enough to a victory, not only leaving Brisbane on level terms but also exhausting the hosts with two consecutive days in the field. In many ways it is the last fortress of the previous empire, the pacey pitch and early season spot in the schedule contributing to the downfall of many an underdone touring team.

England are underdone by their own precise reckoning, having lost more than two full days of preparatory playing hours and a good deal more training time to rain in Hobart, Sydney and Brisbane. They are also less sure of the final XI for Brisbane than at this point in 2010. Back then the tourists' nominated bowling attack had flown up to Queensland early. Now the identity of England's third seamer and wicketkeeper will only be known for sure at the toss. For an opening partner Alastair Cook will not have Andrew Strauss but Michael Carberry - Joe Root's demotion is a victory for Australia's pacemen even before a ball is bowled.

So there was plenty of reason for Clarke to puff his chest out while speaking publicly about the series to come, thereby enhancing curiosity about why he did not. Perhaps the greatest clue for Clarke's trepidation may be derived from Australia's Test match record in 2013 - played 10, won one, lost seven. It is no sort of foundation for a team, and another loss in Brisbane would shatter much of the rebuilding work that has preceded it. Asked about summoning the belief to win over five days for the first time since the New Year's Test against Sri Lanka in Sydney, Clarke replied: "I think the belief's there and hopefully we'll show that over the next five Test matches."

"I think" is a long way distant from "I know", and Clarke will not know the belief is there until after this Test match has run its course. No wonder he was distracted.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • ShutTheGate on November 20, 2013, 21:46 GMT

    @ FFL I can't believe that I'm writing this but I agree with your comment!

    The next captain question is a good one. Bailey is a proven leader but he'd have to score runs to justify his position. Another future captain candidate is Steve Smith but I think it's too early for him to step up.

    If Clarke does fail to win a match this series (which for the record I don't think will happen) we may see Clarke step down as captain, Bailey be promoted (assuming that he's scoring runs) and Steve Smith as Vice Captain with the view of him being captain when Bailey retires or looses form.

    I reasonably confident that it won't come to that.

  • Charlie101 on November 20, 2013, 21:42 GMT

    I wonder if the next Aussie captain will be Bailey and hence his inclusion when his red ball form is not quite strong enough. Bailey has done an excellent job captaining the ODi and T20 teams and is a good leader of men . Clarke's captaincy will not survive another series loss so I am sure he is nervous. Cant wait for it all to start !!!

  • pat_one_back on November 20, 2013, 20:51 GMT

    Humility and understatement on the eve of the Test is highly appropriate given the recent history of these teams, phony wars are over and Clarke has nothing to be cocky about with the public. Recall his speech after the last series, he's understandably worn at answering for defeat, forseeing this possibility is pragmatic not negative or lacking in confidence, Eng are rightly favorites and can ride the wave home with a win in Brisbane whilst an Aust win can be viewed with only cautious relief and mild optimism, only a fool would talk big as Clarke supposedly should have...

  • inthebag on November 20, 2013, 19:43 GMT

    Let's wait and see how is bat does the talking. If his back is OK and he scores like we've seen him do in the past, he'll take the rest of the side with him and Australia wins. No pressure.

  • Front-Foot-Lunge on November 20, 2013, 19:31 GMT

    If Michael Clarke again fails to win a single test match in an Ashes series (or do even worse than Australia did last time), his capaincy would definately be called into question. Alot has been written about his relationships with former players and their reluctance to prolong their stay in the national side, I for one was surprised to see Bailey even picked considering the previous between the two. If Australia lose the 1st test (surely the Gabba road and the rain would play some part in the preceedings) then the writing will most definately be on the wall. The Question is, who would be the next captain after Clarke?

  • sharidas on November 20, 2013, 19:19 GMT

    Though I am not a fan of Michael Clarke, at least this time, I do think his attitude is right, by saying exactly what he feels. Knowing reality and working on it truly is a positive way of handling it. Hypocrisy is out and reality is in……a good sign. Aussies will do good !

  • on November 20, 2013, 19:00 GMT

    Australian cricket seems to have arrived at a point where England were five years ago. The young players are learning the game as twenty twenty players rather than five-day players, the batters are cameo batsmen and the bowlers are used to bowling five overs rather than twenty. The only reliable batsmen seem to be those who have learnt their art playing in the County Championship and are veterans compared with earlier Australian teams. If the ECB stopped Australian players from playing in the County Championship it would finish Australia as a Test Playing Country and they would become like the current West Indies team.

  • on November 20, 2013, 18:32 GMT

    So an Ashes captain is nervous. What a revelation. So what? Anyone who isn't slightly apprehensive at the beginning of an important Test series is rather too laid-back. Results affect careers - this is nothing to be lackadaisical about.

  • Nutcutlet on November 20, 2013, 18:19 GMT

    Clarke, normally so relaxed in front of the cameras, is obviously worried about something. Are he & DL absolutely sure of the team? Is his back back? Is there dissent in the ranks? Is it all a stunt ( what would be gained by this tentative performance then -- nothing!). For Oz to reclaim the Ashes there needs to be an air of security & confidence emanating from the skip on the eve of battle. I want a good tussle with lots of memorable cricket & yes, I want England to win but with Oz playing their best cricket, with both sides at full strength, because that produces cricket worthy of the Ashes.

  • Beertjie on November 20, 2013, 17:39 GMT

    Agree completely @oval77 on (November 20, 2013, 12:15 GMT) The reality is coming back to bite them. I'll settle for 2-2 with a draw at the G. Good point about the toss, @landl47. What will Cook do? Bat I suppose and uutilize Swann later, but it could just as easily misfire. A good toss to lose.

  • ShutTheGate on November 20, 2013, 21:46 GMT

    @ FFL I can't believe that I'm writing this but I agree with your comment!

    The next captain question is a good one. Bailey is a proven leader but he'd have to score runs to justify his position. Another future captain candidate is Steve Smith but I think it's too early for him to step up.

    If Clarke does fail to win a match this series (which for the record I don't think will happen) we may see Clarke step down as captain, Bailey be promoted (assuming that he's scoring runs) and Steve Smith as Vice Captain with the view of him being captain when Bailey retires or looses form.

    I reasonably confident that it won't come to that.

  • Charlie101 on November 20, 2013, 21:42 GMT

    I wonder if the next Aussie captain will be Bailey and hence his inclusion when his red ball form is not quite strong enough. Bailey has done an excellent job captaining the ODi and T20 teams and is a good leader of men . Clarke's captaincy will not survive another series loss so I am sure he is nervous. Cant wait for it all to start !!!

  • pat_one_back on November 20, 2013, 20:51 GMT

    Humility and understatement on the eve of the Test is highly appropriate given the recent history of these teams, phony wars are over and Clarke has nothing to be cocky about with the public. Recall his speech after the last series, he's understandably worn at answering for defeat, forseeing this possibility is pragmatic not negative or lacking in confidence, Eng are rightly favorites and can ride the wave home with a win in Brisbane whilst an Aust win can be viewed with only cautious relief and mild optimism, only a fool would talk big as Clarke supposedly should have...

  • inthebag on November 20, 2013, 19:43 GMT

    Let's wait and see how is bat does the talking. If his back is OK and he scores like we've seen him do in the past, he'll take the rest of the side with him and Australia wins. No pressure.

  • Front-Foot-Lunge on November 20, 2013, 19:31 GMT

    If Michael Clarke again fails to win a single test match in an Ashes series (or do even worse than Australia did last time), his capaincy would definately be called into question. Alot has been written about his relationships with former players and their reluctance to prolong their stay in the national side, I for one was surprised to see Bailey even picked considering the previous between the two. If Australia lose the 1st test (surely the Gabba road and the rain would play some part in the preceedings) then the writing will most definately be on the wall. The Question is, who would be the next captain after Clarke?

  • sharidas on November 20, 2013, 19:19 GMT

    Though I am not a fan of Michael Clarke, at least this time, I do think his attitude is right, by saying exactly what he feels. Knowing reality and working on it truly is a positive way of handling it. Hypocrisy is out and reality is in……a good sign. Aussies will do good !

  • on November 20, 2013, 19:00 GMT

    Australian cricket seems to have arrived at a point where England were five years ago. The young players are learning the game as twenty twenty players rather than five-day players, the batters are cameo batsmen and the bowlers are used to bowling five overs rather than twenty. The only reliable batsmen seem to be those who have learnt their art playing in the County Championship and are veterans compared with earlier Australian teams. If the ECB stopped Australian players from playing in the County Championship it would finish Australia as a Test Playing Country and they would become like the current West Indies team.

  • on November 20, 2013, 18:32 GMT

    So an Ashes captain is nervous. What a revelation. So what? Anyone who isn't slightly apprehensive at the beginning of an important Test series is rather too laid-back. Results affect careers - this is nothing to be lackadaisical about.

  • Nutcutlet on November 20, 2013, 18:19 GMT

    Clarke, normally so relaxed in front of the cameras, is obviously worried about something. Are he & DL absolutely sure of the team? Is his back back? Is there dissent in the ranks? Is it all a stunt ( what would be gained by this tentative performance then -- nothing!). For Oz to reclaim the Ashes there needs to be an air of security & confidence emanating from the skip on the eve of battle. I want a good tussle with lots of memorable cricket & yes, I want England to win but with Oz playing their best cricket, with both sides at full strength, because that produces cricket worthy of the Ashes.

  • Beertjie on November 20, 2013, 17:39 GMT

    Agree completely @oval77 on (November 20, 2013, 12:15 GMT) The reality is coming back to bite them. I'll settle for 2-2 with a draw at the G. Good point about the toss, @landl47. What will Cook do? Bat I suppose and uutilize Swann later, but it could just as easily misfire. A good toss to lose.

  • on November 20, 2013, 16:56 GMT

    @Front-Foot-Lunge-Needs-A-Hug You are joking, right? "A heavy defeat will surely bring to an end the careers of Root, Prior, Bairstow, Trott..." Joe Root is the best young batsman in the English game, remember it's only a few matches since he got 180 against Australia. Trott and Prior had poor summers but are both class acts, and Bairstow continues to develop. In any case, only one of Bairstow and Prior will play at the Gabba so even i the unlikely event of a heavy defeat it can't really pit an end to the career of whoever didn't play.

    I sense some Australian straws being clutched at here.

  • 2MikeGattings on November 20, 2013, 16:24 GMT

    Clarke has plenty to be worried about. Already he is managing expectations.

  • thekaz on November 20, 2013, 14:48 GMT

    Clarke's obviously a worried man, another Ashes series loss here and surely his job as captain is up. Oh, and the Irony of him saying 'we dont care about Englands team' when last week he was trying to play needless mind games and name Englands team. Its rather sad that the Aussies have to try to play these games to get a result, but if there's one team in the world who wont be affected by them, its the 'boring, rigid' England team right? Haha hilarious.

  • landl47 on November 20, 2013, 13:52 GMT

    I wonder- if Clarke wins the toss, will he put England in? Usually that's a sign of aggression, but in this case the message it might send is that Clarke has no confidence in the ability of his side to bat first and make a good score.

    I also wonder how fit Clarke is. If his back is playing up again, that would tend to make him nervous. He's already got Watson, coming off an injury and with no first-class games since the last test in England, and Harris, who finished the series in England injured again and who took 2-158 in his last Sheffield Shield outing, to worry about. Then there's Mitch....

    Captaincy is a tough job. It needs a tough man to handle it. Is Clarke a tough man?

    I guess we'll find out.

  • Front-Foot-Lunge-Needs-A-Hug on November 20, 2013, 13:26 GMT

    A heavy defeat will surely bring to an end the careers of Root, Prior, Bairstow, Trott and the mysterious 3rd seamer. In fact all three 3rd seamers will be on thin ice. Swann is widely rumoured to retire at the end if this series. Will England still love Cook after a heavy series defeat here? You all expect Australia roll over but who is the pressure on?

  • kluvsindia on November 20, 2013, 12:38 GMT

    Austrailia surely is the much weaker team here considering that they dont have the experience and the winning factor amongst them. But in order to defeat the english they really need to take advantage of all the home conditions. The Gabba and the test at the WACA should really be a must win for the aussies. They cannoot look at anything else other than winning here as these grounds are their dens. As far as the tests in Adelaide and Melbourne, they should try to squeeze out atleast a draw in one of these venues (most likely the MCG). And that leaves the Sydney test which they can look to win with their morale high. The Aussie media has hyped up their players and are trying to underestimate the english but one should understand the reality that the english are playing much better cricket than the aussies. Hence the aussies really need to drive in the home advantage here. So important that Gabba test for both these sides. I think its gonna be a pretty close series.

  • oval77 on November 20, 2013, 12:15 GMT

    The best teams in any sport tend to be those who always respect the opposition, never underestimating the team nor the challenge they're facing. Focus on your own game, not on the shortcomings of your opposition. It's not a philosophy the current Australian team espouse: over the last weeks Clarke, Warner, Watson, Haddin, Johnson, Faulkner, Lehman have all made public boasts as if victory is inevitable. I wonder if this is what's now eating Clarke? A veteran correspondent said on the radio this morning that this was the most talk he'd ever heard from an Australian team. I'm not saying Eng will win (I bet on 2-2, but it could go any way), but Aus do appear to have talked themselves onto a high pedestal from which they will be very harshly judged should their play not live up to their talk. This may have just struck Clarke. To be honest, I'd be nervous too!

  • on November 20, 2013, 11:09 GMT

    I can't see this series being a thrashing. On balance England should win but it will be closer than the last series. Hopefully the Aussies will get the first victory in Brisbane and it will put the Poms on the back foot.

  • on November 20, 2013, 11:06 GMT

    Ausies will win this series thats for sure

  • Hammond on November 20, 2013, 10:55 GMT

    MC looked like in that press box like he had already lost.

  • on November 20, 2013, 10:26 GMT

    All in for an English winter at the Aussie soils ;)

  • chelly on November 20, 2013, 9:35 GMT

    All the best to the Aussie, Johnson don't disappoint

  • chelly on November 20, 2013, 9:29 GMT

    Wishing the Australians all the best,though its going to be tough.

  • GeoffreysMother on November 20, 2013, 9:23 GMT

    Nice article - but I'm not sure Root's demotion is a 'victory'. It may give England more solidity. Clarke was right to be taciturn. Parts of the Australian media have been eager to encourage some macho statements from their team which puts them under more pressure than is necessary. Clarke's own announcement of the English team sounded good in the media but a ' we will focus on our performance and play whatever team they put out against us' is a better response if you don't want to feed the beast and look cocky. Cook's responses have been more measured and in someway taken the pressure off England. Perhaps this is one area where you don't want to follow Shane Warne's advice. Similarly Pieterson and Broad have just laughed at the press rather than get wound up.

  • Big_Maxy_Walker on November 20, 2013, 9:12 GMT

    I think this Ashes series thrashing will be the end of Clarke's captaincy and lead to the resignation of the selectors. what a great outcome that would be

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  • Big_Maxy_Walker on November 20, 2013, 9:12 GMT

    I think this Ashes series thrashing will be the end of Clarke's captaincy and lead to the resignation of the selectors. what a great outcome that would be

  • GeoffreysMother on November 20, 2013, 9:23 GMT

    Nice article - but I'm not sure Root's demotion is a 'victory'. It may give England more solidity. Clarke was right to be taciturn. Parts of the Australian media have been eager to encourage some macho statements from their team which puts them under more pressure than is necessary. Clarke's own announcement of the English team sounded good in the media but a ' we will focus on our performance and play whatever team they put out against us' is a better response if you don't want to feed the beast and look cocky. Cook's responses have been more measured and in someway taken the pressure off England. Perhaps this is one area where you don't want to follow Shane Warne's advice. Similarly Pieterson and Broad have just laughed at the press rather than get wound up.

  • chelly on November 20, 2013, 9:29 GMT

    Wishing the Australians all the best,though its going to be tough.

  • chelly on November 20, 2013, 9:35 GMT

    All the best to the Aussie, Johnson don't disappoint

  • on November 20, 2013, 10:26 GMT

    All in for an English winter at the Aussie soils ;)

  • Hammond on November 20, 2013, 10:55 GMT

    MC looked like in that press box like he had already lost.

  • on November 20, 2013, 11:06 GMT

    Ausies will win this series thats for sure

  • on November 20, 2013, 11:09 GMT

    I can't see this series being a thrashing. On balance England should win but it will be closer than the last series. Hopefully the Aussies will get the first victory in Brisbane and it will put the Poms on the back foot.

  • oval77 on November 20, 2013, 12:15 GMT

    The best teams in any sport tend to be those who always respect the opposition, never underestimating the team nor the challenge they're facing. Focus on your own game, not on the shortcomings of your opposition. It's not a philosophy the current Australian team espouse: over the last weeks Clarke, Warner, Watson, Haddin, Johnson, Faulkner, Lehman have all made public boasts as if victory is inevitable. I wonder if this is what's now eating Clarke? A veteran correspondent said on the radio this morning that this was the most talk he'd ever heard from an Australian team. I'm not saying Eng will win (I bet on 2-2, but it could go any way), but Aus do appear to have talked themselves onto a high pedestal from which they will be very harshly judged should their play not live up to their talk. This may have just struck Clarke. To be honest, I'd be nervous too!

  • kluvsindia on November 20, 2013, 12:38 GMT

    Austrailia surely is the much weaker team here considering that they dont have the experience and the winning factor amongst them. But in order to defeat the english they really need to take advantage of all the home conditions. The Gabba and the test at the WACA should really be a must win for the aussies. They cannoot look at anything else other than winning here as these grounds are their dens. As far as the tests in Adelaide and Melbourne, they should try to squeeze out atleast a draw in one of these venues (most likely the MCG). And that leaves the Sydney test which they can look to win with their morale high. The Aussie media has hyped up their players and are trying to underestimate the english but one should understand the reality that the english are playing much better cricket than the aussies. Hence the aussies really need to drive in the home advantage here. So important that Gabba test for both these sides. I think its gonna be a pretty close series.