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December 19, 2013
Still a little croaky from Ashes celebrations in Perth, Australia's captain Michael Clarke epitomised the new unity that characterised the team's rapid advance to a 3-0 margin over England by expressing his satisfaction about Shane Watson's team-oriented century in the third innings at the WACA ground.
While it was no surprise to hear Clarke praise a teammate, his warm words for Watson shone brightly next to some of the other utterances that have accompanied the allrounder in recent years. It cannot be forgotten this was the same Watson who Pat Howard had said acted in the best interests of the team "sometimes", about whom Clarke had often reminded the world "we beat India 4-0 without Shane" and who had, according to Mickey Arthur's statement of claims lodged with Fair Work Australia in mid-year, been dubbed a "cancer" on the team by Clarke.
Those undercurrents seem well and truly forgotten now, as Clarke and his lieutenant Brad Haddin celebrated their Ashes success as fulsomely with Watson as anyone else. Of most import to Clarke was the fact that Watson's aggressive hundred, while setting England a target, demonstrated an interest in advancing the game over and above the preservation of his wicket - a strong example for younger players to follow.
"I think he played really well the other day," Clarke said. "It's obviously a tough position, there's no doubt about it, and he's scored two hundreds there now in his last few Test matches. Watto is hitting the ball as good as I've seen and wasn't too far away from big scores. So thankfully he walked out and played that way and showed great intent.
"What Watto did the other day was put the team first. He knew we were trying to score as many runs as we could before our declaration and he put the team first, which is a great example to the young players that that's what we're trying to do in our team and it's good to see."
The team-focused attitude Clarke spoke of has been wedded to a formidable support staff, not so vast in number as England but steeped in experience, skill and character. The coach Darren Lehmann and the pace bowling mentor Craig McDermott have each attracted many garlands, but Clarke also expressed great satisfaction with the work of the longtime team physio Alex Kountouris and the more recent addition of the well-travelled doctor Peter Brukner, who have each played a major role in allowing Australia to name an unchanged team throughout.
Kountouris has been instrumental in keeping Clarke fit over many years, overseeing a management program for the captain's degenerative back condition, an ailment that kept him out of one Test in India earlier this year and numerous ODI engagements but has been largely handled successfully. Among Brukner's chief achievements has been to help Watson recover more efficiently from the muscle strains that have hounded him, allowing him to play every one of the eight Ashes Test this year to date.
"It's all contributed, there's no doubt about it," Clarke said. "There's a lot of people who have played a part behind the scenes who don't receive too much credit, and bits and pieces of that all through Cricket Australia. So a lot of things have played a part in us performing the way we have and that's one of them.
"Without Alex's help, I wouldn't have played as many Tests as I have, so I try to thank him as much as I can. Lots of guys in the team that are exactly the same. Him and the doc Peter have done a fantastic job in looking after the current crop in making sure we're as fit as we can be leading up and getting through Test matches. There's two more Tests to go this summer so hopefully they can continue to do their good work."
Other members of the support staff to have contributed greatly include the batting coach Michael Di Venuto, the fielding coaches Steve Rixon and Mike Young, the strength and conditioning overseer Damian Mednis, plus the team psychologist Michael Lloyd and the manager Gavin Dovey.
Clarke, who was speaking at Sydney's Olympic Stadium to promote the Sydney Thunder ahead of the Big Bash League - though he has been ruled out of participating between Tests - did not have quite as much to say when asked of the former coach Arthur's role in guiding the team before Lehmann took over. Asked if he had been in touch, Clarke replied: "No, I haven't spoken to Mickey."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets hereFeeds: Daniel Brettig
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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