Worcestershire v Australians, New Road, 3rd day July 4, 2013

Clarke makes timely intervention


Worcestershire 284 (Compton 79, Mitchell 65, Bird 4-48) and 64 for 1 need 393 to beat Australians 396 for 4 dec and 341 for 5 dec (Clarke 124, Hughes 86)

For most of his first five weeks in England, Michael Clarke has been defined less by what he was than what he wasn't.

To begin with, Clarke wasn't fit. He wasn't in Birmingham for the Walkabout fiasco, then he wasn't taking part in any of the Champions Trophy. When Mickey Arthur was sacked, Clarke wasn't a decision-maker nor, it emerged, anymore a member of the selection panel. Throughout Darren Lehmann's assured first 10 days as coach, Clarke wasn't even the primary spokesman for the team.

On the third day in Worcester, in his final innings before the first Test at Trent Bridge, Clarke was back. Taking advantage of a docile pitch and an amiable attack, he bounded to a century in 90 balls, confirming the return of batting touch and confidence at precisely the right moment before the serious stuff begins.

Most importantly of all, Clarke played without any hint of the back trouble that had flared on his arrival, and can now travel to Nottingham with confidence about his ability to play the sorts of innings Australia so desperately need from him.

Phillip Hughes was similarly arresting as he helped Clarke set Worcestershire a target of 457 to win, which by the close they had reduced to 393 for the loss of Nick Compton's wicket. The day after asserting that he had not been given "fair crack of the whip" by England's selectors, Compton was lured down the pitch by the young spinner Ashton Agar and neatly stumped by Brad Haddin. Agar's teasing spell in the final session was another sign of promise for the tourists, who have rather less to worry about now than a week ago.

That is not to say they are in completely fine fettle. Ed Cowan fell for another of his maddeningly mediocre scores, having been dropped without scoring, though he was unhappy to be given out lbw for 34. In four innings on tour so far his top score is 58, not substantial enough tallies should he occupy the No. 3 berth at Trent Bridge as now appears likely.

Ryan Harris and Jackson Bird also failed to harvest any wickets with the new ball. They did better in the morning when Worcestershire were rolled up for 284. Bird claimed the standout innings figures with 4 for 48, while Harris showed decent rhythm and speed.

Harris was left very much in Bird's wake on the second day, but regathered some ground on the third morning. Gareth Andrew snicked behind to Haddin before Jack Shantry was beaten for pace and angle from round the wicket to have his stumps splayed.

Bird beat the bat numerous times in his early spell but was relieved by James Faulkner, who bowled the last man Chris Russell. It was Cowan who joined Rogers in sprinting off to open the batting, Watson again being held back in the order following his first innings performance just as he had been against Somerset at Taunton.

Cowan was handed an instant reprieve, dropped in the slips by Moeen Ali before he had scored. Rogers was also helped by a few fortunate edges before more full-blooded strokes ensued. The Australians appeared likely to reach lunch without interruption, but a few minutes before the interval Rogers was pinned lbw by Ali's off break from around the wicket.

The order then maintained its elastic and preparatory nature, Hughes moving from No. 6 up to 3 and making a fluent start in sunshine that grew brighter by the minute. Cowan played soundly enough into the 30s, before trying to swish Shantry to leg and being given lbw. He looked pointedly at his bat on the way off the ground, but after the dropped catch on nought there was less reason for sympathy.

Entering at No. 4 for the fourth innings in succession, Clarke promptly set about Worcestershire's bowling with freedom of shots as well as movement, his back appearing to be less restrictive than at any stage of the tour so far. He encouraged a more aggressive posture from Hughes, and the pair entertained another plentiful crowd by cavaliering to a stand of 132 in 123 balls.

Hughes forged ahead of his captain, clattering three sixes with a backswing that gained noticeably in extravagance. He was on course for a century in the session when he miscalculated a Russell delivery and was bowled, but had shown pleasing freedom and confidence in his final innings before the first Test.

Clarke took over the main aggressor's role upon Hughes' exit, driving immaculately at some times and swinging more agriculturally at others. Either way, his eye was sharp, and there can now be little concern that he will walk out to bat in Nottingham without sufficient time in the middle.

He delayed his declaration for an hour after tea, partly to allow Steve Smith another hit and partly to ensure his own bowlers did not have too many overs required of them in the fourth innings.

With the pitch dry and the clouds sparse, Bird and Harris found little early movement on offer, and it took Agar to confound Compton with the kind of delectable delivery that has hastened his rise to the fringes of Australia's Test match thinking at the age of 19. A few more wickets on the final afternoon and Agar may be bidding to join Clarke at Trent Bridge.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Troy on July 5, 2013, 12:29 GMT

    Ok @hyclass et al. I'll agree to disagree. Khawaja is a fine cricketer, he did play that very excellent knock in tasmania six months ago. He played well in a few shield matches last season and almost averaged 40. He is a completely steady batsman, who can play well on tricky surfaces. But he hasn't done enough to displace Cowan.

    Perhaps I am being defensive of Cowan as I live in tasmania. I'm surely Queensland supporters are keen to see khawaja get a go. Perhaps Queensland supporters are still a bit upset about the shield final.

    In any case, there's still the chance that both will play. Or neither. I think smith has done enough to get a game over either or them, and perhaps the 'potential' of Warner will mean that this is entirely academic.

  • Dummy4 on July 5, 2013, 12:28 GMT

    Calm down people .I was at Worcester yesterday and the Worcestershire attack??? was one of the worst bowling performance I have seen for years .Let see how Clarke and co get on against Anderson!!!

  • Richard on July 5, 2013, 12:01 GMT

    This change of coach has done wonders. It would've been nice to see O'Keefe in the squad but from the squad they've got, the side will be:

    Rogers, Watson, Hughes, Clarke, Smith, Warner, Haddin, Pattinson, Harris, Starc/ Lyon, Bird.

    Darren Lehmann won't give Cowan and Khawaja the free ride they were given under Arthur, and he is to be congratulated for it. Batsmen must earn their spot by making runs and winning matches. Cowan and Khawaja do not.

    The Australian coach once stated he prefers a left hander in "the gate" (2nd drop) but the quick-scoring Smith, Warner, Haddin combination in the middle order together with an in-form top order, will put immense pressure on the bowling side. Harris and Bird MUST play.

  • Rajaram on July 5, 2013, 10:21 GMT

    This is great news! Michael Clarke with his free -flowing strokes!The Master at his best!Now I am getting more and more convinced that we will regain the Ashes! Go Aussies,go!

  • Lewis on July 5, 2013, 7:54 GMT

    Amith fantastic summary and yes your facts do add up, i have followed Ussie's progress with the bulls and he did get man of the match in all those games when all other batsman failed, i don't know about you but we can do with more batsman who can score in tough conditions and are not flat track bullies.The bowling attack is difficult to pin down, which is a good problem in a way (would be better if Siddle was in cracking form and Harris had another month of play under his belt).

  • Allan on July 5, 2013, 7:41 GMT

    Khawaja should be our number 3 and Hughes 5, show faith in these 2 and they will form the backbone of our batting lineup for years to come. I think boof knows this well.

  • Phil on July 5, 2013, 7:33 GMT

    @Dangertroy i have to go with Amith and if you look at the stats provided they add up. And i was one of this kid's biggest critics but he won me over with his work with the Bulls here in Brisbane. No doubt that Khawaja was second on the shield table behind Hughes when he was picked at the christmas break, no doubt that keeping him 12th man for so long was not acceptable and don't even get me started on the homework saga, double standards when you suspend 4 players for not doing their homework but not someone who punches an opponent in the bar. Cowan simply hasn't done enough after 20 straight games, Khawaja can only dream of getting 5 straight games. Khawaja was splended for the Bulls this season and agree with you that he should have played after christmas but he was not allowed to by Arthur nor selected for Aus duties. I expect us to go with him for the 3 or 5 spot and rightly so, Cowan was lucky not to get 0 yesterday after getting dropped at slips. He simply hasn't done enough in t

  • Troy on July 5, 2013, 7:09 GMT

    @Amith_S - ignoring your hyperbolic statistics, My contention is that Cowan hasn't done enough wrong to be dropped, and Khawaja hasn't done enough right to get picked. Khawaja simply isn't breaking the door down. He has done ok in his test chances, but not outstandingly. Yes, he was in and out of the side, but you have to grab your chances when your a fringe player.

    That Khawaja has been deprived of 1st class cricket as a reserve is a crying shame, I would have left him to finish out the season with QLD rather than benchwarming, but there was always a chance he could get a game. In fact he would have got a game, if he had done his homework. This is the point that was raised when dropped, he requires a bit more aptitude.

    Cowan conversely isn't setting the world on fire, but he's doing fairly well. In the absence of a better candidate, he should continue.

    And yes, his innings at Belrieve was excellent. But it was 6 months ago. And if he gets picked, then I wish him the best of luck.

  • Mariam on July 5, 2013, 6:36 GMT

    @AmithS thats fantastic analysis, hard to argue with that one, also love the nickname of Koala, it might catch out.

  • Ross on July 5, 2013, 6:30 GMT

    1. Watson 2. Rogers 3. Khawaja 4. Clarke 5. Hughes 6. Smith 7. Haddin 8. Siddle 9. Pattinson 10. Harris 11. Lyon

    Cowan has been dissapointing from the word go, time we moved on from that experiment and I've gone with the fast bowlers who have the proven test records, Siddle will lift his game for the first test. Bird is my next in-line replacement for any of them with Starc the last resort.