Worcestershire v Australians, New Road, 3rd day

Clarke's pressure valve released

Michael Clarke's century in Worcester was an indication of a clear mind.

Daniel Brettig at New Road

July 4, 2013

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Michael Clarke slaps one through leg side, Worcestershire v Australians, Tour match, New Road, 3rd day, July 4, 2013
Michael Clarke has made steadily increasing scores over the past two tour matches © Getty Images
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It is no coincidence that Michael Clarke's carefree century against Worcestershire seemed to indicate that a weight had been lifted from his shoulders. In the early days of Darren Lehmann's reign as coach, Clarke has been deliberately given as little to do as possible, maximising his time to strengthen his back and groove his batting for the Ashes battles ahead.

Not since the day Lehmann was appointed has Clarke been required to speak publicly, nor has he been required to participate fully in every training session. Clarke's only statements have been delivered via his bat, with spectators at Taunton and New Road witness to a promisingly ascending score trend of 45, 26, 62 and 124 against Somerset and Worcestershire.

Clarke's off-field leadership had been questioned in the aftermath of the sacking of Lehmann's predecessor Mickey Arthur, flowing on as it did from unsavoury events in India and then England in the early, Champions Trophy-preoccupied weeks of the tour. Lehmann said the best way he could improve Clarke as a captain was to ensure he did not have too much to worry about.

"Take some pressure off him, I reckon that's the biggest way," Lehmann said. "Our role as support staff and people around him is to make sure he gets back to captaining and playing the game and not worrying about the stuff he doesn't really need to worry about, and that's where we come into it, making sure the players are best prepared and can go and play, and have a game plan that suited to the way we want to play. Then he can just go and captain.

"I just hope I take pressure off all the players to be perfectly honest. We've got to let them play the game of cricket, it's a tough enough game at the best of times, so my role is to make sure they're enjoying themselves on and off the field, learning about the game and all those things, and making sure we play a positive brand of cricket."

In this, Lehmann echoed his former South Australia team-mate and Arthur's coaching forebear Tim Nielsen. Interviewed by ESPNcricinfo in 2011 after his exit from the job, Nielsen said Clarke's greatest challenge as captain would be to devote enough time to maintaining his own batting and fitness when so many other issues demanded his attention.

"His biggest challenge will be to make sure he keeps his mind on his batting as well," Nielsen had said. "There's so much going on with the team at the moment, so many distractions, and as a first-time captain of the Australian team full-time, he's going to have so much to do around the place. I just hope he can continue to bat as well as he is at the moment and not let those distractions get in the way.

"If he's playing well, a lot of the stuff looks after itself. I know myself, when I was coaching in that Indian summer [in 2008], you have the attitude of 'stuff keeps happening but I'll keep at it, nothing's too hard', but after a while it can wear you down. So Michael needs to be aware that it can wear him down."

Clarke has already saved himself a good deal of time and worry by divesting himself of selection duty. Lehmann said Clarke would more often than not still have his selection preferences followed, but without the distraction of constant involvement in phone hook-ups and dialogue about matters other than winning the next game.

"He'll still have input, the captain's got to be really comfortable with the side he puts out each and every time I think," Lehmann said. "We speak every day about it, as do Rod [Marsh] and all the selectors. You'd be mad if you didn't use your captain's opinion, I wouldn't want to put a percentage on it, but he'll get pretty much what he wants within reason all the time."

Phillip Hughes, who was at the other end for most of Clarke's Worcester century, reckoned the innings showed a useful window into Clarke's state of mind and body. No longer the harried and immobile figure of the tour's early weeks, he is now looking ready to take the fight to England at Trent Bridge.

"It's a really good statement," Hughes said. "He'd been out of the game for around three months, and to play last week and play well, and today to go on with that three figures was outstanding and pushed the game forward. He's moving really well and not even complaining about it [his back] one bit, and that's a real pleasing thing for himself and all of us as a unit."

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

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Posted by Front-Foot-Lunge on (July 5, 2013, 22:10 GMT)

Clarke is a genius at hiding down the order and whacking around a 30 over ball, but that's probably why he's never spoken of in the same terms as those batsmen who bat in the top 3 for their respective teams, a position in which sound technique plus bucket loads of run scoring ability is crucial. Cook is an obvious example, but also Dravid and Amla spring to mind. He should have heeded the calls during the India series to move up the order, as the need for leadership at the top of the the Oz batting order was required to provide a good foundation from which to compete. That didn't exist then, and no one would be surprised if it's the same again.

Posted by Big_Maxy_Walker on (July 5, 2013, 19:56 GMT)

Lyon has had numerous oppurtunities on 4th and 5th days to bowl out the tails of teams and has failed. The 4th Indian test was a dead rubber. So you cant read much into that one. He still keeps making the same mistakes. Bowling too fast, not taking his time through his overs, not using the crease effectively. Those problems were pointed out a couple of years ago and he hasn't fixed them. Plus with England full of right handers, that makes Lyon redundant. Need a lefty spinner. Agar or O'Keefe

Posted by YorkshirePudding on (July 5, 2013, 15:43 GMT)

While getting SRT's wicket is a prize any bowler would, the sad truth is that hes seriously in the twilight of his career, and no where near his best, with an averages of 23 in 2012 and 32 in the current year the stats bear this out. Hes not scored a Test century since the start of 2011 (vs SA).

Dont get me wrong hes was great batsmen but his time is over and he should allow the Indian team to move on with the new talent thats around.

(now with my luck he'll come to England in 2014 and score back to back double tons!!!).

Posted by hhillbumper on (July 5, 2013, 15:12 GMT)

wonderstar 1. While not the biggest fan of Lyon fair play to the man he got wickets. He got Tendulkar as well as as the acclaimed greatest batsman ever he can't be that bad.Maybe Tendulkar is that bad though to get out to such a poor bowler?

Posted by AussieSam on (July 5, 2013, 14:27 GMT)

@wonderstar1

Odd comment. Lyon took the most wickets of any of the Aussie bowlers on the Indian tour (15), even though he was (stupidly) dropped for the 2nd test. And if I remember correctly he bowled Tendulkar in his first spell of the 1st test match. It was just a shame he wasn't backed up by the rest of the bowlers and the batsmen.

Posted by YorkshirePudding on (July 5, 2013, 14:26 GMT)

Lyon could be very usefull if england are chasing a total as the left handers marks will help him on a day 4/5 pitch especially at the Oval and Old Trafford.

More so if he watches where swann bowls and can get the one to bite and turn, along with giving the ball a bit more air then he'll be very useful.

Posted by Hammond on (July 5, 2013, 14:07 GMT)

Let's hope his back can carry the lighter load..

Posted by InvisiblePJs on (July 5, 2013, 13:58 GMT)

@ wonderstar1 - while I agree that Lyon still has a lot to learn to be a top line test spinner, statements like 'He did not pick up a single wicket even on the dustbowls.(like the aussies say) in India' show that you have little idea of what actually happens in the game of cricket. I may mention that in the last test in Delhi, Lyon only managed to take 9 of the 14 Indian wickets to fall in the match, including the 'master' Tendulkar in both innings... or is it perhaps you are suggesting Delhi isn't a 'dustbowl' - more a normal cricket wicket....

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Daniel BrettigClose
Daniel Brettig Assistant editor Daniel Brettig had been a journalist for eight years when he joined ESPNcricinfo, but his fascination with cricket dates back to the early 1990s, when his dad helped him sneak into the family lounge room to watch the end of day-night World Series matches well past bedtime. Unapologetically passionate about indie music and the South Australian Redbacks, Daniel's chief cricketing achievement was to dismiss Wisden Almanack editor Lawrence Booth in the 2010 Ashes press match in Perth - a rare Australian victory that summer.
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