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July 7, 2013
England have their sights set on Michael Clarke as the Ashes looms, knowing that a quiet series for Australia's captain will go a long way to ensuring the urn does not change hands.
Graeme Swann is well aware of the impact that restricting the opposition captain's runs can have after watching Ricky Ponting endure a miserable series in 2010-11. On that occasion, England also limited Clarke's output to 193 runs in five Tests - the last of which is his first in charge - and know that this current Australia side are hugely reliant on his performances.
Clarke is far and away Australia's leading batsman, holding together what has often looked a callow order recently, and since returning from the back injury that kept him out of the Champions Trophy, has made good use of the warm-up matches against Somerset and Worcestershire with scores of 45, 26, 62 and 124.
"He was their form batsman in England in 2009, although he didn't have such a good series in Australia," Swann told ESPNcricinfo. "The year he's had has been phenomenal, so we'll be hoping to cut the head off the serpent if you like, as a captain.
"The two Ashes series I've played, and one of the main reasons we've won, is because we've been able to make some of their best players have poor series," he added. "Clarke and Ponting last time, and Mike Hussey, until The Oval, in 2009.
"That's what you need to do to win big series, make sure the match-winners in their team don't have a chance to perform. We'll have two or three players on their team we'll definitely be looking at to keep especially quiet - although you hope everyone on the opposition has a poor series."
Swann fully appreciates the power that a prolific leader can have for a side having watched Alastair Cook begin his full-time captaincy career in with a consistently high return. "The best thing he's done is lead from the front by scoring runs. There is no greater way for a team to get behind the captain than watch him pile on the runs," Swann said.
Unsurprisingly, even though Swann is one of more forthcoming England players, he would not be drawn much in Australia's recent problems. However, he has always held Darren Lehmann, their new coach, in the highest regard since the pair duelled together on the field.
"We don't know what their issues were and it's not really for us to try and find out, although I'm sure we'd like to know, because everyone likes a gossip," he said. "What I do know is that Darren Lehmann was a magnificent player, second to none, only Brian Lara has been a better player of those I've bowled against.
"They have a good man, he's a good fella. Whether that brings the team together is probably for people to judge at the end of the summer. You could get rid of every clique and every problem in a team, but if you don't win it doesn't matter."
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Andrew McGlashan
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