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April 12, 2012
Michael Clarke's belief that the Bridgetown Test match could be won was forged six years ago in the middle of Adelaide Oval. He had been joined at the wicket by Shane Warne, Australia struggling for first innings parity with England on the fourth day of what seemed destined to be a drawn Ashes Test. Simply and clearly, Warne told Clarke the match would be won. On a scarcely believable final day, it was.
Clarke carried that memory with him throughout the first Test against the West Indies, and echoed Warne in assuring his team that the Barbados match remained within their grasp. After a mighty struggle over the final two days, the visitors dragged themselves up from a position every bit as dire as the one occupied by Australia against England in 2006, and another remarkable victory was secured. It made Clarke only the second captain in the history of Test cricket to win a match after declaring behind.
"I remember Warney telling me back then that with a day and a half left in the Test match that we would win the game and I was trying to work out how," Clarke said of 2006. "At best surely we'd get a draw but he had no doubt in his mind. For me as a young player I thought 'right-o, that's my attitude, I'm going to win'. A few years on and I'm in the change rooms telling the boys we're going to win this Test match. Hopefully a few of them believed me the way I believed Warney back then.
"It shows, if you have that self-belief and belief in the inner sanctum and the guys that sit beside you that you find ways. That was the main thing I said to the boys today. I know it's tough, I know we're tired, I know there's going to be issues of the foot marks, I know it's going to be a tough run chase but find a way. Everyone and individually as a team we've got to find a way and we'll win this Test match. Credit to the boys, they certainly found a way."
Australia are building a team to be reckoned with under Clarke, and he had little hesitation declaring the Bridgetown result the equal of any he had enjoyed. It was as much a victory over the conditions and late season lethargy as the opposition, a West Indies team that is gathering discipline, skill and experience but is still learning how to fight out the critical phases of a Test.
"A just reward for hanging in, the team showing true character and fight and not giving up," Clarke said. "I think whatever happened this afternoon, whether we won the game, drew the game or lost the game, I think we certainly showed a lot of fight, a lot of character. We tried to win the Test.
"We did everything we could to try and win the Test match and it's very, very rewarding now sitting in the change rooms with that bunch of boys that we got the result we were after…after a lot of hard work, a couple of days with, I guess, our backs to the wall. But to be able to fight and get a result like that, that's as special a win as I've had in my career.
"This is as good as I've had, no doubt, because we had our backs to the wall for the first three days of the game. And the spirit and the character, I guess of the guys in the change room is what drives you, I guess, as a captain to make a bold decision, to declare when I declared. The confidence around me from everybody in that group, there wasn't one bit of fear of losing that Test match, it wasn't spoken about.
"From day one of the Test all that's been spoken about is what we have to do to win this Test match. And a lot of time it's easier said than done, especially when a team gets 450 on the board in the first two days, you get some time taken out of the game with the light, so full credit to every single player and support staff person in that change room."
The Australian team is beginning to bear the stamp of Clarke - relentlessly positive, adventurous, tactically agile and skillful. He said the team was learning more about how to best operate under pressure, meaning the lapses that occurred in Cape Town against South Africa and Hobart against New Zealand are now growing less likely to occur. It is also benefiting from the balance between the brash youth of David Warner, and the poise of older heads like Michael Hussey, so calm in the chase as he had been in Adelaide six years ago.
"I think we are just learning more and more about each other every day, especially under pressure," Clarke said. "We're working out what guys require to perform their best under pressure. We're seeing guys stand up when they get an opportunity to play Test cricket. We're seeing some old hands and some old legs still pulling tricks out of the bag to help us win games and Huss is a great example of that.
"We're putting in really good team performances. You're not going to be successful individually every single time you walk out to bat or walk out to bowl. But I think the team we have at the moment, the players we have around the group at the moment aren't bothered about themselves. They care most about the team winning and doing whatever they can to contribute to success. In my mind, there's no coincidence the team's doing well because we're all putting the team first."
Edited by Kanishkaa Balachandran
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets hereFeeds: Daniel Brettig
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