Michael Clarke's ride as Australia's golden boy has ended with his dropping from the side for the third Test at Adelaide. Michael Hussey retained his place in the 12-man squad following his double of 137 and 31 not out at Hobart and the return to fitness of Justin Langer has squeezed out Clarke, the 2005 Allan Border Medallist, from the team that wrapped up the Frank Worrell trophy today.
Twelve months ago Clarke introduced himself to Australian audiences with a brilliant 141 against New Zealand at the Gabba to follow his debut 151 in Bangalore, but he has not reached three figures since, scoring only 516 runs at 24.57 in 15 Tests. Ricky Ponting showed his faith in Clarke by installing him at No.4 ahead of Brad Hodge for the second Test and failed in a push to retain him.
"I don't think it will be destructive but it would be a hard thing to swallow," Ponting said. "I have probably been dropped two or three times and it doesn't get any easier along the way, but the first time is obviously the hardest." Clarke was due to fly out to Sydney tonight while his team-mates remained in Hobart before travelling to Adelaide on Tuesday.
Trevor Hohns, the chairman of selctors, said Clarke was a talented player who still had a bright future at Test level. "We think it's time to give him a break and to go back to domestic cricket to clear his head so that he can bat the way we know he can," Hohns said. Langer's recovery from a fractured rib means he will reunite with his opening partner Matthew Hayden while Hussey will fill a slot in the middle order.
Clarke became the fifth Australia player dumped since August as Australia look to a new generation and different combinations following the Ashes loss. The batting line-up that was so solid over the past decade has undergone three significant changes in the past three Tests with Damien Martyn, Simon Katich and Clarke cut from the squad.
"It has been so settled for so long that we're all not used to it happening," Ponting said of the middle-order instability. "If guys are losing form and guys are going well in domestic cricket no one is safe. You have to keep producing every week."
Clarke has not passed 50 since the fourth Test against England and his promotion to No.4 to replace Martyn was a failure with scores of 39 and 5 in the Super Test and 5, 14 not out and 5 against West Indies. Ponting felt Clarke, who was dismissed playing an aggressive backfoot shot in the first innings at Hobart, was guilty of trying too hard, but he was unsure whether a stint in the Pura Cup would make him a stronger player in the same way it had worked for himself and Steve Waugh.
Ponting has counselled Clarke on the dangers of being a prodigy and encouraged him to work on the qualities that originally earned his Test cap. "I tried to go back to Shield cricket and score a truckload of runs and get back into the Australian cricket team as quickly as I could," Ponting said. "It doesn't work that way. He just has to go back and be patient and I am sure things will change for him."
Australia squad Matthew Hayden, Justin Langer, Ricky Ponting (capt), Michael Hussey, Brad Hodge, Andrew Symonds, Adam Gilchrist (wk), Shane Warne, Brett Lee, Stuart MacGill, Glenn McGrath, Nathan Bracken.