Marcus North has rejected speculation that he may be in line to be Australia's next Test captain. There have been suggestions in the Australian media of a rift in the national team over Michael Clarke's limited-overs captaincy, and position as next in line for the leadership role behind current incumbent Ricky Ponting.
Following a string of disappointing results from the national side, culminating in the dramatic one-wicket loss to Sri Lanka at the MCG on Wednesday, reports emerged of deep divisions in the Australian team over Clarke's grooming as Ponting's successor. But North emphatically denied any truth to the stories.
"What I've woken up and read this morning is completely unfounded," he said. "I've never seen it. I must be playing in another cricket team if that's a fact. Yesterday the feeling in the media is who can replace North and then the next minute I'm being touted as Australian captain. In an Ashes summer you can expect a bit of hype and a few stories but I think we're scraping the barrel there a bit. It's a bit of humour to me. It's just another story, it will be forgotten about tomorrow."
North captains Western Australia, but insisted that leading the Test side was not part of his plans. "Obviously Ricky's here to stay for a number of years yet and Michael Clarke's been the one that's being groomed as the next captain," he said. "When he [Clarke] has taken over from Ricky he's been very, very good at leading the side, it's something that certainly doesn't enter my thinking at all."
North was adamant that he was concentrating on Western Australia's tour game against England, starting on Friday at the WACA, and said that the decision to play in the game and expose himself to England's Test attack ahead of the first Ashes Test in Brisbane was an easy one.
"I never hesitated at all," said North. "When Western Australia gets an opportunity to play a touring side, it's something that we always honour and look forward to as state players. It just gives me a great opportunity to keep playing another first-class game against a quality opposition. If I'm worried about [whether] they're going to come hard at me, well they're going to come hard in the first Test so I expect nothing different come tomorrow."
Mike Hussey, North's team-mate in both the Western Australia and Test sides, also dismissed rumours of trouble in the Australian camp. A recent report in a Sydney newspaper implied a tiff had occurred between Hussey and Clarke over comments Clarke made surrounding Hussey's late arrival prior to the first Test against India in Mohali in October.
At the insistence of Cricket Australia, both Hussey and Doug Bollinger had played in the final stages of the Champions League Twenty20 in South Africa, a tournament CA has a stake in, rather than travelling to India at the same time as the rest of the national team. While Clarke did not specifically name either player, he publicly questioned the decision to play in tournaments such as the Indian Premier League and Champions League, arguing that national duty should be the priority.
But Hussey insisted there are "no problems whatsoever" in his relationship with Clarke, adding: "I have a very good relationship actually with Michael Clarke. We talk about cricket every time we're in the dressing room. I have no issues whatsoever so I'm not exactly sure where some of these so called issues are coming from. I haven't read the article so I don't know exactly what's going on, but all I can say is our team is really tight."
Hussey also played down the media speculation over Ponting's potential successor as Test captain, backing Clarke's position as captain-in-waiting. "I think he's got some very good leadership qualities," he said. "He leads from the front, he's very decisive and he's got a very, very good cricket brain. He understands the game very well, understands the pressures of the game very well and I think he's learning all the time and who better to learn under than Ricky Ponting?"
Australia have struggled in the lead-up to the Ashes and are in the midst of a six-game losing streak, but Hussey insisted a united team would soon be back to winning ways. "In a lot of those matches we've been in great positions to win the game and we just haven't been able to finish it off," he said.
"We just have to keep getting ourselves into those winning positions and then we just have to push even harder on the pedal and really make sure we get a victory and get that winning feeling back. It's a really important time that we stick together to keep backing each other, keep trusting our plans and our processes and knowing that if we stick to what we know works then we will come through the other side."