The Ashes captains probably feel like they’re traveling in a lift.
“Going up Mr Cook; on the top floor you’ll find precious items and gifts.”
“You want the basement Mr Clarke; I’m afraid there’s nothing of value down there, only waste disposal.”
Prior to the series I couldn’t see Michael Clarke’s side losing to a team led by Alastair Cook. Clarke was a brave and imaginative leader, while Cook displayed conservative tendencies with little flair; it could only go one way.
England captain Alastair Cook signs autographs for fans after his team beat Australia in the fourth Ashes Test by an innings and 78 runs at Trent Bridge in Nottingham on Saturday. Pic/AFP
I reckoned without two things; firstly, Cook’s tenacity and secondly, Australia’s ineptitude with the bat.
I was fully aware of Cook’s fierce determination with the bat but he’s also shown a willingness to persevere and learn about captaincy. He’s now utilising the skills and aggressive nature of the team to his advantage but he still struggles with instinct and imagination, two attributes that can’t be learned.
Flop Aussie batting
Australia’s ineptitude with the bat, which has led to two horrific first innings collapses, has severely hampered Clarke’s ability to pressure the opposition batsmen into making mistakes. When Australia amass big scores, Clarke’s captaincy is seen in all it’s glory and the magnanimous tendencies of Australia’s pace bowlers are a thing of little consequence. In those circumstances Australia bullies the opposition into submission.
However, without the backing of big totals, Australia’s pace attack can be made to look wayward and wasteful.
England has found ways to overcome Australia’s best batsmen, while Clarke and his cohorts haven’t been able to shut down the prolific Joe Root. Much as Ian Bell was a big difference in the 2013 series, Root has been a similar thorn in Australia’s side this time.
The failure of Australia’s batting has revolved around Clarke’s struggles. His hesitant footwork is that of a man concerned with the short-pitched delivery and consequently he’s not watching closely the ball out of the bowler’s hand. When all else fails, a batsman needs to concentrate solely on the ball as it comes out of the hand and suddenly most ailments are cured.
In addition to failing to correct this aspect of his batting, Clarke also made a fatal error at Trent Bridge by demoting himself to five. While it wasn’t time for a promotion, it most certainly wasn’t the moment for Clarke to retreat. This ill-conceived move revealed a captain with doubts who was putting too much faith in superstition to revive his run making skills.
Moving down to five may have seemed like a good idea for the captain but it wasn’t right for the team. As a batsman-captain it’s better to try and pre-empt trouble rather than attempting to retrieve bad situations. At Trent Bridge, Clarke arrived at the crease with the situation dire and it quickly descended into chaos. That doesn’t excuse his dismissal via a wayward shot but it probably helped cause it.
Australia’s batting has been an accident waiting to happen for some time and the worst often does occur in foreign conditions. The fact that Australia has resorted to selecting older batsmen who’ve made runs in first-class cricket was a warning sign. The lack of young players consistently churning out runs at first-class level is a serious flaw in the Australian system that needs to be rectified quickly.
Who’ll replace Clarke?
There’s a cacophony surrounding Clarke’s future because he’s overseen another failed Ashes campaign. There’s no doubt Clarke hasn’t helped his cause by alienating some influential people. However, while he could well be stripped of the captaincy, as Steve Smith is a viable replacement, who is going to replace Clarke the batsman?
The easy part of selection is dropping someone; the difficult part is finding a suitable alternative. Clarke is still among the top three batsmen in Australia and without the captaincy, batting at five isn’t such a glaring error.
If Clarke still has the desire and his back holds up, he warrants a place in the team. The question is will he still want to play without the captaincy?
“What’s it to be Mr Clarke? Going up or down?”