With just 12 months to go for the Ashes, the first of the back-to-back series, Michael Clarke’s Australia have travelled to England for what seems like a perfect curtain raiser for Clarke’s biggest challenge since taking over as the Australian captain.
While purists are branding this series as an unnecessary fit in an already crammed cricket schedule, England seem to be looking at this as an opportunity to dominate the ODI format of the game as well. Already having claimed the top spot in tests and T20s, the English side will look to go all the way in the ODIs as well, for which, they will need to send the visitors back without a win from the five games. A tough ask but on current form, Alistair Cook & co. will back themselves to go for it.
As far as Michael Clarke is concerned, rankings will be the last thing on his mind. His priority will be to understand his young squad and their ability to adapt to the English conditions. The home side has been hostile on the field in the recent past, having decimated the likes of India and Sri Lanka at home and even sending West Indies back without a win in all formats. When Clarke brings his brigade for the all important Ashes next year, he will look to disrupt their splendid form in the longest form of the game.
The likes of Matthew Wade, James Pattinson and Pat Cummins have been sensational to say the least, and their performances in this series will be crucial. Clarke will hope to take his young brigade around every ground in England to get them acclimatized to the conditions and prepare them for the Ashes. I even see Clarke throwing his arm around young pacer Pat Cummins’ shoulders, taking a stroll down the Nursery End at Lords’ and talking about the relevance of the next five games in their lives and its impact on their role in the team almost exactly a year from then. He could even repeat the process elsewhere with James Pattinson.
For Michael Clarke the captain, this series could be a very important one. Out of 41 ODIs that Clarke has captained, Australia has won 29 while the team has won 9 out of the 15 tests under him. Taking over from a champion like Ricky Ponting, who was in charge for the last 7 years, was no easy task. When Ponting took over from Steve Waugh in 2003/04, he was replacing the best that the country had seen. Last year after the World Cup, Michael Clarke was doing the same.
Tactically, Clarke has been spot on with the kind of aggression he has showed on the field. Australia has always been identified with such aggression and Clarke has done well to keep that going. With an relatively young and inexperienced squad at his disposal, his ability to keep that alive in this 5-match series against an in-form England will be interesting to watch.
It’s often assumed that captaincy adds a lot of pressure and takes a toll on your batting but Clarke is yet to see such a change of form. In fact, Clarke has flourished with the bat ever since taking over as captain. He surpassed late Sir Don Bradman’s record of 280 when he scored a triple century against India to become the only captain in the Australian history to do so. As a captain, he has scored three test centuries and one double century as well. He also has 4 ODI tons as a captain. This series will serve as an opportunity for him to understand the English conditions and get used to the England bowling attack that is undoubtedly one of the best in the World today.
When Clarke walks out at the Lords’ for the toss today, a lot will be running through his mind. The most important thing of course will be the fact that this could be a (coloured) dress rehearsal for his most important captaincy assignment.