Australia included Michael Clarke in the team for the one-off One-Day International (ODI) against Scotland on Tuesday, knowing full well that he has still not recovered from a chronic back issue. In fact, coach Darren Lehmann suggested that Clarke would not miss a single match that was left on the tour. With these decisions, Australia are showing the right attitude, explains Shrikant Shankar.
When the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) announced their squad for the ODI series against Ireland and Australia, many heads were turned. Not because of the inclusions in the squad, but because of the exclusions. The ECB rested five players in James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann, Ian Bell and none other than captain Alastair Cook. That is more than just the core of the team. But England have been following this kind of trend for some time now.
After the 2011 ICC World Cup, England decided that there would be three different captains for the three different formats. And accordingly the team composition varies from format to format. This is nothing new. Ever since the Twenty20 format came into existence, teams have tried to cope with it. Many international teams field only T20 specialists for the shortest format.
So, after a gruelling Ashes 2013 campaign, England rested some of their players solely keeping in mind the return Ashes in Australia. If they are to retain the urn Down Under, they believe that they have to keep the aforementioned players fit and ready for another intense and tiring tour. So, what about Australia? Surely losing the series 3-0 and also losing three back-to-back Ashes will not go down well with anyone connected to Australian cricket. They would be making sure that all their players stay fit when the first Test begins in Brisbane at The Gabba on November 21.
Australia have already taken precautionary measures by sending home the likes of Ryan Harris, Steven Smith and Mitchell Starc to get them treated. They also left out David Warner, but that was for completely different reasons. But apart from that, Australia have named a strong and well balanced side. Michael Clarke is their captain and also their best player, let alone their best batsman. He has been carrying a chronic back issue for quite a while and missed the ICC Champions Trophy 2013. Although he played all the five Tests in the Ashes, there was some discomfort felt, especially in the early part of the series.
Clarke could have easily been rested for the ODIs and given time to recuperate during the break. But coach Darren Lehmann said that Clarke will play all the matches as Australia wanted to win every match and for that they needed their strongest eleven. Clarke even played against lowly Scotland on Tuesday as Australia won the match by a whopping 200 runs. Now he is set to play the five-match ODI series against England starting September 6 at Headingley.
Australia have shown great attitude and that will stand them in good stead for the future. Many would argue that Australia want to leave the English shores with a series victory in the ODIs, if not the Tests. If that happens then it would remove some of the pain of losing the Test series, as human memory is short. But even if Australia had won the Ashes, one could bank on Clarke leading the side in the ODIs. Lehmann also said that if Clarke was not 100 per cent, then he would not play. Clearly the captain is fit enough to play.
When the Ashes ended, somehow it was Australia and Clarke who came out with more praise, compared to England and Cook, despite the hosts being unbeaten. Clarke was applauded for a highly sporting declaration on Day Five of the fifth Test at The Oval in order to give Australia a chance to win the match. England almost chased down those runs and were denied victory due to the dropping light. But it was Clarke’s attitude and a willingness to take a loss in order to try for an unlikely win that drew the appreciation towards him.
Australia know very well that they are a side in transition. They do not have the players that graced their team a few years ago. So, the building process for another great team will take time. The talent is there and the core group is relatively young. Consistency and belief are what they need to get into their game and themselves. For that the attitude has to be right. The great Australian team had a never-say-die attitude. Clarke was part of that great Australian team and so was Lehmann.
So, the younger Australians and also the ones in the fringes will look up to someone to get inspiration from; and who better than the captain and coach — Clarke and Lehmann — to lead them in the right direction by, first of all, setting the best example. The great Australian team never took any match for granted and that is the message Clarke and Lehmann are trying to convey. Playing against Scotland was not actually needed, but by doing so Clarke has shown that no place in the Australian team is to be taken lightly. One has to earn their place in the side.
If all of them battle it out to get into the Australian team, their very own game is bound to improve. As a result, Australia also improve.
(Shrikant Shankarpreviously worked with Mobile ESPN, where he did audio commentary for many matches involving India, Indian Premier League and Champions League Twenty20. He has also written many articles involving other sports for ESPNSTAR.com. You can follow him on Twitter @Shrikant_23)