Australia captain for the upcoming four-match series away to India, Michael Clarke, said that the tour will be the one of the hardest he’s been on in his career as skipper.
Clarke also said that he is confident of being fit for the first Test starting February 22 in Chennai.
“As the captain, this will probably be the hardest test I have faced in my career. At the same time, it’s an opportunity,” said Clarke, in an interview with Boria Majumdar for Outlook.
“My hamstring is very much on the mend and I will give it everything to make sure I am part of this series. David [Warner] is also expected to get fit in time for the Tests,” he added.
Asked if Australia will miss the recently retired veterans Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey, Clarke said, “…They [Ponting and Hussey] are legends of the game and we will miss them. At the same time, let me tell you this—Ricky Ponting wasn’t Ricky Ponting always. He was also a youngster at one point in time. Team youngsters should look at this as an opportunity to make their mark in world cricket, and do so against one of the best teams in the world.”
Clarke had a phenomenal year in 2002, where he scored 1595 runs including a triple century and two double tons. Asked if he did anything different during the year, Clarke said, “Nothing really. Brian Lara once told me that there will be phases in your career when you will not score runs. It happens to every cricketer and I guess it will happen to me also.
“For me, it is never about how much I score, it’s always about Australia. If the hundreds help the team, they are great, else they are of little value. I got a 150 against South Africa in 2011 in a Test match. In the same match, we were bowled out for 46 in the second innings and lost the game. That 150, I can tell you frankly, is of no significance to me whatsoever.
“In the next game, I did not score too many but Australia won. It ranks as one of the best Test matches I have played in. That’s how I look at my cricket.”
“I don’t care if I score four ducks if it means Australia wins. That said, I know as a player that I need to keep performing to be in the Australian cricket team. That’s the way things are, but as the captain it doesn’t matter to me if I score or not,” Clarke said.
Asked about Australia’s 4-0 whitewash of India last year at home, and Indian skipper MS Dhoni being under pressure after heavy defeats in Tests, Clarke does not want to dwell in the past. “It’s not about the past. These things are all in the past. Now it’s all about how we both do in the upcoming series. Dhoni is an exceptional player and I am sure he will want to do very well at home against us.”
Clarke said that he team will take a cue from England’s 2-1 defeat of India in the sub-continent. “A lot of our guys watched the series and, yes, England played very well to win. But we also know how good a team India is. Any team having Sachin Tendulkar will be a team to beat in their own country. I can tell you one thing about playing in the subcontinent. Whether you are the No. 1 bowler or a debutant, patience and consistency are the key to success.”
Speaking of Tendulkar, Clarke said that the 39-year-old is the “greatest player I have seen” and wants to ensure that the Little Master does not get many runs.
“You can have as many plans as possible for Tendulkar but he can still score runs. He’s the greatest player I have seen and I have always loved playing against him. A sign of greatness is his longevity and consistency. I enjoy his batting a lot but as an Australian captain I would like to ensure that he doesn’t score too many runs against us,” he said.
Talking of the inexperience in India’s batting line-up, Clarke said, “Of course, it’s nice for us that greats like [Rahul] Dravid and [VVS] Laxman have retired. That said, the new players will want to stamp their authority on the game as well. You have a lot of very good batting talent in India. Players like Ajinkya Rahane, for example, have loads of talent. He’s already shown strong glimpses of it in the IPL.”
Clarke even said that India’s annual Twenty20 league has helped international players to get acclimatised to Indian conditions.
“…the IPL has helped in that players now know what to expect. They know about the hotels, the food, crowds etc. Each of these things make a difference on a hard tour as this one,” he said.
The 31-year-old was bought for $400,000 by the Pune Warriors in the latest auction, while young teammate Glenn Maxwell went for a million. Asked if he was hurt by the happenings, Clarke said it’s never been about money.
“…if anyone is saying I’ll not play well because I got less money, they don’t know me well enough. For me, it’s never been about the money. For me, over the next month it’s all about the Test series. Then, it’s all about the IPL and the Pune Warriors. I am looking forward to the IPL this year for sure but for the moment, and don’t get me wrong, it is only the four Tests against India that is in my head,” he said.
Clarke admitted that spin will be a very important factor in the series against India.
“For sure, spin will play a very important role. In fact, it all depends on our ability to play spin and also on how our spinners bowl to the Indians. I have great belief in the ability of Nathan Lyon, Xavier Doherty and Glenn Maxwell. And I am confident that if our batsmen play to their potential they are good enough to take the battle to the Indian spinners.
“[Ravichandran] Ashwin is a very good bowler. You also have [Pragyan] Ojha and Harbhajan [Singh]. But we aren’t focusing on who the Indians play in their eleven. We are focusing on what we need to do. I’ll tell you this very clearly—if we play our best cricket, I am confident we’ll win the series.”