After becoming the first Australia captain to oversee 12 Test defeats away from home, Michael Clarke conceded his personal drought with the bat from No4 meant his side were playing this Ashes series with 10 men and suffering because of it.
As a player, Clarke experienced his 10th Test loss on these shores at Edgbaston on Friday – the first Australia cricketer to do so since Jack Blackham in 1893 – and has scored only 94 runs during the series at an average of 18.8, with his career mean dipping below 50 for the first time since November 2012.
“It’s going to be hard to beat an opposition when they have 11 players and we have 10,” said Clarke. “I haven’t led from the front as I’d like to as captain. That’s my role as leader of this team to lead by example. Number four is a critical position and you need to be scoring more runs than I have been.”
Asked whether he considered his future as both captain and a player to be on the line, the 34-year-old replied “not at all”, insisting the methods that have brought him 8,605 runs in a 113-Test career to date give him the belief that his form would return.
“I can’t put my finger on it,” said Clarke, who also passed the 11 away Test defeats suffered by the former captains Allan Border, Ricky Ponting and Kim Hughes. “It’s always been about my preparation. If I do the hard work, that gives me the self-belief I can perform. But England have bowled well at me this series and got me out early, so I have not been able to get into my innings.”
His opposite number, Alastair Cook, understands Clarke’s predicament, having ended a two-year spell without an international century himself in the Caribbean in May. “As a batter your primary reason is to score runs,” said Cook. “He’s got a fantastic record as a captain and as a batter – he’s going through a tough time and it’s part and parcel of sport.”
Clarke’s close friend and former team-mate Shane Warne has advised him to take a break from cricket before the fourth Test at Trent Bridge that starts on Thursday but the captain, who played the tour game against Derbyshire before Edgbaston, is not convinced.
“It’s a tough balance. I have spoken to Warnie about it,” he said. “With a lot of players, it helps them to have time away. Ricky Ponting would have a week of golf but that’s never been me. The next few days will be about balance – when I’m not training, I will get away from cricket and clear my head.”
While Clarke remains keen to point out he is not a selector, as captain he does chose the batting order. One option could be to drop himself down to No5, where he averages double the 30.89 runs per innings he does in his current position but a shift could depend on whether Adam Voges, a 35-year-old enduring a poor series himself, is retained.
Asked if he was concerned about the form of Voges, who has scored 73 runs in five innings this series and was out first ball to Steven Finn in Australia’s second innings, Clarke replied: “I’m more concerned about my form. As No4 in international cricket, you have to lead the way. If I make runs, Voges will follow.”
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