Michael Clarke will enjoy one last Test match as the Australia captain before retirement, and while sentimentality has not always been the Australian way, the circumstances of this tour make it understandable.
He has earned the right to go out his way.
Clarke would still have been selected had he kept quiet on his plans to call it a day and with the Ashes lost, a legend of the game now gets a fitting sendoff at the Kia Oval. There was no way Clarke was guaranteed a spot after this tour but he has been honest about this himself.
He now has the chance to say farewell and from there the team can move forward under new leadership. There have been instances in the past where such players did not get such treatment.
Ian Healy, the great wicketkeeper, ended his Test career in Zimbabwe in 1999 after some miscommunication with the selectors. Heals understood he would get one last Test at his home ground, the Gabba, the following summer only for Adam Gilchrist to get the nod. Heals was dirty about this but the best team was selected. These situations are not always so easy to manage as Clarke has been here.
With this fifth Test, on tour and given the squad they have at their disposal, Australia have made the right call. They say goodbye to Chris Rogers too, who has been a terrific servant to the team in the past two years. He was unlucky to start his career at a time when Australia had strength at the top of the order but he never gave up. Good luck to him in the future.
Dead rubbers such as this Test are tricky for the side who have won. I lost a few in my time – and won some too – but it’s hard to pin down why they sometimes fall flat. Do the players who are ahead switch off, even just 1%? Or is it simply that the side who have lost can enjoy some freedom and get motivated by reducing the deficit? They are unique games.
From England’s perspective we have got an indication of their approach from the team selection, with Alastair Cook announcing they will likely be unchanged. Jimmy Anderson hasn’t recovered from his side strain but, for my money, he would not have been worth risking anyway.
Cook’s side are going all out for 4-1, and as a result Adil Rashid will have to wait for his debut. His leg-spin will be needed on the tour to the United Arab Emirates, where they will play against Pakistan on turning pitches. Yorkshire played in Abu Dhabi in pre-season and he bowled very well on that surface, picking up six wickets against a very strong MCC side.
Australia have the motivation to make the scoreline less embarrassing, and there are some players in their ranks playing for their futures. Tough questions will have been asked behind the scenes after the defeat at Trent Bridge and some big calls have already been made.
The news that Steve Smith will take over as the Test captain after the series is one of them, even if it is obviously not the greatest surprise. Smith is an impressive young man who must be allowed to do it his own way. That approach has been one of the standout aspects of Australian cricket in the past.
We got a glimpse of Smith’s leadership ability last year and in his four matches as captain – three Tests and one World Cup match – he has scored centuries. Runs will give him the confidence to captain as he sees fit and if he maintains his high standards he should make an excellent appointment.
Smith’s vice-captain, David Warner, is an interesting choice. He is his own man and an extrovert who gets that competitive white line fever when he steps on to the park. Sure there have been scrapes in the past but should that preclude him from responsibility? I don’t think so.
David has acknowledged he needs to pull in his head a little bit and he is the kind of bloke who team-mates love and oppositions hate. His new role can go one of two ways: he can embrace it and thrive or he can be a clown and it goes pear-shaped. Within six to 12 months Australian cricket will know if it was the right choice.
In the aftermath of the defeat at Trent Bridge, there has been one theory behind Australia’s demise that has wound me up a little. The idea that wives, girlfriends and families being on tour has somehow affected results is just silly talk. Managing time on tour is key to this but there is no reason players should be cut off from their loved ones.
I know from my own experience that, after a bad performance or result for Yorkshire, I get home to my kids and they don’t care about the result, they are just happy to see their dad. This is a great grounding and one which I’m sure the Australia players, on a tough tour, will have benefited from. Anyone who lays the blame there is clutching at straws. It’s about runs, wickets and fielding.
As I have mentioned before, one of the main reasons for Australia’s problems against the moving ball has been the scheduling, with only a couple of low-standard warmup games before the Test series not helping them to acclimatise properly. There has been talk for a while about using the Dukes ball in Sheffield Shield cricket. An Ashes defeat puts this into sharper focus and for me, it can only be worth trying.
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