It’s indisputable that Australia’s apparent turnaround in the current series is in large part due to Michael Clarke’s captaincy. It was not just his substantial innings at Old Trafford but also his thoughtful field placements. By placing challenging fields, Clarke, along with the accuracy of the bowlers, harried the English batsmen either into error or finding themselves becalmed. This pattern then continued in the fourth Test.
The crowded on-side catching cordon Clarke has placed for both Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen reminded me of a similar ploy that evolved under Allan Border’s captaincy in 1989. This cunning plan eventually eroded Graham Gooch’s confidence and ironically he’s now charged with the task of assisting the current England batsmen find a way out of this maze of fieldsmen.
There’s no doubt Clarke is the most aggressive of the current crop of captains. He has a good feel for the job and he’s tactically astute. He’s also brave and this allows him to seek victory from the start, while understanding that occasionally this will lead to defeat. He hates losing but doesn’t fear it and there’s a huge difference between those two emotions.
Clarke’s counterpart, Alistair Cook, is more typical of the English breed and tends to err on the conservative side. He was very quick to push the field back at Old Trafford when Australia finally got on top and this suggested he was happy with a draw to retain the urn. Strangely, for a player who has been a run-making machine since taking over the captaincy, Cook has been tentative in this series. At times he has searched for the ball like a near-sighted man fumbling for his glasses.
When it comes to placing fields, Cook is stock standard with very little imagination, while Clarke is much more likely to set an opposing batsman a stiff examination. On the score of gambling to claim a wicket, Clarke has the advantage with two wrist spinners in Steve Smith and David Warner, who are more likely to produce “a magic ball’. Nevertheless, Cook was strangely reluctant to use Joe Root much at Old Trafford despite his reputation for being a bit of a golden arm.
No backing down
Of the current captains, Clarke is the one least likely to resort to the modern fad of pushing fielders back to the boundary even though a batsman is new at the crease. This ploy defies logic in that it gives a good player easy runs. It’s even more difficult to understand when most captains are batsmen and surely must understand how much easier this makes building an innings.
Clarke’s weakness as a captain appears to be his understanding of the importance of the batting order. Part of this is due to his preference for batting at five but it’s also his misguided approach, which appears to be based on a typical pub raffle draw.
Australia have a good stock of pacemen and this affords any captain a headstart. Clarke, having led the way at Old Trafford, will hope he has inspired a corresponding response from fellow batsmen so Australia can confirm that performance was indeed a resurgence.