Archive for December, 2011

Captain Clarke Ushers in the New Australia

Originally for All Out Cricket

The New Captain dusts the cobwebs off the Baggy Green and promises a fresh approach

It was barely a year and a half ago that Michael Clarke was battling with a messy break-up and had to call off a tour to N.Z mid-way. Not surprisingly there were allegations soon after on whether he was tough enough to take on the job of the Australian captaincy. Some were calling him way too “precious” in his mentality to take on what is considered one of the most challenging jobs Down Under. A dip in form against Pakistan and India followed by a horrid run of luck in the all important Ashes meant he had Cricket Australia in a fix on making the call from Punter to Pup.

However, after taking over the reigns Clarke has fought back with vengeance, answered his critics with both runs and results, and ushered in a much-needed breath of fresh air. In his batting he has been nothing short of brilliant, with an average of over fifty in conditions as varied as Sri Lanka, South Africa and now at home in Australia. Striking a hundred in every series, each absolutely crucial to the situation at hand, he has lead from the front a batting order that at times has looked brittle at best.

His hundred at Newlands will go down in the annals of Cricket as one of the greatest knocks in recent years. On a difficult first day pitch where his peers shouldered arms to the pace of the Protease, Clarke rose and met the challenge head on. Coming forward to the moving ball matched exquisitely by his dancer like footwork the Australian captain displayed an array of skill, patience and most importantly mental application rarely seen in batsmen of the modern age. “I remember Shane Warne saying to me years ago that the better the bowling the more positive you have to be” Clarke said explaining what was going through his mind at the time. “That was my attitude today. I knew I was facing a pretty good attack in conditions that were going to do a little bit. But I thought I needed to do something to put a little bit of pressure back on them”. It is a shame the brilliance of Clarke’s 151 will always be penciled in as a side note to what transpired in the second and third innings of the Newlands Test, for the knock exemplified every thing to be appreciated about the man.

He may not look it from the outside but Clarke is a tough nut to crack; after abandoning the ODI side in N.Z and having dragged through one of the most publicized break ups in Australia, he returned to make amends merely a week later, going on to stroke a scintillating 168 in his first innings back. That resilience and mental toughness of course has become a hallmark of Australian captaincy. What sets Clarke apart from his predecessors off yester years is his willingness to gamble and go for the untried route.

Rarely would an Australian captain off late have punted on a bowler like Pat Cummins (with just three first class games under his belt), when there were more experienced hands on deck. The same rings true for the recently concluded Brisbane Test, but for Clarke there wasn’t even a second thought.

“I don’t think the inexperience matters too much. It brings excitement to the game. I’ve never had any concerns about young guys getting their first opportunity and always feel like they must be given their due sooner rather than later” said the captain of the risky selections. Half the experts and pundits in the commentary box, most of them former captains, were in fits at having to present three Baggy Greens on the same morning. The other half were suspect at best, but all of them had jumped on the Clarke bandwagon and were singing their support by the time James Pattinson finished his three-wicket-over maiden on the fourth morning.

It is not just the off field selections that are noteworthy, Clarke brings a freshness to the way he runs proceedings on the pitch. Rarely is the match seen to meander along when he is in charge. Innovative field settings and ringing in the changes in bowling even when the team seems to be on top have become a trademark of his captaincy. The utilization of Nathan Lyon in the Brisbane Test is a case worth delving into. On a Gabba pitch in heavily overcast conditions that most would have agreed suited pace bowling, Clarke lobbed the ball to the off-spinner in the fist session of the Test! Lyon went on to finish with four in the first innings and an impressive seven for the Test. This was not just a mere rub of the Green for Clarke. He made the move knowing the moisture in the pitch, and the natural nature of the Gabba wicket would provide Lyon with the turn and bounce sufficient to break through the traditionally weak spin Kiwi defense. It is Clarke’s reaction to the aftermath of Lyon’s success though that is commendable, “He will continue to get better,” the captain predicted. “But there will be some tough times. No doubt you will probably see that in Hobart on a flatter wicket and then against India, who are strong against slow bowling. So as long as the expectation from outside stays consistent, I think Gaz (Lyon) will be fine.” In a team that has suffered from a confused mindset towards spin bowlers since the departure of Warne, such a balanced and fresh approach is definitely welcome.

Mike Brearley, whose name will forever be scripted in legend after the 81’ Ashes, stressed on two things for a captain’s success, “a good rapport with the team you lead and a sound cricketing mind”. Clarke comes off well on both these counts. His unyielding support for Ponting, even during the tough times of the latter’s reign, means he could expect the same good-natured backing in return. However as Brearley himself agreed captaincy is easiest when things are rosy with one’s own game, “It is the inevitable dip in form and how a captain juggles that with the pressures of leading the side that determines the true metal of leadership”. Clarke hasn’t had to face that tough bit yet, but a stern test in the shape of India looms in the not too distant future. If history is any measure to go by he has nothing to fear in terms of this mental exam. His batting and captaincy, both a good mixture of aggressive intent and resolute thinking stand him in good stead to tackle any challenges that may lie ahead.

For now Clarke can be proud of what the team has achieved in the short timespan he has been in charge. Triumph in Sri Lanka, who hadn’t lost a series at home in the past five years, a nerve-wracking away come back win against the formidable South Africa , and now a crushing triumph against the Kiwis handling the most inexperienced of Australian line-ups are no mean achievements. Unlike Ponting, and for the most part Steve Waugh, who were handed down immensely talented teams destined to achieve greatness, Clarke has been given the unenviable job of picking up their pieces and starting from scratch. Given his approach of taking the bull by the horns and willingness to shift plagued mindsets, the era of Michael Clarke might just be AB’s second coming.

Originally for All Out Cricket, shorter version can be found here

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The New and Improved: Tim Southee

Bringing to you the third in the Black Cap Series for Pakpassion: A chat with Tim Southee, a bowler who has lifted his game recently, sits down to discuss the revitalization in his bowling, what catches his fancy in the world of Cricket and how he is in the same boat as many Pakistani fans when it comes to Misbah’s batting

Southee has enjoyed his outings against Pakistan off late

You have been a new bowler these past couple of seasons. What do you think are the main reasons for this transition towards the better?

I think it’s just a whole lot of things that I have been working on over the past couple of years that have come good at the right time. A couple of good performances have helped in boosting my confidence and that coupled with the hard work I have been putting in has helped in bringing in the turn around, and I was pretty pleased at the way the season ended last year.

We have seen a few fast bowlers going the just T20/ODI route to extend their careers and prevent injury? Any such thoughts floated through your mind?

In terms of importance Test Cricket is certainly the pinnacle of the sport and there is no greater satisfaction than performing well in a Test match, at least personally that is what I think. I enjoy playing the other two formats as well and hopefully since I am still young I have a few years playing all three formats for N.Z.

Your performances against Pakistan have been noteworthy, especially in the last two series, any particular reasons?

No I don’t think it has much to do with the opposition. It’s just as I said my work with the bowling coaches and the effort I have been putting in off the field has started to show and it all sort of came together last season.

Who did you enjoy watching growing up as an aspiring fast bowler?

I always enjoyed watching Andrew Flintoff and Glen McGrath. I think those two would be my idols.

You have gained an extra tick or two on the speed gun off late. A lot of up and coming fast bowlers are interested in adding a bit of steam to their bowling. What is it that you have worked on?

It’s a combination of things I think. Worked a lot on fitness and have lost some extra baggage so that has helped. Apart from that just worked on my run up and trying to hit the deck harder than before, like Flintoff. Have worked with a few bowling coaches as well which has helped. Shane Jurgensen from Australia and of course Allan Donald. Allan had some good advice to give and it’s a shame really that he couldn’t be around longer with us.

The Australia tour is just around the corner. How do you see your bowling shaping up?

Looking forward to playing on those tracks especially the Gabba pitch is always fun for fast bowlers. It was good fun last time around in 08 and of course with the whole trans Tasmanian rivalry every body seems to lift their game a bit. Hopefully we can cause a few upsets and set the summer up nicely for our home games later on.

You bowled quite well in the World Cup. How do you adjust to bowling on flatter tracks which offer less purchase for fast bowlers and where do you personally enjoy bowling?

The tours prior to the World Cup to Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and India were key in my mind. Even though the results were not favorable they helped in getting adjusted to those conditions before the World Cup took place. You have to play it smart and get used to the conditions there. Adding a bit of variety to your bowling and field placements play a big hand as well. Personally I love bowling in Eng and the U.K where there is seam and bounce for the fast bowlers.

A bowling spell so far that sticks out as memorable?

The Test Debut of course is always some thing special and getting five on debut will always remain a fond memory. The Gabba test of ‘08 where I got four on the first day and three in the first session is also some thing I cherish a lot. Limited overs Cricket wise the 5-18 in the T20 against Pakistan and then my first five-wicket haul in ODIS against them I enjoyed as well.

Who is an absolute nightmare to bowl at?

I look up to the challenge of bowling against quality players and feel like as a bowler you give that much extra when you are up against class acts like Ponting, Tendulkar, Mohammad Yousuf, Dravid. I guess of all the batsmen I have bowled to Tendulkar is the one that really sticks out. I haven’t looked like getting him out and as a bowler that is a worry when you can’t think of many ways to dismiss your opponent.

Who are the Pakistani players that you have relished playing against? And those who have gotten under your skin at times.

Watching Shoaib Akhtar run in and bowl 150+ is always fun so he is some one whose bowling I have always admired.

Misbah annoys you as a bowler at times because we couldn’t seem to get him out for any thing less than fifty the last time he was here. He is a great batsman but tends to get under your skin the way he plays, but I think that’s more credit to his game and us not being able to get him out more than any thing else.

Interview Originally conducted for Pakpassion