After the Argus review went public, Australia’s graph has started to rise. At the forefront of this rise has been the new captain, a new settled opener and a new middle order find
Michael Clarke took over the reins of the captaincy at what seemed to be a turbulent time for Australian cricket- Ashes loss, World Cup loss, and the general distrust in people over the team. Though he started out in Bangladesh as the captain, it was in Sri Lanka that his skills as a captain, would be analysed. It was here that he impressed the pundits. He grew strength by strength, as he won both the ODI’s and the Test series, in what was called as a stern examination
His able handling of the spinners was refreshing and so was his marshalling of the youngsters in the squad. It wasn’t surprising then, to find the dwindling players make a foothold in the team. Recently Watson said that he saw a shift back to the middle order, in view of his increasing burden with the ball. Clarke was as fleet footed in his response, as he is to the spinners. He stated that Watson would open in all formats of the game. His decision making was also evident during the Test series as he ensconced Marsh at one down even after Ponting’s return in the third Test. It must have been quite an effort as Ponting went public with his intention to bat at number three
After the question marks on his captaincy started to subside, Clarke perhaps, settled down as he answered his critics with a ‘Man of the Series’ performance in ODI’s and a masterful century in trying circumstances in the final Test. Century in the final Test must be particularly satisfying as it came after a gap of 18 months. In what provides us a glimpse into the state of the mind of the captain, he did not get a single run through an edge in that innings
His batting style complimented that of his partner in that innings- Phil Hughes. Hughes was under immense pressure coming into the series as the Katich saga unfolded before his eyes and he was expected to fill the big boots of his predecessor. The pressure seemed to get to him as he failed to convert on the starts that he got in the first two Tests. When he got a blob in the first innings at SSC, it seemed as if his place was consigned to be on fringes. He answered all of that with a superb century. Till Clarke came and established his mastery, it was Hughes who was making all the runs. He played to his strengths as he was quick to get back and cut the ball and lunge forward in slog sweeping the ball. In the process he crossed fifty for the first time in ten innings and a century after his twin hundreds at Durban
Hughes can lay claim to be worst managed player in the Australian team, apart from the spinners. He was dumped quickly in the 2009 Ashes after Flintoff claimed him twice in three innings. His suspected weakness against the short ball led to a number of opinions cropping up. Hughes even tried to change the method that earned him a lot of runs. A poor season with New South Wales did not deter him. Sessions with Langer ensued and he now seems a touch settled in encountering the weakness as he tends to get the bat down quickly to the knee level and weave away. What remains though, is a weakness against the ball leaving him. He has the tendency to open the face of the bat and edge it in the arc between the keeper and the gully fieldsman.
Shaun Marsh was handed an unexpected debut in the wake of the birth of Ponting’s second child. How well he utilised it , is reflected in the fact that Ponting has started to bat at four, upon his return to the team. He cut his teeth in the then demanding Sheffield Shield. When he scored his maiden first-class century, Steve Waugh was excited enough to call him a future Test player. With such potential, it seemed as if Marsh was throwing away all his opportunities until IPL came calling. Along with Shane Watson , he grabbed the opportunity and burst into national reckoning. He was awarded with a spot in the ODI squad which he repaid well with good performances against West Indies, South Africa and India. Then followed injuries to his back and he was back to playing the musical chair along with other contenders. Tests were a different matter altogether as he seemed to have thrown away the chance to get into the team with a feeble performance in the tour game at Colombo. At Pallekele, he showed his determination as he grinded out a hundred with his dad in the audience
With tough series against South Africa and India lined up, the mettle of each of these players will be tested in the coming six months