Two outstanding cricketers will appear in their 100th Test match in Perth tomorrow. They are the captains of England and Australia, Alastair Cook and Michael Clarke, who will approach this landmark in different frames of mind but with similar anxieties.
For Clarke, the Ashes urn is so close that he could rip off its top and spray its contents round the dressing room, were that not to be sacrilege, or would be if anybody actually knew what the contents were. But he dare not think of such moments.
Though the evidence of the first two Tests would suggest otherwise, there is still scope, just, for it to slip away from his team. In that case, as Clarke is all too aware, Australian cricket would continue to reside in what one of its greatest former players, Adam Gilchrist, described yesterday as a world of hurt.
For Cook, whose men have treated the retention of the trophy as if it were nothing more than a cheap trinket to be tossed about willy-nilly, the concerns are entirely different.
He may become one of the few England captains (Percy Chapman, Peter May, David Gower) to have won the Ashes and later lost them. But none of those predecessors surrendered the prize a mere 122 days after winning it.
Somehow, at a venue that has been a house of horrors for England, he and his men have to find a way of repelling Mitchell Johnson, restoring their nerve and rediscovering their form and belief. They have offered no excuses and there are none for a side who came here as hot favourites.
Clarke was an extremely capable batsman before assuming the captaincy, now he may well be a great one. In 31 matches as captain he has scored 12 hundreds, seven fifties and has an average of 63.59, behind only Don Bradman.
There are plenty of similarities with Cook. Like Clarke, the England captain is the gilded batsman of his country's cricket and made a hundred in his first Test match.
Perhaps it has all come to him so readily -- never easily, because opening in Test cricket is not easy -- but this is not his only hard time. He also struggled in 2010. Now, of course, he is scoring too few runs and he is captain as well.
Clarke recalled his first Test against India in Bangalore, to demonstrate how much it all means. "I remember it like it was yesterday," he said. "It is funny because I always heard people saying how fast time flies when you're playing cricket for Australia and here I am telling young kids the same messages that Warney and McGrath and those guys told me and it is so true." Let their hundredth matches be memorable. (© Independent News Service)
AUSTRALIA V ENGLAND,
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