Tuesday 24 April 2018

Clarke faces big calls to halt Australian slide

Derek Pringle

Australia's spirited showing at Trent Bride and the closeness of England's winning margin has given this already hyped Ashes added pep.

The reality, though, as the teams square up this morning for the second Test at Lord's, is that Australia's batting was rescued by a rookie and a veteran, and remains in a parlous state, ready to be harried once more by James Anderson and Co.

The evidence, if not so explicit in the last Test, is there for all to see in the team's recent results. Darren Lehmann has been a good, galvanising, appointment as coach, but he is not a miracle worker. Should Australia lose this Test, it will be their sixth defeat in a row, a sequence that last happened 29 years ago when the West Indies trounced them in 1984 and Kim Hughes resigned the captaincy in tears.

Michael Clarke does not look like the blubbing or the resigning type, but if Australia go down at Lord's, the Ashes will almost be over as a contest. Clarke has endured his fair share of travails since assuming the captaincy and the latest ruckus concerning the outgoing coach, Mickey Arthur, cannot have helped his or his team's focus. Yesterday, he dismissed it as white noise but he knows only a win will be adequate proof of that.

Two decisions need to be made, one by the selectors, the other by Clarke and Lehmann. Ed Cowan looked out of his depth at Trent Bridge but will the selectors ditch him for the talented but headstrong Usman Khawaja, or hope that Cowan is inspired by his surroundings? Whoever is chosen, only a telling innings will keep David Warner from returning to service once he has done his penance in Zimbabwe.

Once Clarke has been given the final XI, he and the coach must decide where best for him to bat. Although at pains to point at that the difference between four and five in the order is just a number, the difference in average is marked, being 21.5 as against 63.95. Centuries are off the scale too, 20 coming at five with none, so far, at four.

Clarke is keen to lead. A move to five would mean a less experienced batsman going to four, which would make him look less like the aggressive leader he wants to portray. To achieve that, he plans to orchestrate sledging sorties on Anderson, Graeme Swann, Stuart Broad, the main trident of England's four-man attack, in the hope they will react and become distracted.

Far less polite this time will be the verbal exchanges out in the middle, although England are likely to have the better of those should Clarke continue to mess up his use of the Decision Review System.

Under Cook, England have a success rate in their reviews of 61.3pc. Under Clarke, Australia's is 31.7pc, a lag that suggests a captain with things other than cricket on his mind. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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