Michael Clarke will focus on the fundamentals in a bid to return Australia to the top of world cricket.
Clarke was appointed captain after Ricky Ponting yesterday ended his record-breaking nine-year run in the role. He’s charged with reviving a team that has slipped from first to fifth in the International Cricket Council’s Test rankings and relinquished its World Cup title.
“The key is that we go back to basics,” Clarke, who turns 30 in three days, told reporters in Sydney. “Getting out of bed every day and trying to get better at batting, bowling and fielding. That’s the one thing I’ll be trying to push with coach Tim Nielsen.”
Ponting, 36, was included in a 14-man squad as a batsman and Clarke said his predecessor’s presence wouldn’t make it more difficult for him to stamp his authority on the team. Not since Kim Hughes resigned in 1984 has an Australian captain continued after relinquishing the leadership.
“I certainly don’t think Ricky’s any elephant in any room,” Clarke said. “He’ll allow me to do my job. I’m confident that if he can continue to play as well as he has for as long as he has done I’m sure it will work. Bangladesh will be a great test for that to see how it all unfolds.”
Clarke said he’s keen to keep taking advice and learning from Ponting, who won 48 of 77 Tests, more than any other skipper in 134 years of elite cricket. Ponting also led Australia to the 2003 and 2007 World Cup titles and won more than three-quarters of his 228 one-day matches as captain.
Ponting said Clarke has developed the right qualities and skills in recent years that make him the “obvious choice” as his replacement and that he’ll “be there in the background” if Clarke needs him.
“I expect to adapt very quickly to not being captain,” Ponting wrote in his column in today’s Australian newspaper. “All I am focused on is being the best player I can be, a great teammate, an experienced leader around the group and a guy that my new captain can rely upon to give him something special.”
Chairman of Selectors Andrew Hilditch, whose panel recommended the appointments of Clarke and Watson, said he expects Ponting to bat on for several seasons without the burden of the captaincy.
“Any player has to perform and score runs and Ricky knows that better than anybody else but I’m very confident that he’s got a lot left in him,” Hilditch told reporters. “This will be a really good thing for his career.”
Ponting’s 12,363 runs at an average of 53.51 place him second behind India’s Sachin Tendulkar on the all-time list of Test run scorers. In 359 one-day internationals, he’s tallied 13,288 runs at 42.58. Only Tendulkar and Sri Lanka’s Sanath Jayasuriya have scored more career runs in the 50-over format.
Although long mooted as Ponting’s successor, online polls by News Ltd. and Fairfax suggest the Australian public is cool on Clarke as captain. According to Fairfax, 26 percent of 21,000 respondents favored Clarke, while News Ltd.’s survey placed Clarke behind Watson and Michael Hussey.
“I don’t sit here and believe that I can get the whole of this country to like me,” Clarke said. “Hopefully I can earn the respect of the doubters.”
The right-hander captained the Twenty20 team following Ponting’s retirement from the sport’s shortest format and got his first chance as Test skipper in January’s fifth Ashes when Ponting was injured. He has 18 wins from 24 one-day games as captain and led the Twenty20 side to 12 wins from 18 matches.
Australia’s slide in the nine-nation Test rankings followed a 3-1 home series defeat to England that prompted a review of the team’s performances. It was Australia’s first Ashes loss at home for 24 years and made Ponting the only Australian captain to lose three Ashes series.
Following the Bangladesh tour, Australia visits Sri Lanka and South Africa for back-to-back Test and one-day series. Clarke’s team will then return home to face New Zealand before taking on top-ranked India in a best-of-four Test series.
Clarke, a middle-order batsman who averages 46.49 in Tests and 44.32 in one-dayers, said Australia needs time to achieve its aim of being ranked No. 1 in all forms of the game.
“We have a lot of talent in our group but we have a lot of inexperience as well,” he said. “It’s a great start to improve those basics. I’m not going to reinvent the wheel. My goal is to get the best out of each player in the Australian cricket team.”
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