Skipper needs to get his hands dirty

Michael Clarke
Michael Clarke

Clearly, in any sense, Michael Clarke ain't broke. After the horror in Hyderabad, he is one of the few Australians who doesn't rattle, squeak or have clouds of black smoke billowing from beneath his baggy green.

Clarke was knocked over by a jaffa in the second innings - understandable given he doesn't face much spin in the nets. But he is still seeing it like a beach ball and his captaincy is intuitive.

It was his conspicuous superstardom, and obvious contentment, that had convinced us he could bat with a banjo if he wanted. Let alone at his preferred No.5.

But after consecutive drubbings in India, it is time for Clarke to get his hands dirty. To move out of the comfort zone.

We have indulged a fantasy in which Australia would find four batsmen who could hold up an end until Clarke had time to Velcro up the pads. That fantasy has exploded like bowlers' foot marks.

Clarke has passed most reasonable tests of leadership. Two challenges remain. He must do more to entertain, engage and select players who are not like-minded. And - as he admitted after Tuesday's debacle - he needed to move up to three or four and lead the charge. For the religious minded, Clarke must suffer for the sins of his fellow batsmen.

Currently, Australia does not have a batting line-up, it has a curtain call. Six of the seven members of the top order are either auditioning for the role, or looking nervously over their shoulders at their understudies.

So reluctant has Phil Hughes been to come forward to the Indian spinners, you would think they were bowling porcupines. Of the last 39 balls Hughes has faced from spinners, four took his wicket and he failed to score from the others.

Hughes is not a lost cause. Just not yet worthy of the favourable treatment bestowed by selectors who engaged Rob Quiney as a human shield against South Africa, allowing Hughes an easy kill when the less-intimidating Sri Lankans arrived.

Dave Warner's game-changing abilities are worthy of perseverance. But, when the stump mic is turned up, you can hear the chunky bladesman. Tick tick tick tick. Will Warner go off with a bang or fizzle?

Ed Cowan is at least getting a start, allowing his critics to complain he does not make the most of them. Shane Watson's role as a non-bowling all-rounder seems to trouble him more than he has been troubling the scorers.

From the touring party, Usman Khawaja deserves his chance. Otherwise, we are left with two words that cause nervous trembling among even devoted New South Welshmen - Steve and Smith. Yet, oddly, Smith is the type who might appeal to a selection panel that seems to think there is a Miller, a Benaud, trundling away in every suburban net.

Otherwise, perversely, Ashes candidates such as George Bailey are pressing their claims. Not by making runs in Australia. By not failing to make them in India.

The bowling? The all-rounder madness contributed to the sudden axing of Nathan Lyon. Having invested heavily in the off-spinner, the selectors sold before the market turned.

Sadly, in the current context of Australian spin-bowling, Glenn Maxwell and Xavier Doherty restricting India to less than 600 with some competent day-three tweaking makes them a latter day Grimmett and O'Reilly. Yet, the Ashes prognosis is not so bleak. It is still possible to imagine James Pattinson, Jackson Bird and - insert in-form third seamer here - causing problems on a green English deck.

But, without dramatic change at the top, Australia's surfeit of talented pacemen will not provide a winning advantage.

This story Skipper needs to get his hands dirty first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.