A different shade of blue

Clarke & Co. will face a team that is not India for the first time this summer

Written by Aditya Iyer | Perth | Published:February 10, 2012 1:39 am

Not long before ducking under the low-roofed ceiling of the dungeon-like conference hall at the WACA,Michael Clarke sported the blue-and-yellow trainers of Australia’s practice gear. Now,for the media briefing,he wore the casual white tee of Cricket Australia. Minutes after the conference concluded,the Australian captain switched over to the dark green-and-gold one-day uniform,and was soon flanked by his colleagues for the official team photograph.

Despite the lack of time,Clarke was ready for the shutters. And it made for a perfect picture. Just like it has been all summer long.

As it was on Thursday,Clarke hasn’t had too much time to change over from the whites of Test cricket to the coloured jumpers of the limited over version. Yet,he made for a perfect picture in Melbourne on Sunday. Following the 4-0 series win against the Indians,the relatively new Test skipper soon became the thorough ODI leader with a commanding 65-run win over MS Dhoni’s side in the first ODI at the MCG.

But on the other end of the spectrum,from both the east-coast of Australia and the comfort zone of playing and beating one side regularly,Clarke prepared hard on Thursday to take on a team that isn’t called India for the first time this summer. And just in the sense of being different,if not tempermental,Mahela Jayawardene’s Sri Lankans sincerely threaten to end Clarke’s Indian summer.

So for the first time since Dhoni & Co landed on these shores back in December,Clarke will brace himself for the challenges presented by a new bunch of subcontinental men. And in not taking the Lankans lightly while also inculcating a whole new strategy for the Island side (one that helped India release the choke-hold during the previous game) will be Team Australia’s biggest challenge.

Achilles’s heel

Jayawardene,however,believes that the Aussies have a few more problems than just taking on a fresh side. He feels that their bowling line up may not be as good as the equivalent one in the Tests. “The bowling is probably their weakness. And that is what we will look to target on Friday and during the course of this series,” said Jayawardene.

It makes sense,considering Brett Lee,their only LOI specialist,is out with an injury for the remainder of the series,while his replacement Ben Hilfenhaus hasn’t really sparkled on the one-day stage like he has in the Test matches. The remainder of the Aussie attack – consisting of Ryan Harris,Mitchell Starc,Daniel Christian and Clint McKay — are all either returning from injury or playing in the country’s colours for the first time.

“Look,this attack has played one game together. We can only tell over time,” said Clarke when he heard of Jayawardene’s statement. “That’s Mahela’s opinion. Our aim right now is to get better as a one-day unit and it will be our single minded focus for the rest of the summer.” The only bowler to be guaranteed a game,reckoned Clarke,was left-arm spinner Xavier Doherty.

The move probably isn’t just because of Ravichandran Ashwin’s success on the grass bed on Wednesday,but also due to the fact that Jayawardene’s ploy of playing five pacers and no spinners backfired. “It doesn’t matter what they try or don’t try tomorrow,our aim is to play some really good cricket against them. The aim is exactly as it was during the Test matches against the Indians. But we got plenty of work to do to get to where we want to be as a team at the end of this series,” added the captain.

With the Australians having checked into Perth as early as Tuesday for the Friday game,Clarke was asked if he followed the India-Sri Lanka game closely to get an idea of the players from both sides. “Closely? We didn’t get the channel in our team hotel. But we watched a fair amount of footage of the Lankans with the analyst,” he said. And what about the Indians? “Ah no,we’ve seen a fair bit of them all summer long.”

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