Australia unveiled their captain for the opening match and probably the whole of the Champions Trophy yesterday. The name of George Bailey was hitherto more widely known as the everyday hero at the end of his tether played by James Stewart in It’s A Wonderful Life.
A guardian angel changed everything for him and Bailey may feel, as he takes over from the injured Michael Clarke against England today, that he needs similar assistance. Bailey is an affable chap, born in the same Tasmanian town as Ricky Ponting, who did not play international cricket until he was nearly 30.
He has played in only 21 one-day internationals, a mere soupçon. But here he is, now, presented with the task of launching his tottering side’s crusade in a competition that they have won twice in succession and in the first of 26 matches that they will play in the next nine months against their oldest rivals.
It is a big deal for player and country though Bailey tried to make light of it yesterday. The likelihood is with Clarke’s back still giving him pain, that he will lead the team for the whole event.
Australia will take no risks with Clarke now. The unimaginable scenario is to rush him back in the next few days only to provoke a relapse which would jeopardise his place in the Ashes series starting next month.
They seem confident that Clarke will be fit given the appropriate treatment and rest. However, it is a condition that has plagued his career and it may be recurring more frequently. Clarke was forced to miss the final Test against India in Delhi in March.
Bailey, who has led Australia three times before in ODIs, said: “I’m not under any more pressure than any other captain. First and foremost, my role is to score runs in that middle order for us.
“If I can do that, we have enough guys and our players have played enough cricket to know the basics of the game. I’m not going to do anything as a captain that’s going to revolutionise the game. It’s pretty basic stuff that we’ve got to do well and do better than the other seven [teams].”
In the cauldron of a one-dayer with the stakes high and the margins narrow he may come to rue that. He will certainly have to make key tactical amendments at some point in the match and persuade the rest that they can win without Clarke, as well as overcoming their wretched form of their final warm-up match when India bowled them out for 65.
Bailey said: “Honestly, I reckon all sides are believing they can win the tournament. We’re no different from anyone else over the last 12 months. I think the biggest difference has been our consistency of performance.
“Our best is still as good as anyone else or any other teams in the world. If we play our best cricket, I’ve got no doubt we can win the tournament. But the issue has been that the gap between our best and our worst performances has probably grown.”
As for laying down a marker for what is to come, Bailey was in two minds. This may be a significant match by itself but it is also the precursor to an unprecedented sequence.
“It’s an interesting one,” Bailey said. “I think for this tournament it’s huge. I think it’s such an important tournament so to start well with first blood is big. I’m sure the team that wins would like to think that that takes a little momentum forward. But the effect is that it will come in over such a long period, there are so many games of cricket that I can’t see it having a big bearing on how the rest of the summer goes.” But nobody wants to lose yet.
* Results so far
Group B India beat South Africa by 26 runs. West Indies beat Pakistan by two wickets
* Fixtures (10.30am unless stated)
Saturday (Group A) England v Australia, Edgbaston
Sunday (A) New Zealand v Sri Lanka, Cardiff
Monday (B) Pakistan v South Africa, Edgbaston (1pm)
Tuesday (B) India v West Indies, The Oval
Wednesday (A) Australia v New Zealand, Edgbaston
Thursday (A) England v Sri Lanka, The Oval (1pm)
Friday (B) South Africa v West Indies, Cardiff
15 June (B) India v Pakistan, Edgbaston
16 June (A) England v New Zealand, Cardiff
17 June (A) Australia v Sri Lanka, The Oval (1pm)
19 June Winner Group A v runner-up Group B, The Oval
20 June Winner Group B v runner-up Group A, Cardiff
23 June Edgbaston