Cook content to play a waiting game over England captaincy
While Australia struggle with the aftermath of a disastrous Ashes, the English status quo looks as solid as it ever has. Andrew Strauss clearly commands the respect of the entire side, including Alastair Cook, his opening partner and prospective replacement. Cook has been talked about on numerous occasions as a future England captain (indeed, he took on the role in Bangladesh early last year) but he appears to be in no rush to take full-time charge.
"If it came up again it would be an amazing thing to do," the Essex batsman said yesterday. "I don't crave the limelight of the captaincy. Who knows the future of the team? Only four or five months ago everyone in the press said I shouldn't be opening in the Ashes. To prove people wrong is always good. It would be lovely to finish this Test tour off with some more runs and a good England performance."
Cook did a fine job in Bangladesh but, as he says, until recently his right to a place in the side as a batsman was under question. Any such speculation is over but, given that Strauss has just overseen England's first Ashes retention for 24 years, Cook will not expect to take over any time soon.
The future of the Australian captaincy doesn't appear anything like as certain. Ricky Ponting is out of the Sydney Test, meaning Michael Clarke – a man who divides opinion Down Under – is in charge. Yesterday he confirmed Western Australia's spinner Michael Beer would be joining Usman Khawaja in making his Test debut at the SCG. It meant Doug Bollinger, recalled to the squad after a dismal second Test in Adelaide, missed out.
"It was a tough call," Clarke said. "I think Hilfy's [Ben Hilfenhaus] bowled pretty well without too much luck. Dougie's not only a good friend but a wonderful bowler. The selectors, for whatever reason, have stuck with Hilf.
"[Beer]'s pretty excited. He's been around the group and now he's finally getting his chance on this pitch, which I'm sure will suit his game."
Beer, who comes from St Kilda in Melbourne but moved to Western Australia last year, was plucked from obscurity for the squad for the third Test in Perth, having played just five first-class matches.
While Beer's selection confirms that Australia expect a traditionally spin-friendly pitch at the SCG, the choice of Khawaja is likely to draw more headlines. As Australia's first Muslim cricketer, Khawaja will inevitably be the centre of attention, but it is his potential as a batsman that will most interest an Australian public desperate for new heroes.
Free-scoring Khawaja, 24, is one of the most exciting talents in Australian cricket and has averaged 51.7 in first-class cricket since his debut for New South Wales two years ago. "His performances over the last couple of years have earned him the right to play for his country," Clarke said. "I think he's very talented and he's looking forward to his opportunity."
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