John Townsend: Intuition of Michael Clarke takes spotlight off selections

The Aussie Angle: Decisions made on the purest of instincts can often have rapid results

Michael Clarke was playing an unusual game before the second Test. Asked to identify the areas that Australia needed to improve to fight their way back into the series, Clarke was inscrutably coy. “I’ll tell you after the Test,” he said. “It would be silly to let you know the areas we are looking to improve.”

It was a Basil Fawlty moment and probably didn’t really need the Australian captain’s insights to help us comprehend the bleedin’ obvious.

Losing three wickets for three runs and 27 for 3 early in the two innings at Trent Bridge? Perhaps a little more solidarity in the top order might help the cause.

Spraying the new ball around to compound an inability to break critical lower-order partnerships? Would a pace attack with greater strikepower and better accuracy be in order?

If Clarke was not prepared to talk about it, the Australian selectors were certainly readying to take definitive action to address the areas of concern. In fact, the less willing Clarke was to address the subject, the more likely it appeared that something was afoot.

So it proved. Usman Khawaja was recalled to play his first Test in 19 months in place of Ed Cowan who, at Trent Bridge, had become Australia’s ninth No 3 since the previous Ashes Test at the Sydney Cricket Ground in January 2011.

None had succeeded. Shaun Marsh was the only No 3 to score a century in those dire two-and-a-half years; Phil Hughes the only one to average above 30.

After being warehoused in cotton wool ever since he returned from a serious shoulder injury in the final month of the Australian domestic season, Ryan Harris was unleashed at the ground identified as the most likely to aid his bustling 90mph seamers.

But as shrewd as the selection changes may prove to be, they were overshadowed by a moment of such sublime intuitive captaincy that Clarke’s reluctance to acknowledge the obvious appears to be nothing but a minor curiosity.

James Pattinson had two overs with the new ball without settling into anything approaching a steady rhythm as he attempted to swing the ball up the Lord’s slope.

Pattinson and his partner Mitchell Starc were allowed six overs each in the opening hour at Trent Bridge and while they were not particularly profligate with the new ball, they still failed to exploit the helpful conditions. Clarke was not going to allow matters to drift this time.

Several days after the cricket world heard of Mickey Arthur’s claim that Clarke considered his then deputy Shane Watson a “cancer” in the Australia team, the captain turned to the player who may well have been a stone in his shoe.

Decisions made on the purest of instincts can often have rapid results but few could beat Watson’s response to his captain’s call. One ball for range, the next bang on the target.

Watson trapped the dangerous Alastair Cook in front then was immediately removed from the attack to allow Pattinson to launch a fresh heavy artillery barrage.

Pattinson pounded but it was Harris who pounced. Absent from the team for 14 months, he took just 14 deliveries to start to repay Australia’s long-term investment.

Joe Root was nipped out by his trademark off-cutter, then an even better ball coursed the other way to gain the bigger prize of Kevin Pietersen.

When Jonathan Trott holed out with an awkward scoop to give Harris the third of his return wickets, the answer that Clarke had been so reluctant to give became apparent.

What areas are Australia looking to improve?

The answer is simple: select outstanding players capable of having an impact in conditions that suit them, captain them shrewdly and allow them to flourish.

John Townsend is Cricket Writer for the West Australian

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