The Ashes: Michael Clarke talks to Shane Warne then states - don't laugh but we can win series


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The Independent Online

Shane Warne returned to the place where he bowled the ball of the last century to suggest to his successors how they might bowl the ball of this one. The magic needs to rub off quickly for Australia to have a prayer of pulling back this Ashes series, but then Warne has plenty of it.

It was at Old Trafford in 1993 that he strolled up to the wicket in an Ashes Test for the first time and immediately bowled a nonplussed Mike Gatting with a fizzing ball that turned round corners. The 2013 tourists patently need something of what Warne had if they are to overturn a 2-0 deficit.

Either that, or the peerless qualities that Don Bradman brought to bear on the 1936-37 series when Australia were 2-0 down, and with scores of 270, 212 and 169 he changed everything. But then again, Bradman was peerless.

Warne's specialist subject naturally is spin bowling, and 708 Test wickets, 195 of them in the Ashes, tell their own story. But the master showman was also a player who knew more than anybody else about how to intimidate and irritate opponents and it is that which he may well have been trying to convey to a hapless squad.

Michael Clarke, captain of Australia and close friend of Warne, thinks his side are still capable of winning the series. Perhaps he can think nothing else and nobody could recall a captain whose team were 2-0 down with three to play who had admitted they were on the verge of humiliating defeat.

"We have to be at our best," Clarke said. "I honestly believe we can win this series. I know people will laugh at me but I wouldn't be here today if I didn't think the team was good enough, and that I couldn't get the best out of players. Our backs are against the wall but if we play our best cricket we can give it a real shake."

So far, Australia have batted more or less uniformly poorly, they have bowled well in patches without taking advantage of the openings they have created, and their fielding has frequently been distracted. The team that Clarke sees is not the one that outside observers see.

Clarke, it is reasonable to assume, will have to be this side's Bradman. If he can rediscover the resplendent form which brought him a triple century and three double centuries at the start of his leadership, then a dramatic turnaround may be feasible. But he has to do it here and now. As it is, Clarke was being forced to deny rumours of premature retirement.

One measure of Australia's condition is that they know neither their best team nor their most effective batting order. There was a change of personnel and three positional switches between the first Test and the second. It seems certain that they will recall David Warner from his period of disgrace for the Third after he did what was asked and scored 193 for Australia A in South Africa last week.

It is legitimate to wonder what Australia are playing at in allowing Warner still to be on this tour after he punched the England batsman Joe Root in a Birmingham late-night bar, but he is and they like to think he represents a threat with more than his right haymaker. Possibly, Warner (together with Clarke) is the saviour Australia require but he has made one fifty in his seven most recent Test innings, in which four scores were in single figures.

The tourists will make two other changes, one forced on them, one by choice. Mitchell Starc, the left-arm swing bowler, will return in place of the injured James Pattinson, Nathan Lyon will come in for Ashton Agar.

Australia reached an agreement with their former coach Mickey Arthur, who was sacked 16 days before this series began. That slate is now clean, but the team is still a long, long way from winning back the Ashes.

Arthur settles sacking pay-off

Sacked Australia coach Mickey Arthur has agreed a confidential settlement with Cricket Australia following his dismissal two weeks before the start of the Ashes series to make way for Darren Lehmann.