MOHALI: As Michael Clarke rose gingerly from behind the desk at which he conducted his post-match news conference on Monday, his discomfort was obvious.
Australia officially surrendered the Border-Gavaskar Trophy with a six-wicket defeat that leaves them 3-0 behind and facing the prospect of a first Test series whitewash, in a contest of three matches or more, in more than 30 years.
They may well have to attempt to avoid that ignominy without their captain and leading batsman, who admitted on Monday night he was far from certain to recover from back soreness in Delhi from Friday.
“If I can’t perform at my best, if I feel I am going to let the team down, I won’t be taking the field,” Clarke said.
“It’s pretty sore. Fortunately I have got a few days before the next Test and I will spend as much time with (physiotherapist) Alex (Kountouris) as I can to get it right.”
Clarke, 31, has for years suffered from disc problems in his lower back and now they have surfaced again – having hurt himself in the warm-up on Sunday – Australia may be forced to call upon his deputy Shane Watson to lead the team in the fourth and final Test.
Watson only flew out of Sydney on Monday, after returning home for the birth of his first child and being stood down for the third Test, and is now increasingly likely to rushed back in as temporary captain.
Only eight days ago, when leaving Mohali, Watson said he would weigh up his Test future after being suspended for a discipline breach.
“It is the same problem I have had since I was 17 and I have been trying to manage it throughout my career and the next four days will be no different to normal when my back goes on me like this. It’s about plenty of treatment, listening to the expert and doing everything I can to get it right for the next Test match,” Clarke
“My fingers are crossed and I will be doing everything I can to give myself the best chance. I guess I am always pretty positive, touchwood I haven’t missed a Test match due to injury so far in my career and I wouldn’t like this to be my first one.”
Clarke maintained he would not rest from the fourth Test simply because the series was not technically alive. Watson was close to leading Australia in the Boxing Day Test against Sri Lanka lastDecember but Clarke ultimately played after being in doubt with a hamstring strain.
“I have never played a Test match that has been a dead rubber in my life and this one is certainly no different,” Clarke said.
“It's very positive that Watto is coming back, I know all the boys are looking forward to having him back and no doubt if I am unavailable...I haven't spoken to the selectors but I would imagine that Watto would be captain, that's for sure.”
Clarke contributed 18 as Australia was bowled out for 223 in their second innings on Monday but the concern around him was not his score but how sore he clearly was in his near-hour in the middle.
India reached their victory target of 133 with 15 balls to spare late on Monday but not before a limited-overs style finale that threatened to get nerve-wracking until MS Dhoni slugged Mitchell Starc for three boundaries in an over to seal it.
The defeat was nowhere near as severe as the innings thrashing in Hyderabad a fortnight ago but taking into account the wash-out on day one it was still effected inside four days.
An unassailable 3-0 series triumph secures India the trophy they so meekly gave up two summers ago in Australia, when they were themselves annihilated 4-0.
If the reverse occurs with another Indian win in the fourth Test in Delhi, starting on Friday, this will be the first Australian team to be whitewashed in a series of three or more Tests since Kim Hughes’ party was beaten 3-0 in Pakistan in 1982.
Australia did not roll over in Mohali like they had in the second Test, trying desperately to pull off a miraculous draw deep into the final hour of the fifth day.
Clarke singled out tail-ender Starc for praise, having added 35 in Australia’s second innings to go with his 99 that propped up their first. Batting at No.9 he scored more runs here than any other Australian.
“The fight we showed today was a real positive with the ball,” he said. “To make over 400 (in the first innings) was a good start for us as well.
“That's the one thing I have been talking to the boys about, if we can make more runs in the first innings when the wicket is at its best and then we know the second innings is extremely hard in regards to spin, variation in bounce. I think there are a couple of areas where we have certainly improved. I'd really love to finish on a high and win this last Test in Delhi.”
India have an injury worry of their own. Dhoni said opener Shikhar Dhawan, who made a brilliant 187 on debut in Mohali, was unlikely to play in Delhi due to a finger injury.