Clarke can lead, rest will follow
Australian Test captain Michael Clarke. Photo: Getty Images
MICHAEL Clarke is set to play in Thursday's third and final Test of the summer against Sri Lanka in Sydney but is likely to be rested from some one-day internationals after a gruelling two months in which he has batted for more than 27 hours.
The Australian captain, the world's leading run-scorer in 2012, has fought to put hamstring soreness behind him, as he did in Melbourne last week, scoring a century in the series-clinching rout of the tourists, but team management is cognisant of the need to give him a break.
He may be given time off during the back-to-back one-day series against Sri Lanka and West Indies - both to be played over five matches - opening up another leadership conundrum, with vice-captain Shane Watson not due back from a calf injury until later this month.
Selectors were due for a phone hook-up with the Cricket Australia board before the New Year's Test to sign off on a back-up for Clarke if he goes down at any stage at the SCG and they will also present contingency plans for the one-day series.
Among the possible stand-in, limited-overs captains in the absence of Clarke and Watson are the Australian Twenty20 leader George Bailey and the retiring Mike Hussey.
Another player surprisingly discussed has been NSW all-rounder Steve Smith, who presided over the Sydney Sixers' win in the inaugural Big Bash League but who did not feature in Australia's most recent one-dayers, against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates.
Opener David Warner is regarded as a leader of the future but is not expected to come into captaincy calculations this summer.
The green light for Clarke in Sydney means standby batsman Usman Khawaja is set to miss out once again, with wicketkeeper Matthew Wade promoted to No. 6 in the order and all-rounder Glenn Maxwell poised to make his Test debut, in all likelihood at the expense of the unlucky Jackson Bird.
The only complicating factor was the Australian team's discovery of a green Sydney wicket on Tuesday.
In eight Test innings since November, Clarke has batted for 1627 minutes, chalking up two double centuries, and another hundred, on the way. He missed five matches of the ODI tri-series against India and Sri Lanka last summer due to back and hamstring problems after another lengthy summer of batting in the 4-0 Test hammering of India.
With Australia's Test squad due in the subcontinent in mid-February for a four-match series against India, the one-day season is the only time for a breather.
''It simply depends on the fact there is a Test match and how he recovers from his hamstring and his back,'' said general manager of team performance Pat Howard, when asked about Clarke being rested.
''There is nothing conclusive at this stage.''
Watson, who injured his calf while bowling on the first day of the Boxing Day Test, is not expected back until the start of the one-day series against the West Indies on February 1 in Perth, or at the very earliest the tail-end of the preceding series against Sri Lanka.
With Watson sidelined, selectors do not have to officially name a vice-captain for Clarke for the SCG Test but will have to have a back-up plan, to be ticked off by the board.
Hussey, in his final Test, is a sentimental option to step into the breach if required, while opener Ed Cowan is another to have his name thrown up.
Cowan said he was flattered to be mentioned but the issue had not been discussed, with Clarke expected to lead Australia's bid for a series whitewash. ''In the Australian cricket team it's important to have multiple leaders and not just guys who are captaincy material,'' Cowan said.
''We've seen people like [Ricky] Ponting and Hussey and those kinds of guys set standards around training, around how the team behaves on and off the field.
''And for a strong group, which we aspire to be, you need to have a great captain, and we've got that. And you need some guys to step up into those responsibilities. It's nice to be mentioned, but I don't think that changes anything about how I try to contribute to the group.
''From the first day, I've tried to be myself, and contribute and give to the team and make sure we're winning Test matches. If there's 10 or 11 other guys doing that, that's how culture is built. I believe pretty firmly in that.''