GREG CHAPPELL, the former Australian captain and selector, believes Michael Clarke should rise up the batting order to No.4 in the wake of Ricky Ponting's retirement, despite having a poor record in the position.
The exit of Ponting after 17 years in the Australian top order leaves Clarke and his fellow selectors with much to consider before the coming three-match home series against Sri Lanka and beyond to India and then Britain next year.
Phillip Hughes, dropped twice already in his Test career despite only just turning 24, is the leading candidate to fill Ponting's boots, ahead of Usman Khawaja and Rob Quiney, but he won't be assuming his usual place at opener unless there is a radical rethink of the Australian order.
"He's probably not a No.3, considering his temperament and that he's done most of his batting elsewhere, so probably No.4 is the right spot for him" ... Greg Chappell on Michael Clarke, pictured. Photo: Getty Images
There are other questions in piecing together Australia's batting puzzle. Where is Shane Watson, a new-ball specialist, best suited? And where should Clarke, the best batsman in the team, be stationed in the post-Ponting era?
Chappell, who is Cricket Australia's national talent manager, is in little doubt about which point the captain should be walking to the middle. ''I've always felt that you want your best batsman batting as high up the order as possible,'' Chappell said. ''He's probably not a No.3, considering his temperament and that he's done most of his batting elsewhere, so probably No.4 is the right spot for him.''
The only complication is the fact he has not enjoyed anywhere near as successful a record higher up the order. In 28 innings at No.4, the 31-year-old has averaged only 20.93, an 18-month period that came to an end on last September's tour of Sri Lanka. Since shifting back down a spot, he has been a run machine, compiling seven centuries - one of them a triple, three of them doubles - at an average of 76.45.
"It's a great moment to pause and recognise one of the great batsmen of all time" ... Greg Chappell on Ricky Ponting. Photo: Cameron Spencer
Chappell argues Clarke's previous posting at No.4 is of minimal relevance, however. ''I think he's a very different player now and that shouldn't be a concern,'' he said. ''The huge difference to Michael Clarke from days gone by to now is [he is] much more positive and really backing himself. The batting line-up would work just as well with him at No.4 as it does with him at No.5.''
One of the most pressing issues for Australia after the South Africa series is an inconsistent top order that only once in five innings against the Proteas reached 100 by the time the third wicket fell. In Brisbane, they were 3-40, in Adelaide, 3-55 and 3-91 and, in Perth, 3-34 and 3-102. The reliance on Clarke and Mike Hussey is a recurring theme selectors will be desperate to address.
''It's a big moment in Australian cricket but there have been big moments before,'' he said. ''It's the old saying: 'One door closes, another door opens.' Here it is again.
''Having said that, I think it's a great moment to pause and recognise one of the great batsmen of all time. It shouldn't be allowed to pass lightly but I'm hoping there's a young batsman out there that grabs hold of it and runs with it.''
Hughes, leading the Sheffield Shield tally for the season with 518 runs at 51.8, is on the brink of a recall, having remodelled his game and changed states to South Australia since being discarded for a second time a year ago.
National selector John Inverarity has previously raised the prospect of Hughes being chosen at No.3, with Watson playing at No.4. If Clarke rises to No.4, though, there would need to be a thorough rethink about how the order falls together and which new batsman comes in.