Toughest tests loom for Clarke
Michael Clarke may face team issues in the next 18 months. Photo: AP
AUSTRALIA'S Test success under skipper Michael Clarke has masked problems that could be exposed by great challenges looming over the next 18 months.
The side goes into a six-month hiatus following a busy nine months in which it has won nine of the 14 Tests since Clarke took over the captaincy.
Clarke has overseen series wins away against Sri Lanka and the West Indies, shared a series on the road with the highly rated South Africans and crushed India 4-0 during the domestic summer.
But ahead are some of the toughest assignments his men could possibly face.
World No. 2 South Africa heads to Australia at the end of 2012 before next year offers a tour of India that leads into back-to-back Ashes campaigns.
The time off from Test action will mean plenty of speculation, with several players struggling to prove themselves.
Opener Ed Cowan will go into the home series against South Africa's world-class pace line-up of Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel knowing he is running out of time to make a big score. The Proteas' pace guns will provide plenty of questions for Australia's batsmen, with Shane Watson yet to solidify his role at No. 3 and veterans Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey never far from scrutiny.
Clarke believes focus on individuals is not always the best way to go.
''I've said for a long time that the focus is the team having success,'' Clarke said after Friday's third-Test win in Dominica. ''You're going to have down times and you're not going to make as many runs as you'd like or take as many wickets as you can but if you can help contribute to the team's success, then you play a big part in this team.''
There are some concerns with Australia's bowlers, too.
Young guns Patrick Cummins and James Pattinson will have a home summer to demonstrate their durability following their recent injury woes, while veteran paceman Ryan Harris remains a fitness concern.
At least Clarke feels he has a man for all seasons in spinner Nathan Lyon.
''I think we have a wonderful group of fast bowlers,'' Clarke said. ''Now the key is to try and get better.
''If we can keep all the boys improving, we can compete against any team in the world in any conditions.''