Having steadfastly resisted the temptation to move up the batting order, Michael Clarke conceded on Tuesday (March 5) that after Australia's shambolic top-order display in the first two Tests, he was left with no option but to promote himself from the No. 5 position he has occupied for a while now.
Clarke, Australia's captain and their best batsman in this series with a century, 91 and 31 in three of the four innings, was undone by a beauty from Ravindra Jadeja on the fourth morning of the second Test. His dismissal for 16 hastened Australia's tryst with defeat.
"I think I have no choice," Clarke said shortly after India opened up a 2-0 lead with an innings-and-135-run victory. "Again, it hasn't been about me, it's about trying to do what's best for the team, and I think now, especially in these conditions, I have to bat higher."
Clarke said he had yet to decide whether to bat at No. 3 or No. 4. "I've got nine days to work it out," he said, alluding to the fact that the third Test in Mohali doesn't begin until March 14. "Wherever I can go and put some runs on the board to help the team."
Australia's top four have managed just one half-century in 16 combined hits, David Warner's 59 in the first innings of the first Test in Chennai. Warner has scored 114 runs, while Ed Cowan, his fellow opener, has 109. Phillip Hughes at No. 3 has an anaemic 25, and Shane Watson, the incumbent No. 4, has just 77 runs from four innings.
Clarke said his occupying the No. 5 slot had worked in the past. "It probably hasn't worked in these two Test matches, it worked against Sri Lanka and did pretty well against South Africa through the Australian summer," he pointed out. "I don't think picking your batting order can revolve around one person, the team needs to play well. We need our top six batters to be scoring runs, we need our four, five or six bowlers to be taking wickets. It can't be about one person.
"I've never played cricket that way and I don't want to this team to go to that. We have enough talent, but we have to get better, every single one of us. I would have liked more runs in the first innings and more runs today in the second innings, so I have work to do as well. I don't want it to be about the individuals, I want it to be about the whole team improving."
Watson's form in particular, and the disparity in his Test and One-Day cricket numbers, has come under sharp focus in recent times. Clarke said he wasn't sure why Watson wasn't able to translate his limited-overs form to the longer version. "You probably have to ask Watto that question," he said. "I'm there to help him like every single batter, if there's areas he wants help. I'm there to support him.
"He's a very good player, he's a senior player in our team and like all of us needs to be scoring more runs. I certainly don't want to single Watto out and be having a shot at him. Our top six batters have not performed anywhere near as well as we need to. It's not about one player."
Michael Clarke was visibly gutted after another extraordinarily poor batting display consigned Australia to an innings-and-135-run loss to India in the second Test on Tuesday (March 5).
"I think you know very well what I thought (of this performance). It's probably more polite of me by not putting it into words," Clarke said, struggling to control his emotions. "It's obviously unacceptable. I certainly don't want to take any credit away from India, I thought they played very well yesterday, they showed us once again how to bat in these conditions, they showed us once you get in how to go on and cash in and make a big score. Our batting has been unacceptable in the first two Test matches. I'm more concerned about our first-innings performances than our second innings, mainly because we won both tosses and the wicket has been at its best both times to bat. 237 is unacceptable."
The only way to address the situation, Clarke insisted, was to work hard. "I know you don't get better as a player by sitting on the couch and doing nothing. We're fortunate in regards to having eight or nine days before the third Test. We've got a lot of hard work to do," he said. "I hope everyone in that change room feels disappointed and feels like they have let a lot of people down that do support us. But we need to turn it around. As much as you should feel that disappointment, it needs to be dealt with ASAP, so you can get better. As long as we learn from the first two Test matches, and I think we've come a long way, but looking at the first Test compared to how we batted in the second Test, whatever we learnt we certainly didn't display and that's very disappointing."
Clarke was asked if this was his toughest day as skipper. "Who knows? They're always tough when you lose," he countered. "They're even tougher when you perform like that. I don't want to compare it to any other day. At the end of the day, our performances in these two Test matches have been unacceptable, certainly nowhere near the standard we are trying to set as an Australian cricket team. There's plenty of people that not only watch us on TV but fly around the world to support us and watch us, and we know we've let them down."
The pitches in Chennai and in Hyderabad, Clarke observed, had no role to play in Australia's crushing defeats. "I think both wickets have been good Test cricket wickets, we just haven't performed well enough, it's as simple as that," he admitted candidly. "We've had the best of conditions, won the toss and batted on both wickets, we knew before coming to India how important the first innings was going to be. There is more variable bounce, more spin, it is harder to bat in the second innings. That doesn't excuse today, that's for sure. We still should be doing than we did today and yesterday, but our first innings has really let us down as a batting unit."
As much as the batting, the bowling too needed to pull itself up, Clarke said. "We have to look at both areas, that's for sure," he said. "Both have been unacceptable, both aren't good enough. We have to try and find ways to improve and, if that means making changes, that's what we have to do. We made a couple of changes for this Test match, and again I want to pay credit to India, the way Pujara and Vijay played, they deserve a lot of credit. Our bowlers, in patches, bowled really well, but they were able to stay together and not lose their wicket and bat patiently and get the rewards in the end."
It took a dream ball from Ravindra Jadeja that drifted in and spun away to hit off stump for Clarke to record his lowest score this series, 16. "Well bowled. I wish I hit it, it wasn't a bad ball, it was a pretty good delivery, but good players find a way to keep that out," Clarke said. "They find a way to stick the pad in the way or get an edge and keep it on the ground. I have to do that, I have to find a way to keep a good delivery out."