Captain Clarke remains the key man for Aussies

Michael Clarke is back, and his consequent availability or otherwise, remains a major variable for this summer’s Ashes.

Michael Clarke

A fit Clarke will begin his fifth campaign against England at the top of his form, after a prolific and protracted period since late 2011.

He will do so too with points to prove.

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Australia’s tour of India was both troubled and unsuccessful, their apparent own goals over uncompleted homework – emails unsent by some relating to team tactics and preparation – making them an easy target for English jokes.

If all that was not enough, Clarke will know that – by any frontline batsman’s standards, not just his own – he endured a miserable series the last time the urn was at stake.

As England swept to their 3-1 victory in Australia in 2010-11, Clarke could muster only 193 runs at under 22 an innings.

The contrast is stark with his career average of more than 52 in 92 Tests so far – leaving the Australia captain with an obvious imbalance to correct against England.

Yet before he can even begin to set the record straight, for himself and his country, Clarke has to be pain-free.

He was not at the end of the India tour, or for the start of Australia’s Champions Trophy campaign this summer.

Fanciful storylines began to speculate that, rather than turning to vice-captain Brad Haddin, Australia might try to persuade Ricky Ponting or Simon Katich out of retirement for one last heroic hurrah. Those suggestions were given short shrift by national selector John Inverarity.

Other more prosaic avenues, it seems, will be investigated if necessary – with Haddin by far the likeliest incumbent.

But Plan A, of course, remains captain Clarke.

If that proves a viable option after all, it will give him the opportunity to win over a stubborn Australian public once and for all – by achieving a mission improbable in pursuit of a prize they collectively crave.

For a sportsman with obvious A-list potential from the outset, he made a Test century on debut, and has all the attributes on and off the pitch to be the nation’s darling, ‘Pup’ appears – from a distance – to be strangely unloved.

If the adulation is to come at last, it will doubtless do so through Ashes success.

Clarke’s first task, though, is to somehow make sure he is fit for purpose and Inverarity, for one, is keeping the faith – albeit a little equivocally.

“Nobody works harder than Michael. His preparation is extraordinary,” he said.

Clarke will need all of that, and then some, to get the better of England.