Australia's skipper says he would 'definitely' choose to bowl first if surface in Cardiff retains green tinge for the first Ashes Test
Clarke hints at all-pace attack
Michael Clarke is strongly considering dispensing with Ashes wisdom and tradition and sending England into bat to face an attack laced with five seamers and no specialist spinner if Cardiff’s green-tinged pitch fails to ripen by tomorrow (Wednesday).
The Australia captain claimed more than a day out from the start of the 2015 Ashes series there was every indication that if the heavily-grassed, well-watered pitch didn’t alter drastically before the coin toss – and with damp, overcast weather forecast for the first few days – then both skippers were likely to want to bowl first.
Clarke also said the form his fast bowlers showed in the nets in their main pre-Test practice session on Monday – particularly Peter Siddle, who he rated as virtually unplayable – meant the selection panel might be pondering an all-seam attack with four quicks and an all-rounder.
"It's surprising how much grass is on it," Clarke said at the conclusion of his team's first training session at Swalec Stadium in Cardiff which was conducted amid biting cold, under low cloud and dusted by intermittent rain.
"From what I've seen today, and what the groundsman's telling me, I think we're going to see some sideways movement from the fast bowlers.
"Sidds (Siddle) was unplayable - nobody laid a bat on him today in the nets.
"I thought Sidds was probably the pick of the bowlers in the last tour game, he didn't get the wickets but I thought he was the pick.
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Clarke says Siddle was 'unplayable' in net practice // Getty
"So the selectors, I think they'll contemplate playing four fast bowlers if the wicket stays like that.
"As much as I always love having a spinner in the team, you've got to pick the best eleven for the conditions.
"If the wicket's how it is today and you win the toss, you'd definitely bowl first.
"I think both teams would do that."
Clarke acknowledges that, as a skipper, he is hard-wired to bat first in all but exceptional circumstances when presented with the choice, and is likewise predisposed to entering a Test match with at least one specialist spin option at his disposal.
He would also be aware from a cursory study of Ashes history and from being a part of that 2005 dressing room in Edgbaston when Ricky Ponting called correctly at the toss and – despite having lost his principal fast bowler Glenn McGrath to injury barely an hour earlier – sent the home team in.
The path that match took over four frantic days ending in England’s narrowest win in Ashes history set Australia on the path to their first series defeat on British soil for almost 20 years, a result they’ve been unable to reverse in a decade since.
Indeed, in 161 Ashes Tests played in the UK since 1880, the toss-winning skipper has opted to put his team in the field just 11 times, and only on seven of those occasions has the brave captain been rewarded with victory.
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Hazlewood, Lyon, Starc and Johnson starred in the West Indies // Getty
If there is a factor other than grass cover and moisture content that convinces Clarke that the gamble is worth the risk, it will be the presence of heavy cloud cover that is forecast for Wednesday, and possibly for several days following.
He knows from the experience of three previous failed Ashes campaigns that it’s as much conditions overhead as underfoot that can deliver a critical advantage to the bowling team.
"Sunshine versus overcast – (that's) the major differences in the UK particularly," Clarke said when asked for the overriding lesson he’s learned about playing cricket in the unique British conditions.
"A lot of grounds around the world, you look at the pitch before deciding whether you're going to bat or bowl first.
"In the UK you look above more than at the wicket.
"When it's overcast you see a lot more movement around the country and when the sun's out it can be a really nice place to bat.
"The other thing is in conditions like that, once you get in as batsman you have to go on and make a big score.
"You're never out of the game as a bowler, there's always something there - whether it's the slope at Lord's or you get some overhead conditions, or you take the second new ball, there's always an opportunity with the Duke (brand) ball."
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It’s that ability to read the conditions, assess when is the optimum time to attack and when to strategically withdraw, and calculate if there will be a chance to make hay while the sun is shining that would seem to offer an advantage to the home team.
But the flipside to being tagged a 'Dad's Army' is that Clarke's troops boast significant experience – at both international and domestic level – on early, mid and late-season British pitches.
A top six that includes Chris Rogers, Steve Smith, Clarke, Adam Voges and Shane Watson who have all played at county level means there should be few surprises, and as many excuses, when they come up against England’s seam-based bowling attack.
"We've just got to find a way to adapt," Clarke said of the strides this team needs to make to eradicate the shortcomings of previous campaigns.
"That's why I've always said that experience in these conditions is crucial.
"And I guess that's why the selectors have probably picked so many senior players, because the guys have played - whether it be for Australia or county cricket - in all the different conditions you face in England."
While the final make-up of the attack will rest solely on the conditions that await the tourists when they arrive at Swalec Stadium on match morning, the much-discussed allrounder's berth will be a far more subjective judgement.
Mitchell Marsh has mounted a compelling case with back-to-back centuries and enough wickets in his two warm-up match appearances to suggest he is ready to fill Watson’s shoes.
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Mitch Marsh and Watson are battling for the No.6 position // Getty
But the only concern in such a pivotal match, that will set the tone and possibly the final result of the ensuing four, is whether he is quite able.
While not a party to the selection meetings and decisions that will happen over the next 24 hours, Clarke underlined his faith in 34-year-old Watson even though he did not bowl in the opening tour match against Kent and was required for just half a dozen overs in the first innings against Essex.
"In an ideal world he could have bowled four more overs in the second innings (against Essex) but the game was over or we only had to get eight wickets (due to injury to two Essex batsmen), so it didn’t work out that way," Clarke said when asked if Watson was ready to play.
"But Watto is fully fit, he’s available to bat at 100 per cent and bowl at 100 per cent.
"He's a senior player now, and that’s the most important for me.
"I'll be asking him and if he tells me he’s ready to go, and I back that (declaration) 100 per cent."
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