| Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard poses with Michael Hussey, Michael Clarke and Mahela Jayawardene, in Sydney, on Tuesday. (Getty Images) |
Sydney: Australia skipper Michael Clarke came through a fitness test on Tuesday, indicating he will play in this week’s third Test against Sri Lanka and resolve at least one of the hosts’ selection problems for the dead rubber match.
With an unassailable 2-0 lead in the series, Australia could have been forgiven for going into the match, which starts at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Thursday, riding on the crest of a wave of optimism for the future.
The hammer blow of Michael Hussey’s retirement announcement coming so quickly after that of Ricky Ponting, though, has left them contemplating their batting resources with a Test series in India and back-to-back Ashes encounters to come this year.
Sri Lanka, despite being humbled by an innings and 201 runs inside three days in the second Test in Melbourne, can still hold onto the hope of claiming a first Test victory in Australia on what should be the most spin-friendly of the three tracks.
Hussey announced last week that the Sydney Test would be his 79th and last, and the 37-year-old’s chances of going out with a bang are high if statistics are anything to go by.
“Mr Cricket”, as he is affectionately nicknamed, has averaged 117.75 runs in his seven previous Tests against Sri Lanka, 100 in a similar number of matches at the SCG and has scored centuries in three of his last five Tests.
Australia might need those runs if Clarke’s hamstring is not risked and he joins all rounder Shane Watson in the treatment room, leaving a batting order as low on experience as Sri Lanka’s is rich in it.
Usman Khawaja remains on standby for Clarke and wicketkeeper Matthew Wade admitted there would be a lot more expectation on those players who have played fewer than 20 Tests, not least the uncapped Glenn Maxwell.
“We’ve got to accept the responsibility,” Wade told reporters this week.
“It’s a big hole that’s going to be out of our team but our young batters are keen and eager to learn and get better and hopefully there’s another ‘Mr Cricket’ waiting in our top six or seven.”
Mitchell Starc is certain to return to the pace bowling unit, leaving one of Mitchell Johnson (Man of the Match in Melbourne), Peter Siddle (ditto in the first Test in Hobart) or Jackson Bird (an impressive debutant in Melbourne) to miss out.
Siddle has said Hussey’s leadership qualities would be missed in the dressing room once he retires from the game.
Siddle said Hussey’s professionalism was without peer and he had the qualities to mould younger players into mature players.
Siddle said Hussey has always been a tremendous teamman and every player in the Australian dressing room would admit that.
The new ball bowler also added that Hussey has been a great supporter of everyone in the team, especially the younger guys coming in the way he backs and guides them.
Siddle added Hussey almost shows them and teaches them how to be professional about everything he went about and he's the ideal mentor for any cricketer coming into the side.
Sri Lanka’s battered and bruised tour party, by contrast, have had to call for reinforcements after injuries ruled out batsman Kumar Sangakkara and bowler Chanaka Welagedera and put serious doubt over wicketkeeper Prasanna Jayawardene and seamer Nuwan Kulasekara.
Still, batsman Thilan Samaraweera said they were still motivated by the chance of making a little bit of cricketing history.
“It was really hard to digest that defeat... but that’s the past now,” batsman Thilan Samaraweera said on Monday. “The good thing is this team has to believe they can make history if they win one test in Australia. That is the kind of attitude we are taking into the New Year’s Test.”
Meanwhile, Michael’s younger brother David wants to join the Australian Test team for its tour of India.