|Ian Bell and Alastair Cook, in Sydney, on Thursday
Sydney: Australia captain Michael Clarke says he’s never seen more grass on a Sydney Cricket Ground pitch and predicts it will suit pace bowling as the home side attempts to complete a 5-0 Ashes sweep over England.
The state of the wicket could see fast bowler James Faulkner included for the Test beginning Friday, possibly to replace middle-order batsman George Bailey. It would be Australia’s first change to the starting XI in the series.
If Australia don’t make any changes, they would be just the fourth team to do that in a five-Test series. Only England against Australia in 1884-85, South Africa against England in 1905-06 and the West Indies against Australia in 1991 were able to retain the same starting line-up in a five-Test series.
Clarke admitted it would be “extremely romantic” to maintain the same team for the fifth consecutive Test, but said it wouldn’t alter coach Darren Lehmann’s policy to pick the best XI for every match.
“If conditions turn out to be similar to what they have been in the past four Test matches then I think selectors will go that way,” Clarke said. “But we certainly need to pick our best team to win this Test match.”
Bailey has struggled in his debut Test series, averaging 27.20 runs with just one half-century, while Faulkner is a bowling all-rounder with a first-class bowling record of 142 wickets at 23.
“It might whiten up a little bit, but that is as much grass as I have seen on an SCG pitch,” Clarke said. “It feels pretty hard at the moment. Looking at it today, I think it will certainly suit the fast bowlers,” Clarke said on Thursday.
Any other changes to the Australia team, if any, would come from injuries.
All-rounder Shane Watson injured his groin while bowling during the Melbourne Test and fast bowler Ryan Harris has had knee and foot soreness throughout the series. But both bowled in the team’s final net session on Thursday.
“I don’t have any idea of the team at this stage,” Clarke said. “We’re waiting to see how the guys pull up on Friday morning.”
Clarke has been showered with plaudits for his captaincy in this series but has not forgotten that earlier this year he was pilloried when Australia were swept 0-4 in India and lost 0-3 in England.
“In the last six months, we’ve gone from the worst Australian side ever to tour India, to one of the best Ashes wins in cricket history,” he said. “It’s the up and down roller-coaster that you go through as a player, and it’s no different as a captain.
“When you’re winning, you get away with murder. You’ve just got to continue to try your best. It’s a tough game, you’ve got to ride the highs and the lows to enjoy the success.”
While Cook has always been popular in England, Clarke was not universally welcomed as the heir apparent to Ricky Ponting as Australia captain.
He bore the brunt of frustration at Australia’s poor form in the corresponding Sydney Test in the 2010-11 Ashes series, which England won 3-1, and was booed by a section of the crowd when he came out to bat as the stand-in captain.
Clarke clearly did not hear the catcalls that day, although he did say it was an unpleasant experience when he was met with similar scenes at an ODI, in Brisbane, in 2011.
“I never remember being booed at my home ground, but I got booed at the Gabba and I remember that fondly,” he chuckled.
“It sums up the game we play… There’s tough times and you need to find a way to get through that.
“Then there’s the other side when you perform well and the team does well and the same people that boo you stand and applaud. That’s obviously a very special feeling,” he said.