Testing year on key but requires fine-tuning


MICHAEL CLARKE says Australia will head to the subcontinent as a work in progress after starting their most important year of Test cricket in recent memory with a series whitewash of Sri Lanka.

The captain could not be happier with Australia's performance against the world No.6 but acknowledged the Test summer, which included a 1-0 loss to South Africa, was an accurate reflection of the team's inconsistency.

Australia were not in danger of being toppled in Sydney after Sri Lanka's collapse on Saturday but nor were they convincing in overhauling the visitors' modest fourth-innings target.

Instead of sprinting through the finish line, the Australians limped home to win without authority by five wickets, albeit on a wearing pitch offering plenty of assistance for the spinners.

The good news for Australia is they will not face a slow bowler of Rangana Herath's class in India though that could be outweighed by the likelihood of meeting surfaces far more conducive to spin than anything at home.

''Especially in the second innings on the subcontinent, it is generally very tough to play spin bowling,'' Clarke said.

''There's areas we need to continually get better at, spin bowling is one of those areas.

''In a couple of months' time we're going to be faced with conditions that do spin a lot so there's no better place to get better than on the subcontinent.''

Australia won three of their six Tests and one of two series this summer, supporting Clarke's assessment they were far from the finished product. They have only the four-Test tour of India to lift their game to a level that can first reclaim, then retain the urn in back-to-back Ashes campaigns in the next 12 months.

''On our good days we can match it with the best and we showed it in patches against South Africa but at the moment we haven't been consistent enough,'' Clarke said.

''The days we aren't performing as well as we can, whether that be with the ball or with the bat, we're letting ourselves down.

''At the moment there's a bit of a gap between very good and not so good but we've got a team that's working very hard. We've got a lot of tough cricket in conditions that are generally tough to play in.''

The task will be much more difficult without Michael Hussey, who, along with Clarke, is one of Australia's best batsmen against spin.

Hussey's unbeaten 27 meant Sri Lanka's chances of skittling Australia were remote but his calming influence during times of unease will be missed on the subcontinent.

''India is always going to be a tough place for anyone to play cricket,'' said Sri Lankan captain Mahela Jayawardene. ''When you don't have the experience it's always going to be tough.''

Usman Khawaja and uncapped veterans David Hussey and George Bailey are the leading candidates to replace Hussey. ''I don't think someone will be able to come in and replace him,'' Clarke said. ''He hasn't played as many Tests as Ricky Ponting but the time he's been here he's been unbelievable like Punter was his whole career.

''He's won a lot of games for Australia - that's the one thing I'll remember about Huss. It's not his statistics, it's the way he plays the game and what he gives to the team and how much he loves playing for that baggy green cap.

''On a number of occasions he's won games for Australia. They [his replacements] know they have a big job to do.''

Clarke defended his decision to bat first, which Jayawardene said had created Sri Lanka's ''perfect script'' of bowling on the fourth day, after naming four quicks and leaving out spinning all-rounder Glenn Maxwell.

''There was risk there to win the toss and bowl and there was risk there to pick the four quicks but I also knew there was enough in the wicket in the first two hours leading up to lunch in the first session where I don't think we executed our skills as well as possible,'' Clarke said.

''With the attack we had I was confident we could bowl Sri Lanka out for a reasonable total and I had confidence in our batting.''

This story Testing year on key but requires fine-tuning first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.