In India, Aussies are underdogs, says Pup

Agencies Posted: Feb 13, 2013 at 0031 hrs
Sydney Australia skipper Michael Clarke has seen several lows (initially) and plenty of highs (off late) as the captain of Australia’s Test side. But nothing, in his own words, will be as challenging as leading the baggy greens on a tour to India. Calling it his toughest challenge yet, Clarke said that India —a place Steve Waugh once termed his ‘final frontier’ — is easily his biggest and most challenging assignment to date.

“Touring India is as tough a challenge as I’ve had in my career,” Clarke said before leaving Sydney for India. “Every time I’ve been there on a Test tour it’s been extremely difficult, hence the Australian team hasn’t won that much over there. So it’s a huge challenge, the players know that.”

He, however, is still unsure about where Shane Watson will fit into the Australian batting order as he flew out for a four-Test series in India. Australian vice-captain Watson wants to return as an opener now that he’s available only as a specialist batsman, but that would mean breaking up the partnership forged between David Warner and Ed Cowan in recent series against top-ranked South Africa and Sri Lanka.

“Ed, like Davey Warner, had a really good summer and put their hand up against the No.1 test team in the world, so I think it’s a really positive sign that we’ve got so many options in our squad,’’ Clarke said Tuesday as he prepared to leave for India.

Watson was injured for all but one Test against South Africa and was injured in the second of three Tests in the 3-0 series win over Sri Lanka. The injury-plagued Watson has said he won’t bowl until he’s fit enough to do it consistently without injury, and won’t be considered as an allrounder in the series starting February 22 at Chennai.

Over and out

The absence of retired veterans Ricky Ponting and Mike Hussey opens up spots at numbers 3 or 4 and No. 6, further compounding the selection muddle for Clarke and the other selectors. Watson hasn’t scored a Test hundred since his 126 against India at Mohali in October, 2010. He scored the century and two half centuries in Australia’s 2-0 sweep on that tour, and averages 40 in his six Tests in India.

“Shane needs to come back into the lineup,’’ Clarke said, but added: “It’s a lot different now that Watto is not bowling. As an allrounder, I think he walks into any team. As a batsman, there is a much bigger pool of players, so we’ve got to work out what our best batting lineup is.’’

The 17-man Australian squad contains two specialist spinners, two allrounders and an increasingly confident pace bowling group. Despite the glut of bowlers and his history of back problems, Clarke — the premier batsman in the world in 2012 — is expecting he’ll have to bowl some of his left-arm spin. “I’m more than happy to bowl as much as I need to bowl,’’ Clarke said.