For once there is a strange mood which has invaded Australian cricket, a mood seldom seen since the 1970s and the dying days of Kim Hughes’ reign.
It is a mutinous mood, a mood to turn against a colleague, team-mate and potential soon-to-be captain with senior players said to oppose the decision to name Michael Clarke as Ricky Ponting’s potential successor.
With Marcus North, Cameron White and even Callum Ferguson being named as other candidates for the position.
Doubtless this is precisely the sort of situation which Ponting will have wished to avoid on the brink of a huge Ashes series which could define both his captaincy and his future. But with a huge amount of focus on his vice captain, a vital player for his team, and potential rifts within the team, it is an awful lot to take on.
Clarke’s popularity has dwindled with the Australian public after some poor displays from the limited overs and T20 teams under his watch, while behind the scenes his comments about players putting club before country have caused consternation.
But such problems can easily be solved with a sense of diplomacy from Clarke and the Australian management. Communications can easily be repaired and bridges built, yet the one thing which the batsman could use now more than ever is with runs.
Clarke is under scrutiny as he has failed to perform with the bat both as a player and as captain. His form during the T20 World Cup, the ODI series against Sri Lanka and in the recent Test series against Pakistan and India was poor, and hence is position has been subjected to scrutiny as the pressure has built.
But whereas in politics,where crises can often be turned around by potential economic stability, the currency of the cricketer lies in wickets and runs. If Clarke, the batman, can fire plenty of runs and help lead his team’s batting effort-much in the manner of his current captain Ricky Ponting, it’ll help his case no end.
Critics can rarely take aim at a batsman who is outperforming his compatriots and these, plus vibrancy both as a confidante to Ponting and in the field and within the team environment can help solve any sense of crisis which has developed around him.
Because beyond the criticisms of his attitude both as a team-mate and captain, the selectors anointed Clarke because he remains the ideal candidate to lead Australia once Ponting departs, being both a leading player and at the ideal age to takeover as captain.
Meanwhile it should also be remembered that Clarke is not the only captain-in-waiting who is under pressure in this Ashes series.
Following a poor summer where the same technical failings that have plagued his game for the past two years continued to undermine him, Alastair Cook finds himself under close scrutiny.
A pair of failures in the opening tour match have hardly helped matters, especially after Cook had spent the latter part of the summer scoring reassuring runs in County Cricket and prior to the tour spoke of returning to his old method with plenty of success.
But having impressed plenty with his captaincy credentials last Winter in Bangladesh, almost one year on, and Cook’s game is being picked apart by pundits and critics who are putting the pressure on him to provide a fitting defence for his position.
Despite a good record in Test matches, and a lack of significant options to compete with as opener, the England selectors will want someone who can justify his place in the team and perhaps be a leading player.
On current form, Cook would not fulfil either criteria, though he does have plenty of time to live up to the billing, but a run of failures in this high pressure, high stakes series could harm his cause.
He, like Clarke, needs to reassert his case as the captain in waiting. The best way to do this is to score runs, and lots of them. To prove that his method can work, and he can lend real support to those who champion his cause as England’s next Test captain.
His need is not as dire as Clarke’s, whose role is under far more scrutiny and who could find himself thrust into captaincy far sooner than his counterpart due to the security enjoyed by Strauss rather than Ponting as captain and his comparitively short spell in the role.
But both still need runs and plenty of them, if they are to justify their positions not just as vice captains and those set aside for them in the future.
While the usual Ashes refrain is to target the captain of the opposition, training their sights on the vice captain’s, both of whom need to reassert their cases, could also be a means to undermine and disrupt their opponents, not just in this campaign but in the one’s that lie ahead.