x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Michael Clarke set for last Test with 'Mr Cricket'

Captain of the home side seems to have recovered from hamstring injury as Mike Hussey gets ready for retirement following the dead rubber against Sri Lanka in Sydney.

Australia's prime minister Julia Gillard, second from left, speaks with Australia cricket captain Michael Clarke, right, and Sri Lankan captain Mahela Jayawardene, left, as Australia cricketer Mike Hussey looks on during an afternoon tea at Kirribilli House in Sydney. Manan Vatsyayana / AFP
Australia's prime minister Julia Gillard, second from left, speaks with Australia cricket captain Michael Clarke, right, and Sri Lankan captain Mahela Jayawardene, left, as Australia cricketer Mike Hussey looks on during an afternoon tea at Kirribilli House in Sydney. Manan Vatsyayana / AFP

SYDNEY // Michael Clarke, the Australia captain, came through a fitness test today, indicating he will play in Thursday'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 at the Sydney Cricket Ground 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 Ricky Ponting's decision to quit international cricket, has left them contemplating their batting resources with a Test series in India and back-to-back Ashes encounters against England 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 on to 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 the all-rounder Shane Watson in the treatment room, leaving a batting order as low on experience as Sri Lanka's is rich.

Usman Khawaja remains on standby for Clarke and the wicketkeeper Matthew Wade said 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.

Sri Lanka's battered and bruised tour party, by contrast, have had to call for reinforcements after injuries ruled out the batsman Kumar Sangakkara and the bowler Chanaka Welagedera and put serious doubt over the wicketkeeper Prasanna Jayawardene and the seamer Nuwan Kulasekara.

But 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," the batsman. 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."

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