Abu Dhabi: Australian legend Greg Chappell believes captain Michael Clarke could be the key factor in deciding the Baggy Greens’ upcoming Test series in South Africa.
Clarke takes his side into the clash with the No 1-ranked Proteas, which starts in Centurion on Wednesday, in buoyant mood after their 5-0 Ashes whitewash of old rivals England between November and January.
The skipper played a key role as Australia turned their form around following poor defeats in England and in India earlier in 2013 and Chappell, himself a former Australia captain, was full of praise.
The Australia under-19s performance manager, who is in the UAE preparing for the International Cricket Council (ICC) Under-19 World Cup that begins on Friday, said: “I think Clarke’s captaincy was the big difference in the Ashes series. And I think it could be the key in South Africa.
“He is a very creative captain and he likes to be positive. He loves to play an aggressive brand of cricket and it may well be the difference in South Africa.”
But despite Australia’s comprehensive win over England, former batsman Chappell believes South Africa will give the team a far sterner test.
“It was a wonderful summer for Australia and obviously the entire country enjoyed it,” the 65-year-old said. “We have got a lot of work still to do and the series in South Africa will be a big test.
“The South Africa series will give us a better idea of where we are at. England struggled in Australia and in the end probably didn’t acquit themselves the way they would have liked. We expect South Africa to be tougher in South Africa and it will be interesting to see what happens there.”
Former India national team coach Chappell has been in the relatively low-profile role with the under-19s for many years and he says he has no plans to go back to senior coaching.
“I’m really enjoying my work. This is the third Under-19 World Cup that I’m doing with Australia and it is a very good age group to work with. They are keen and trying to learn and it’s lot less stressful than working at the higher level,” he said.
His team lost their opening warm-up match to Zimbabwe yesterday, but Chappell backed his team to come good in the World Cup, where they will play in Group B against Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Namibia.
“It is a good squad but it is always hard to say before the World Cup where you sit in relation to other teams,” said Chappell, whose side were runners-up in the 2012 tournament on home soil. “We played a couple of series against Zimbabwe and South Africa leading up to this. It gives you a picture and a little bit of an idea, but my experience with the under-19s team is there are six or seven teams who are capable of winning.
“Playing spin has never been our strength, it probably never has been and never will be. But we will have to back our strengths here and back the group as a whole. It is a solid group with good leadership. We will rely on them to deliver the goods here and coaches will not make much difference from this point.
“A little bit of luck can play a part but really you make your own luck. I do know in these conditions or any conditions the sub-continental teams are hard to beat. They play a lot of cricket at this age group. Our cricketers maybe out of school cricket but we have given them a fair bit of cricket in the last 12 months to give them some sort of understanding of this level.”