Sydney: The spotlight is firmly on Indian batting icon Sachin Tendulkar as he chases an elusive 100th international century but Australian captain Michael Clarke said he won`t be surprised if Ricky Ponting is the one walking away with a ton during the second Test.
"The way Punter is batting at the moment, he is not far away from a big one. One thing I know about him is if he gets to 100, he won`t be stopping there so he`s got a very good record at the SCG. I know he loves playing here, so it wouldn`t surprise me if he walked out and made a 100 in this Test," wished Clarke ahead of the second Test.
Ponting has hit 39 centuries in his 159-Test career but a three-figure knock has eluded him for the past 17 Tests and 33 innings so far. His last hundred was against Pakistan at Bellerive Oval, Hobart two years ago.
Ponting has a brilliant record at the SCG where he has scored 1346 runs from 15 Tests at an average of 64.10 with five centuries.
The former Australian captain gave a hint of the things to come with two half centuries in very demanding batting conditions at the MCG last week.
Clarke, inevitably, wished Tendulkar to get his hundred after the series and not while the contest is on in the present series.
"I hope his 100 doesn`t come until the next series because I`d love to watch it on television. But he`s been such a great player and certainly deserves all the credit he`s received," he said.
While acknowledging Tendulkar`s mastery, Clarke believed the conditions at the SCG could test him out.
"I think there`s going to be enough in the wicket. There`s a tinge of green there; it`s a little bit tacky at the moment. I think it`s going to be quite tough to bat on day one but the sunshine obviously helps."
"Tendulkar is great for cricket; he is a legend of this game and he`s as good as I`ve seen in my time. Everybody that plays against him knows how good a player he is and you have to try and get him out early and if you don`t, he`s very destructive as we`ve seen over a long period of time," Clarke said.
Clarke, like everyone else, was all praise of his young fast bowler James Pattinson but wanted everyone to remember the others were equally good.
"Patto is only just starting. He`s a wonderful talent, don`t get me wrong. I`d hate to see us put extra pressure on him.”
"He`s got a good crew around him as well. Let`s not forget that. Patto`s got the results over the last few Tests but without the way Peter Siddle has been bowling; Ryan Harris over the last couple of years; Ben Hilfenhaus the other day even Pat Cummins when he came in South Africa, I think we`re building a good crew of fast bowlers and they`re all as vital as each other.”
"I don`t think there`s one in my opinion who is above the rest. They`ve all got a lot of talent and we`re going to need every single one of them to continue to perform for us to continue to go forward in Test cricket."
It appeared that off-spinner Nathan Lyon struggled for purchase in the opening Test, which Australia won by 122 runs, but he received a big thumbs up from his captain.
"This series is a tough challenge for Lyono because India are such good players of spin bowling, I thought he did a pretty good job without getting as many wickets as he would have liked in the last Test match in Melbuorne.
"I love the way he goes about his work, I think he`s a big part of our team and I think he`s been very successful doing things his way," he said.
"I don`t expect any more from him this test match, if it spins great if it doesn`t he`ll still be able to do a job for us, so I`m confident that Lyono can certainly take a few wickets in this test match and he can continue to do a good job for us," he added.
Even though questions still abound on Australia`s batting and its frailty against swing bowling, Clarke doesn`t see any problem with his line up.
"I think the conditions have played a big part. That`s what I said after Melbourne. There`s no coincidence in Cape Town, South Africa; Hobart not many runs were scored from both teams. There`s been seam and swing consistently in the last half a dozen Tests we`ve played.”
"It`s not an excuse, but a reality. We`re working on our techniques at training. We`re working on batting in tough conditions at training. All the bowlers are using either brand new balls or reverse swinging balls and it`s a real challenge at training.”
"When you`ve played, like a lot of guys have, so much cricket over such a long period of time, it`s hard to change your technique. You can certainly improve little parts of it but it`s hard to change so it`s just about trying to do your best in fighting conditions."
The conditions are likely to be difficult for batting on the first day but Clarke didn`t want to worry too much about winning the toss.
"I don`t think it`s going to be important at all to be honest, I`m not that concerned, there`s going to be enough there for the bowlers on day one but I`m not concerned about the toss at all."
Clarke, who belongs to Sydney, spoke about his abiding love for the venue but emphasised it has changed its character lately.
"It`s my favourite to play and we`ve had a lot of success here at the SCG. For a lot of guys, it`s their home ground. For me, to captain Australia here is very special and it`s the 100th Test match here as well."
"Conditions have probably changed a little bit over the last few years, no doubt the way I was brought up on this wicket it was spin conducive," Clarke said.
"I faced a lot of spin as a kid, I`d seen a fair bit of reverse swing at a young age and generally this wicket is a little bit slower than say Perth and Brisbane and what we`ve just seen in Melbourne. But the last couple of years it`s quickened up a bit, there`s been enough there for the bowlers swing and seam and you need to try and adapt to that," he added.
Clarke reiterated that he has a good bunch of seniors around him who offer him support.
"I`ve spent so much time under Ricky (Ponting) as his vice-captain so it`s really nice to have the experience and knowledge alongside me. Same with (Mike) Hussey.”
"If there`s any time that I need anything, I know I can go to those two guys. Brad Haddin is no different as our vice-captain. We`ve played a lot of cricket together. We know each other well. We`re quite open and honest with everyone in the ground," he said.
"I try and create an environment that you should come and voice your opinion because a lot of the time, what somebody else is thinking can get a wicket or can set a field a certain way to build pressure," he added.
Two of India`s batsmen, VVS Laxman and Gautam Gambhir, appeared to struggle at the MCG but Clarke said he was wary of them.
We hope they continue not to score too many runs for they`re two very good players. It`s the game, your time comes around, you score runs, you don`t score runs, good form, bad form, it`s just the game," Clarke said.
"They`re two class players and we`d love for them to continue not scoring too many runs in the series. But if they do, they`re class players and it` wouldn`t surprise anybody if they do.”
"We have plans for every Indian batsman and we will continue to look at footage of them and improve those plans but I think we stuck to our guns well in Melbourne and that worked well for us so hopefully it won`t be any different in this Test match."
India showed no gumption for fight at Melbourne and Clarke was asked if the visitors were missing the fighting spirit of a Harbhajan Singh.
"You`ll probably have to ask India if they`re missing him, I`ve always enjoyed playing against Harbhajan, he`s a tough competitor, he was a very good player and still is a very good player and I guess it`s unfortunate for the Australian fans not to see him out here.”
"He`s an entertainer and a very good performer for India so it`s disappointing we don`t have the chance to play against him again," he said. \\