Ashes Preview: Clarke safe from boo boys as Australia eye sweep
It's a fair bet Michael Clarke won't be booed at the Sydney Cricket Ground this week when he sets out to become just the third Australia captain to achieve a 5-0 sweep over England in an Ashes series.
Three years ago, Australian frustrations at their team's humiliation by a rampant England boiled over with some vociferous catcalling when Clarke, standing in for the injured Ricky Ponting, came out to bat in the fifth test.
Australia lost that series 3-1 with Clarke assuming the captaincy permanently not long afterwards and, although it has not always been a smooth path since, his team look more settled and confident than at any time in his reign.
Victories by 381 runs, 218 runs, 150 runs and eight wickets are testimony to crushing Australian superiority in the first four Ashes tests and Clarke's men will be going all out to drive home their advantage when the fifth gets underway on Friday.
"We want to win this match, we know we've got to do all the hard work and we're looking at this like a final," said pace bowler Mitchell Johnson, whose 31 wickets at an average 14.32 have been a key factor in Australia's
"We know they are going to come out fighting hard. They're not going to want to lose 5-0."
Image: England's captain Alastair Cook (right) reacts as Australia's captain Michael Clarke (third right) shakes hands with England's Kevin Pietersen (third left), after England lost their fourth Ashes Test
Photographs: David Gray/Reuters
'Our batting over the four Tests has generally let us down'
That fight back from a team that was No 1 in the world as recently as August 2012 has long been anticipated.
The 3-0 home Ashes series triumph earlier this year and the two that preceded it in 2009 and 2010-11 are now distant memories and nothing in the performances in Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth and Melbourne suggests England can turn things around in Sydney.
Two key players are no longer with the touring party with batsman Jonathan Trott having returned home to deal with some psychological issues and spinner Graeme Swann retiring after the Ashes were relinquished in Perth.
Those remaining looked out of form and mentally exhausted in Melbourne, where they somehow managed to turn a 100-run lead with 10 second-innings wickets in hand into a humbling defeat in little more than 24 hours.
"The guys are fighting, not fighting well enough obviously," said under-fire coach Andy Flower. "Our batting over the four Tests has generally let us down."
Image: Mitchell Johnson of Australia celebrates after taking the wicket of James Anderson
Photographs: Scott Barbour/Getty Images
Changes are expected but it looks unlikely that the three tall pacemen brought to Australia apparently for the ride will get a run-out and the only bowling change could be Monty Panesar giving way to uncapped leg-spinner Scott Borthwick.
"I don't think they're in a great place, to be perfectly honest, I think you can probably tell that in their fielding the other day," Australia vice captain Brad Haddin told reporters on Wednesday.
"That's probably the first thing to go when you are struggling a bit."
As well as emulating the 1920-21 and 2005-06 Australia squads in sweeping the English, the hosts could remarkably also become the first Australia side to field the same team in all matches in a five-Test Ashes series
Clarke has cautioned against sentimentality even with the Ashes already won and all-rounder James Faulkner, 12th man for the first four tests, might get of chance.
Image: Michael Clarke of Australia and James Anderson of England exchange words
Photographs: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images
'Going into this Test with the same group would be very special'
All-rounder Shane Watson was restricted in Melbourne, the knees of paceman Ryan Harris always make him a doubt and some pundits feel Peter Siddle might be running out of puff after 140 overs of wholehearted effort in the series.
"It would be great if we could keep the group, the fast bowlers didn't do much today ... but from what we can see they all look okay," Haddin added.
"Going into this Test with the same group we started with would be very special."
Image: Mitchell Johnson of Australia walks to the change rooms with a stump after victory
Photographs: Michael Dodge/Getty Images