AUSTRALIAN captain Michael Clarke says it is time for Australia's top-order batsmen to stamp their mark on the team.
While Clarke and his veteran Sri Lankan counterpart, Mahela Jayawardene, are both leading teams in transitional phases, Clarke is imploring his developing side to follow his lead so that Australia's on-field fortunes no longer mirror the performances of their captain. The skipper yesterday said Phil Hughes, Dave Warner, Ed Cowan and Shane Watson must ''back themselves and play their way''.
''The strength and the advantage that we have in our top four now is that all four have opened the batting for Australia, so against the new ball they'll be very well suited.
''If you look at our top three, they are all very different players; they all have great strengths and have all scored a hundred for Australia. There is plenty of talent there - it is about owning your position, making the most of it, grabbing hold of this opportunity with both hands - and they have the chance to build a long, successful career, whether it be opening the batting, batting three, batting four.
''All of our top four have seen success at this level; they are good enough to be here and now it's about grabbing hold of that chance.''
It was no coincidence Australia produced clearly its worst display in the series-decider against South Africa - the only Test where Clarke failed to set the scene with a herculean century.
And Perth was no isolated incident. Since taking over as captain in the final Test of the 2010-11 Ashes series, Clarke has averaged 81 when Australia has won or drawn as opposed to just 33.62 in its four defeats. Take out his 151 in the Johannesburg disaster last year and that figure tumbles below 17.
Of the nine victories he has presided over, only three have come in matches where Clarke failed to pass 50, which suggests Australia is a fish that rots from the head.
Ricky Ponting's departure, and with it 168 matches of experience, has placed further responsibility on Clarke's shoulders, though it could be argued the former captain's lean
run was also part of the problem. Ponting's permanent absence, however, has paved the way for Australia's new-look top three and Watson, making his debut appearance at No. 4, to stamp their own mark.
Failure to do so, as Rob Quiney has found out, has unpalatable consequences, particularly with the Australian team management reluctant to move Clarke up the order.
''I thought long and hard about it, but at this stage I guess [coach] Mickey Arthur and myself feel that how the order is for this Test match … is our best line-up to have success in this Test match and, hopefully, for the series,'' Clarke said.
Meanwhile, Jayawardene has announced he will step aside as captain after the Test and ODI series.