Western Suburbs captain Jeff Cook said he was not concerned by a possible backlash over his call to sacrifice the Magpies’ first-innings points against Parramatta on Saturday to “do the right thing by Australian cricket” and set the scene for Michael Clarke to bat next weekend.

Cook lost the toss but despite advising Parramatta skipper Michael Castle of the team’s plan to give Clarke the chance to  show he had recovered from his hamstring injury in time to play in the opening Test against India, Wests were sent into bat. His response was to declare when his openers reached 17 runs.

Cook told Fairfax Media during the lunch break he, and his team, felt it was their obligation, regardless of the price they might pay, to allow Clarke every chance to play.

Parramatta then declared on 2-140 while Western Suburbs were 1-235 at stumps, setting the scene for a Clarke cameo on Saturday.

“I spoke to the  captain before the toss and explained my thoughts and he said ‘I’m here for six points’ and I replied ‘If I lose the toss you’ll get your six points because we need Michael Clarke to play the game’,” Cook said. “I look at this as an exceptional circumstance; it’s the Australian captain and he needs a bat.”

While Parramatta needed little time to secure the first-innings victory, Cook realised his plan would backfire spectacularly if Castle declared when his team passed the Magpies’ score.

“I expect to get dragged over the coals but I’m big enough, and ugly enough, to cop that on the chin,” said Cook, a Sydney-born NSW Country representative who fielded for England in a Test match as a substitute when he played for Northamptonshire. “If Michael bats next week, gets enough runs and plays for Australia in the opening Test, I’ll feel as though I’ve done the right thing.

“The last time he played for us it was at Pratten Park and we had about 2000 people turn up. There was media and heaps of kids who got his autograph and I’m sure they were probably inspired by him.

“I believe we need our state and national players to play grade, so my view was if there’s a chance for Michael Clarke to play [for Wests] he’s got to play.   Our club needs him to play. It’s a great morale boost, it’s important for the competition itself and I would dare say it’s probably also good for Michael.”

Cricket NSW chief executive Andrew Jones issued a statement saying  the matter would be investigated. 

 “While Cricket NSW and the Sydney Cricket Association are conscious of the broader interests of Australian cricket and hence appreciate the thinking behind this gesture, we are also conscious of the need to maintain the integrity of the Sydney grade competition,” Jones wrote. 

Meanwhile, if Clarke is named in the squad there might be no need to nominate a vice-captain to Brad Haddin, but Steve Smith indicated he was ready  for more responsibility with his match-winning century in the  fourth ODI against South Africa on Friday.  Smith admitted he was treated for stiffness in his hips but was confident  he would play in  the series finale in Sydney on Sunday  and that his career-best form would continue in the Test series.

“I’m just a little bit tight through my hips,” Smith said. “No real concern, hopefully it settles down and everything should be fine. My whole batting has improved a lot over the last 12 months  … I’m premeditating a lot less, I’m playing each ball on its merits, just looking to bat time.

“I’m happy where everything is at in the middle order. I just have to continue the way I am playing at the moment. If I do that and I keep the same processes, hopefully I can keep making runs.”

News Courtesy: Sydney Morning Herald