By Nick Mulvenney
SYDNEY (Reuters) - England skipper Alastair Cook admits to feeling less than 100 percent as he contemplates a possible 5-0 Ashes drubbing but he could look to the experience of his opposite number for an object lesson in how quickly fortunes can turn around.
Michael Clarke has certainly plumbed greater depths in the three years since he first took charge of Australia in a test in the final encounter of the 2010-11 series at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
It has been England's turn to be battered physically and mentally in this series, though, and Cook will lead his side out on Friday desperate to win the fifth test, avoid the dreaded series sweep and salvage a little pride.
"When you lose games of cricket, and you lose they way we have, it's a tough place to be as a captain, certainly when you come on a big tour," Cook told reporters at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Thursday.
"It does affect people, make no mistake about it. It hurts for me, but it is what it is.
"All the criticism you get when you lose it's always exaggerated and it's kind of hyperbole when you win because that's the way the media work.
"For me to say I am 100 percent right would be wrong, but I am proud of the way I've handled myself in this series.
"But I do know that I have a hell of a lot to learn as a player, as a captain, and I hope we can put in a good performance in this test match."
Clarke has been showered with plaudits for his captaincy in this series but has not forgotten that earlier this year he was pilloried when Australia were swept 4-0 in India and lost 3-0 in England.
"In the last six months we've gone from the worst Australian side ever to tour India, to one of the best Ashes wins in cricket history," he told reporters at the SCG.
"It's the up and down rollercoaster that you go through as a player, and it's no different as a captain.
"When you're winning you get away with murder. You've just got to continue to try your best. It's a tough game, you've got to ride the highs and the lows to enjoy the success."
While Cook has always been popular in England, Clarke was not universally welcomed as the heir apparent to Ricky Ponting as Australia captain.
He bore the brunt of frustration at Australia's poor form in the corresponding Sydney test in the 2010-11 Ashes series, which England won 3-1, and was booed by a section of the crowd when he came out to bat as the stand-in captain.
Clarke clearly did not hear the catcalls that day, although he did say it was an unpleasant experience when he was met with similar scenes at a one-day international in Brisbane in 2011.
"I never remember being booed at my home ground but I got booed at the Gabba and I remember that fondly," he chuckled.
"It sums up the game we play. There's tough times and you need to find a way to get through that.
"Then there's the other side when you perform well and the team does well and the same people that boo you stand and applaud. That's obviously a very special feeling."
Cook has experienced more highs than lows in his short time as captain, including a tour win in India and the home Ashes triumph earlier this year, and was trying to keep things in perspective.
"We had a lot of success as an England side and ... this has been my first series loss (as captain)," he said.
"So it's not all doom and gloom. When you lose, you start stripping back everything, start looking at everything that's gone wrong, every little aspect you think you can improve on.
"(But) we have to make sure that we concentrate for now on this test match and get ourselves right for a battle."
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