Where to now for Michael Clarke?

Date: August 1, 2015 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell

Michael ClarkeThe national selectors have been decisive and swift to react in this series.

Shane Watson had his lifeline extended for the opening Test at Cardiff but twin failures with the bat and a wicket-less showing with the ball saw him jettisoned in favour of Mitch Marsh.

Brad Haddin entered the series on the back of an extended period of below-par performances with the bat and failed to dispel ongoing doubts about his form at Cardiff.

Personal circumstances saw him stand out of the Lord’s Test. His replacement, Peter Nevill, made a stylish 45 and held onto seven catches.

Haddin declared himself ready to return at Edgbaston but the selectors were rightly concerned by his 21-innings run where he averaged under 16.

Despite howls of disapproval from the likes of Ricky Ponting, Matthew Hayden and Ian Healy the selectors told Haddin he was not required. At 34 and 37, respectively, both Watson and Haddin had their Test careers effectively terminated.

Whilst their replacements have not set the world on fire recalling either would do little for Australian cricket moving into the future.

Watson has been walking a form tightrope for much of the past three years and given Haddin will turn 38 before Australia’s next Test series a recall for either would simply be a stop-gap measure.

Adam Voges lifted his 13-year first-class career average north of 45 on the back of a six century, 1300-run Sheffield Shield summer. He was rewarded with a Test debut at age 35 in Rousseau in June where he carved out a man-of-the-match winning 130 not out against West Indies.

That performance secured him an Ashes start ahead of Shaun Marsh. Alas, his form in England has been poor. A first-ball duck in the second innings at Edgbaston leaves him with a series average of 14.6 from five innings. His chance of denying Marsh a recall for the fourth Test is slim.

Taking all that into account, where does Michael Clarke fit in all this? He came into the series needing runs and at present he is still searching for them.

Twin failures at Edgbaston has him averaging 18.8 from six innings in this campaign. His dismissal in the first innings looked worse with every replay. In essence, he was clean bowled by a fast, full and reasonably straight delivery. It was by Test standards a soft dismissal.

Unfortunately for the skipper there have been many such failures of late.

Starting in the UAE against Pakistan last October Clarke has averaged a mere 28.1 from his 15 innings. His aggregate of 365 runs across that period was substantially boosted by his emotional and uplifting 128 at Adelaide against India in December. He has not bested 47 in any other innings.

We hear – as we have with all players who are in the midst of a lean trot – he is spending infinite time working on his game. It is failing to bear fruit.

We also hear – as recently as the eve of this Test from batting coach Michael DiVenuto – that Clarke is not inconvenienced at the crease in any way by his degenerative back injury.

Yet, at times, he looks leaden at the crease. His footwork, in the main, lacks fluency.

In the last Ashes series Stuart Broad, in particular, used the short ball to great effect. At the time it appeared Clarke’s back complaint was hampering his ability to evade the ball directed at his left armpit.

Some of his dismissals looked meek. In this series it has been the full deliveries that have brought him undone.

Clarke’s ascent to the permanent Test captaincy in Sri Lanka in August 2011 cued an amazing run of success with willow in hand.

In his first 21 Tests in charge he reeled off nine centuries including a record four doubles in a calendar year, when in 2012, he plundered scores of 329no, 210, 259no and 230.

He literally grabbing the reins and said follow me. His performances epitomised the oft used saying of ‘leading from the front’.

But those game changing knocks have dried up of late.

Clarke drew the curtain on his ODI career after holding the World Cup trophy aloft at the MCG in March. It was seen as the right move as his body had continually succumbed to injury in the preceding months.

Currently, from what we are told, the body is not an issue. His form, however, certainly is. He has a possible four innings remaining in this series.

If he fails to produce his tenure in the team will come further under question.

Steve Smith is a readymade replacement as skipper having taken to the role as a stand-in last summer like Clarke did early on with centuries flowing effortlessly from his blade.

Watson, Haddin and Voges will not likely be seen beyond this series. Chris Rogers, at 37, has already said it will be his last. That will leave Australia with a particularly inexperienced top order this summer.

The selectors would love nothing more than a resurgent Clarke to help shepherd the next generation.

The big question is whether he still has it in him.

First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 31 July 2015, soliciting 91 comments