Cranky Don revered, but not loved: Is Clarke the 21st century version?

Date: March 22, 2013 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell

Don Bradman was the finest batsman of his era and statistically the greatest of all time.

That said, it obviously made him far and away superior to any of his teammates with willow in hand.

Michael Clarke is no Bradman.

No one ever will be.

However, like The Don, Clarke is head and shoulders above all his top-order teammates.

He certainly underperformed in Mohali (0 & 18) but even with those dual failures he has averaged a remarkable 66.1 in 24 Tests as skipper with nine centuries, the best of which were innings of 329no, 210, 259no and 230.

No other player in the current team comes within a bull’s roar of his performances.

With a career average of 52.3 it is a case of daylight second.

Bradman did, and Clarke does, set the standard for the batting in their respective sides.

They also share something else in common – they are men who have captained their country.

History indicates that while Bradman may have had a successful record at the helm – his winning percentage was 62.5 – he was certainly not a man who was universally liked and admired by his teammates.

Nobody who played under Bradman disputed his ability with the bat but several of his high-profile charges were less than enamoured with his personality.

Dashing all-rounder Keith Miller was never a Bradman fan when it came to the way he dealt with the team away from the field, and at times, he made his feelings known in his typical no-nonsense and forthright fashion.

Miller was no orphan.

Much of the animosity towards Bradman was given a voice by two of his teammates who joined the press following their retirement – Bill O’Reilly and Jack Fingleton.

O’Reilly was never backward in coming forward when it came to the ‘Little Fella’, as he often referred to him.

Although O’Reilly chose to issue his sternest assessments of Bradman in social circles and not via the power of his pen.

When asked why he opted not to tell the full story of Bradman as he saw it, his famous response was, ‘You don’t piss on statues’.

They were apt words because Bradman was, despite denigration in certain circles, a living statue, a man who personified idolatry.

Clarke is not in the rarefied atmosphere inhabited by Bradman and no one ever will be.

However, the recent rumblings in India have again brought to the surface Clarke’s personality.

There is no denying his ability with the bat and his tactical nous has regularly received the thumbs up from the likes of Ian Chappell, Richie Benaud and Mark Taylor, three of the country’s most outstanding skippers in the post-War period.

Yet, in recent years there has been a growing chorus of dissatisfaction over Clarke’s personality and the resultant impact it has had on his the team.

Many episodes have been widely reported – some may be a touch apocryphal or amplified to make them more salacious – but regardless, there is enough evidence to suggest that the current skipper is not always everyone’s cup of tea within the change rooms.

Whether it is episodes involving Simon Katich, Damien Martyn, Andrew Symonds or the most recent events in India, there have been plenty of column inches and radio talkback hours given to the relationship between Clarke and his squad.

The blowtorch has been most recently directed towards his relationship with his vice- captain, Shane Watson.

Being a leader in any team sport, as in business, is never an easy task.

Much of it is a balancing act between leadership and familiarity and getting the mix right is not always easy and demands constant self-evaluation.

Someone like Ian Chappell was revered by his teammates as a great leader for his ability to be hard when he needed to be but also possessing the ability to mix with his charges socially over a beer and be one of the lads.

Whether Clarke has that within him nowadays is questionable.

The word ‘aloof’ was often attached to Bradman and some have used the word to describe Clarke and the way he interacts with his men away from the game.

The spotlight on sportsmen and captains in particular, nowadays is greater than ever before.

The all-pervasive nature of the social media world in which we live means every little action is open to scrutiny and public debate, and again, some of it is often given air with no actual fact to back it up – the scurrilous internet-spawned rumour surrounding Adam Gilchrist and Michael Slater in 2002 being a classic example.

Clarke has bridges to mend and interpersonal relationships within his current squad to be nurtured and re-established.

He would be wise to seek counsel from the likes of Chappell and Taylor.

At present Clarke is in the midst of a period in Australian cricketing history that is as difficult as any skipper has had to face – a tour to India followed by consecutive home-and-away Ashes series – and he is doing so with a team that is largely still wet behind the ears.

There is no doubting, given his record to date, that he will set the standard with the bat and that in itself will provide some measure of inspiration to the team.

But, equally as important, he needs to be able to stand alongside them in the trenches when the going gets tough – and it certainly has and will continue to – and have them feel that he is one of them and that he cares.

Should he fail to do that he will carry forward, like Bradman, question marks over his worth as a leader and a man within the team environment?

Only he has the power to affect the necessary change.

If he fails to do so Australian cricket will be much the poorer.

First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 21 March 2013