Is Michael Clarke currently the best batsman in the world?

Date: December 7, 2013 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell

The Adelaide Oval has continued to be an Elysian field for Michael Clarke.

His innings of 148 in the current Ashes Test follows scores of 230 and 210 at the ground in his two previous outings to give him the Bradmanesque average of 104.8 in his ninth Test at the venue, having now scored six centuries in the City of Churches.

Today’s ton, his second in as many Tests in this series, has elevated his 99-match career average to 52.8.

In the history of Australian cricket, the only men to have played more than 20 Test innings and average better than Clarke are Don Bradman (99.94) and Greg Chappell (53.86) – exultant company indeed.

Since Clarke assumed the mantle of captain he has displayed imperious form, truly leading by example in his 31 matches at the helm, compiling 12 centuries and 3171 runs at 64.7.

There was a feeling after his meek dismissal to a Stuart Broad bouncer in the first innings at Brisbane that perhaps England had unearthed a weakness.

His last two innings have laid that theory to bed, albeit that it is a more placid pitch for this Test.

In the first Test of the series his second innings knock of 113 came at a time when his team was well in front in the match while his effort in this Test came at a time when there was a prospect that Australia could be dismissed for a sub-par total.

He is a master at playing spin, highlighted right from his debut at Bangalore in 2004 where he literally danced his way to 151 against Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh.

He is always busy at the crease, looking to constantly rotate the strike and calling with a clarion voice after each shot whether it be of an attacking or defensive nature.

So where does the Australian skipper rank in regard in terms of today’s batsmen?

According to the official ICC rankings prior to the current Test Clarke is ranked number four on 870 points behind a pair of South Africans, A B de Villiers (909) and Hashim Amla (898) and 39-year-old West Indian Shivnarine Chanderpaul (875).

Clarke’s performance at Adelaide will see him increase his points and climb further up the  ladder.

South Africa’s Jacques Kallis has been a master technician for over 15 years and sits fourth all-time on the Test run-makers list (13,140 at 55.4) but in the past two years his average across 15 matches has been 48.0.

Since 1 January 2012, Clarke has scored 2564 runs at 77.7 in 22 matches and today he became the first player to pass 1000 runs in 2013.

In 2012 he became the first batsman to compile four scores over 200 in the one calendar year – 329no, 210, 259no and 230 – scoring 1595 runs at a whopping 106.3.

In those 22 Tests, he played against England (seven times including the current match), India (six), South Africa (three), Sri Lanka (three) and West Indies (three).

Strangely, his performances against the Windies (188 runs at 31.3) were his least productive.

There is a question mark however over one area of Clarke’s game – his ability to perform overseas.

In those 22 Tests since the start of last year his average at home is 124.8 while on the road it is 42.8, an amazing disparity for such a fine player.

Throughout his career, he has averaged 23.4 more on home soil – 65.9 against 42.5 – an amazing disparity for such a fine player.

It is an area that cannot be discounted when assessing him against his peers.

Amla boasts a career average of 52.3 from his 71 Tests and since the start of 2012 he has played 16 matches for 1654 runs at 71.9, scoring six centuries.

Six of those matches have been against the eighth-ranked New Zealand (365 runs at 60.8) but in that period he has averaged 74.8 away from home (including an unbeaten 311 at The Oval and 196 at Perth).

Over his career, Amla has averaged nearly ten more away from home – 56.1 compared to 46.9.

His teammate, de Villiers – a man who has played 56 of his 145 Test innings at number six or lower – has a career average of 51.4.

Since the beginning of 2012 he has turned out in 17 Tests for 1558 runs at 67.7 (five against the Black Caps).

Like Clarke however he has had a very significant disparity during that period both home-and-away – 105.0 on home soil and 46.8 away.

Throughout his 87-Test career, he actually has a reverse record with a disparity very similar to Amla as he averages 54.7 on the road and just 44.1 in South Africa.

When you factor in that de Villiers has averaged 116.2 in his four Tests on ‘neutral’ soil – including a career-best 278no against Pakistan in the UAE – his record is even more stellar away from home.

Chanderpaul, who has defied convention with his technique, has been a wonderful servant throughout a relatively bleak period of West Indian cricket.

The diminutive left-hander is rapidly approaching the end of his magnificent 151-Test career which has realised 10,963 runs at 51.7, averaging 58.6 at home and 46.6 on the road.

Since the commencement of 2012 he has played 14 Tests – including the current one at Dunedin – for 1331 runs at 78.3, an amazing performance given he is in his 40th year, although he has been aided by the fact that seven of those Tests have been against New Zealand, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh.

In the past two years he has played seven matches both at home (66.5) and away (88.8).

The man who sits one spot below Clarke on the official rankings is Sri Lankan great Kumar Sangakkara who has scored 10,486 runs at 57.0 in 117 Tests.

Only Bradman (12) and Brian Lara (nine) have scored more than Sangakkara’s eight double centuries – he also has scores of 199no, and twice has fallen for 192 at Test level.

A typically stylish left-hander, along with Mahela Jayawardene, he has formed the backbone of his country’s batting for more than a decade.

Since 1 January 2012, he has played a dozen Tests, scoring 1208 runs at 63.6 – two of those matches were against Bangladesh during which he scored three centuries and averaged 110.2.

In that time he averaged 70.5 at home and 44.2 on the road while throughout his career he averages 63.3 in Sri Lanka and 47.3 away.

Shane Warne – a fine judge of cricket, and it must be said, a firm friend of the current Australian skipper – says Clarke is the leading batsman in the world at present.

So too do several other electronic media broadcasters covering this Test.

You can certainly mount a case in Clarke’s favour.

But, for mine, his inability to score and average ‘big’ consistently away from Australia is a major factor that goes against him.

An example is the recent Ashes series in England.

Clearly his country’s leading batsman, he needed to have a major say with the willow to give his team a real chance of regaining the little urn.

He did make 381 runs across the five Tests but 187 of them came in one knock at Old Trafford.

There is no doubting that Clarke is a wonderful batsman but before the end of his career he needs to significantly increase his 42.5-run average away from home to truly underline his quality.

For mine, Amla – at the pivotal number three slot for the Proteas – is currently the world’s finest batsman.

First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 6 December 2013