Michael Clarke: a man who divided and conquered
Date: August 9, 2015 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell
The Oval Test – his 115th – will mark the end of his Test career.
Just days after bristling at suggestions that his career was about to end he completed a 180-degree turn after a humiliating innings defeat at Trent Bridge that saw England regain the Ashes.
The end of Clarke’s career is diametrically opposed to the way it started.
I was lucky enough to be behind the microphone at Bangalore in 2004 when he literally danced his way to 151 on debut. With footwork reminiscent of Kim Hughes at his best he dominated both Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh.
Remarkably he topped not only the batting averages on his maiden tour but the bowling as well courtesy of an incredible 6-9 off 6.2 overs in the fourth Test at Mumbai.
On his return to Australia he joined an elite group by scoring a century in both his first overseas and home Tests by making 141 against New Zealand at the Gabba.
After that initial home series he had a six-Test average of 60.9 with two centuries and another innings of 91 against India.
Australian cricket had found a new wunderkind – he was even nicknamed ‘Pup’ as the young kid on the block.
As is often the case with newcomers reality soon hit home and without a century in the following 12 months he was dropped in late 2005. He was reinstated for the Bangladesh tour in April 2006 and it was not long before he was again back among the runs.
At number five in the order he became a lynchpin of the Australian batting line-up.
At the SCG in January 2008 he helped Australia record a mighty victory in what was a spiteful Test. Thrown the ball by Ricky Ponting in the shadow of stumps on the final day he claimed 3-5 in 1.5 overs to snatch victory with just eight minutes remaining in the match.
Following the retirement of Adam Gilchrist in April 2008 Clarke was elevated to the vice-captaincy.
From early in his career Clarke was earmarked as a future leader which was something that did not sit well with many rusted on Australian cricket fans. When he was anointed as Ponting’s successor, however, the die was set. Here was a man who was very much Gen-Y.
From the diamond ear stud and sleeve tattoo to the model girlfriend he was not the sort of man that ‘old-timers’ could imagine as their national captain.
After Australia’s defence of its World Cup title ended at the quarter-final stage at Ahmedabad in early 2011 Ponting stood down from the captaincy of both the Test and one-day teams.
Clarke was now the man and many had reservations about his appointment, especially as Test skipper. There was no doubting his tactical nous but there were lingering concerns over his interpersonal skills and A-list life off the field.
Stories had circulated of a physical dressing room altercation with Simon Katich following the SCG Test in January 2009, an incident that rankled many.
Some had also questioned his decision to leave the 2010 tour to New Zealand for ‘personal reasons’ which ended in a split from fiancé Lara Bingle.
While some questioned his suitability for the leadership one thing was certain – it brought the best out in him as a batsman.
In Clarke’s first 15 Tests as permanent skipper he scored seven centuries including a record four doubles in the 2012 calendar year – 329no and 210 against India and 259no and 230 against South Afri He was soon anointed as the number one ranked Test batsman in the world.
The runs, in the main, kept flowing with centuries in consecutive Tests against England in 2012-13, a series in which he led Australia to a resounding 5-0 victory.
But following that series things began to slip both with his form and fitness.
An exception was an unbeaten 161 against South Africa at Cape Town in March 2014, an innings he completed despite suffering a fractured shoulder as a result of Morne Morkel bouncer.
Whilst playing against Pakistan in the UAE in October 2014 Clarke was forced home with a hamstring injury. He faced a race against time for the first home Test of the summer against India.
As he was battling to regain fitness Australian cricket was struck by an unimaginable tragedy when Phil Hughes was struck a fatal blow whilst at the crease in a Shield match at the SCG.
The pugnacious Hughes was virtually a little brother to Clarke and his death flawed the Aussie captain.
In the days following Hughes’ passing Clarke, despite his own grief, was a tower of strength for all and sundry as a nation struggled to come to terms with the tragedy. Even Clarke’s strongest detractors dipped their lids at his stoic performance.
With the scheduled first Test at the Gabba postponed the series started a fortnight later at Adelaide.
Clarke was declared fit and led from the front with an emotional century however when it was Australia’s turn in the field he tore his hamstring and missed the remainder of the series.
The goodwill earned in the wake of Hughes’ death was short-lived with many questioning why he played and risked serious injury.
Clarke spent the remainder of the series in the Channel 9 commentary box which drew further ire from the fans who questioned whether the captain should be passing judgment on his own charges.
Again, all was forgiven at the end of the summer when he held the World Cup trophy aloft at the MCG – the last match of his 245-game, 7981-run career.
The focus now turned towards the Ashes in England. Clarke arrived in the Old Dart badly in need of runs. Try as he may he could not recover form.
Come the fourth Test at Trent Bridge he had averaged a mere 28 in the preceding eight Tests.
Clarke added 10 in Australia’s first innings of 60, falling to a woefully executed drive well outside off stump that left his team teetering at 6-29. In the second innings he went for 13. By match end, with the Ashes gone, he announced that the fifth Test would be his last.
The thought of captaining a side while at rock bottom form wise was no longer an option. He will enter his final Test with 8628 runs (4th all-time for Australia) at 49.3 with 28 centuries.
Cricket fans will form their own opinions of his career. At his best he was one of the finest batsmen of his generation and an artful and attacking leader.
He was also a divisive figure with fans as witnessed by his off-field run-ins with the likes of Katich and Michael Hussey, two of the sport’s most respected players.
As a selector he was party to the infamous ‘Homework-gate’ and after he relinquished that position he directed thinly veiled criticisms of the men who were charged with that responsibility.
Perhaps, in essence, the closest comparison to Clarke’s career is that of his great friend and mentor, Shane Warne, the man who personally presented his number 23 ODI shirt to Clarke upon his retirement.
It was Warne who was granted the interview following the Trent Bridge Test where Clarke announced his retirement. The pair will likely soon share a commentary box.
Michael Clarke is shortly to ride into cricket’s sunset.
He will leave as a man who often thrilled the fans but perhaps never gained full acceptance from them.
First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 9 August 2015, soliciting 97 comments