Michael Clarke – from tragedy to triumph in one summer

Date: March 31, 2015 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell

Clarke 1Michael Clarke has been at the forefront of this Australian cricketing summer.

Not unusual when you consider that he is the captain of both the Test and one-day teams.

However, most of Clarke’s headlines this summer have been centred not on matters on the field but for issues off it.

His summer started with the greatest tragedy a sportsman could contemplate, the death of a teammate and one of his closest at that.

It ended last night at the MCG when he held the World Cup trophy aloft before a crowd of 93,013, the largest to witness a single day’s cricket in Australia.

Minutes earlier he had left the one-day arena for the final time as a player with Australia just nine runs shy of victory having compiled a run-a-ball 74.

While many would have loved him to have poetically struck the winning run, former Kiwi wicket-keeper Ian Smith summed it up perfectly from the commentary box when he said that he “deserves to leave the field on his own”.

Rather than simply being part of the overall emotion at the moment of victory his dismissal brought him the spotlight on his own.

The ovation he received was loud and intense and delivered with genuine feeling and appreciation.

It mirrored the reception that greeted him in December when he strode out to bat at the Adelaide Oval against India with the death of his little mate Phillip Hughes still heavy in everyone’s heart.

Days earlier Clarke had fought back tears as he eulogised Hughes before the funeral congregation in Macksville and a nationwide television audience.

It was, as were most of his actions and words during that mournful period, statesmanlike and befitting the position that some say is the second most important post in the nation.

Once Hughes had been laid to rest Clarke’s primary focus was to play at Adelaide.

He saw it as his duty, not just as the leader of the team but also as a way of personally paying tribute to the memory of Hughes in the arena that he felt was best suited, the middle of a Test arena.

He did all he could to convince both medical staff and selectors that his injured hamstring was healed.

With bat in hand Clarke peeled off a century and with it had the stands erupting with noise once again but not before he had been forced to retire hurt having been laid low again by his degenerative back injury.

Later in the match things took a turn for the worst when what should have been a regulation piece of ground fielding resulted in Clarke making an anguished grasp at the back of his leg.

His hamstring had failed him again.

But this time the other one.

At match end, with Australia having posted a resounding victory, the skipper faced the media.

To the question of whether he regretted having played his answer was succinct and heartfelt, “I don’t have one regret, this was the most important Test of my career”.

He had won the race to be fit for the first Test.

He was now facing a battle to lead his side in the World Cup.

As Clarke left the Adelaide Oval that night he was truly unsure as to what the future held having stated that he may never get back on the field again given his recent spate of injuries that were all linked to the degenerative back injury first diagnosed in his late-teens.

The nation seemed to receive daily updates on his progress, many of them as a result of media appearances orchestrated by Clarke and his minders.

Some felt his plight was at risk of hijacking the side’s preparations.

Others felt that fit or not he no longer commanded a place among the nation’s best 15 one-day players.

All the while Clarke kept working hard to get back.

His appearance behind the microphone as part of the Channel Nine commentary team whilst rehabilitating did not sit well with some.

One thing was for sure, his time behind the mic did not impact on his desire to return to the middle for cricket’s equivalent of the Olympic Games.

He worked with Australian team physio Alex Kountouris both before and after each day’s play and replaced his tailored suit with workout gear each lunch break.

In the end, Clarke was able to placate the selectors and earn his place in the squad.

He sat out the team’s opening fixture against England at Melbourne with his deputy George Bailey taking the reins.

Come Australia’s second engagement against Bangladesh at the Gabba Clarke was back in charge or at least he would have been had the rain not led to an abandonment without a ball being bowled.

His first match actually back on the ground was against New Zealand at Auckland where he made 12 in Australia’s paltry 151.

Despite a spirited 6-28 from Mitchell Starc Australia suffered a one-wicket defeat.

Next stop was Perth where against Afghanistan, in an endeavour to see his side post a World Cup-record total, Clarke chose not to bat as the team raised the bar with an innings of 6-417.

Many believed Clarke should have opted to spend some much needed time in the middle after such a long lay-off.

From Perth, the team moved to Sydney where it conquered Sri Lanka with Clarke making a run-a-ball 68.

He opened next start at Hobart after Scotland was knocked over for 130, making 47 off 47 balls in the last of the pool matches.

His contribution with the bat in the quarter-final win over Pakistan at Adelaide was a mere eight runs.

In the semi-final victory over defending champion India at the SCG Clarke managed just ten.

On the eve of the final he announced the match would be his last ODI appearance.

For Clarke, it was all on the line, both personally and collectively.

In the field he pulled all the right reins as his bowling changes were met several times with instant success.

His side completed a near flawless performance in the field with excellent ground fielding and a blemish free catching effort supporting ruthless and targeted bowling.

Chasing 184, Clarke strode to the middle with the side at 2-63 in the 13th over.

It was not a precarious situation but neither was it necessarily a case of game over.

It was however when he left the ground 84 minutes later.

He watched the last rites from the sidelines surrounded by his charges.

Interviewed on ground at the presentations he was asked about the black armband he had worn throughout the tournament.

Clarke said it was in memory of Hughes and that he would continue to wear it for the remainder of his career, albeit from now on in the Test arena only.

It closed the circle on arguably the most personally taxing and demanding summer an Australian captain has had to endure.

Well played.

First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 30 March 2015