Should Michael Clarke become a Test player only?

Date: September 27, 2013 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell

Michael Clarke is a nonpareil when it comes to Australia’s current Test batting line-up.

Even before the retirements last summer of Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey he had clearly established himself as the premier batsman in the side.

Since being elevated to the captaincy in March 2011, he has compiled 2959 runs in his 29 matches at the helm at the stunning average of 61.3.

During that run he has compiled ten centuries, including knocks of 329no, 259no, 230 and 210.

Since captaining the side he has taken his 97-Test career average to 52.1

It is a case of daylight second when it comes to nominating the next best credentialed batsman in the current Australian Test squad.

In short, any time Clarke is absent from this current team there is a gaping hole in its batting stocks.

The last time one batsman stood so far above his teammates in the Australian set-up was in the early stages of Allan Border’s captaincy in the mid-1980s.

Clarke’s importance to the Test team cannot be underestimated.

With that in mind, perhaps it is time that his future as a limited-overs player was considered.

Over the past six months Clarke’s degenerative back injury – first diagnosed in his late teens – has been a cause of even more than the usual concern.

He was unable to take his place in the side for the fourth Test of the Indian series in March as a result of the problem flaring up.

Due to great diligence and management of his condition his absence from the Delhi Test was the first time, after 92 Tests, that he had been ruled out of selection because of his back complaint.

However, the problem has not been put as easily into the background as it has when it has flared up previously.

Prior to Clarke’s absence from the final Test of the Indian series the most problematic his back had been was during the breathtaking third Ashes Test at Manchester during the 2005 series.

Clarke injured his back whilst fielding just two overs into the opening day’s play and was forced to spend the next two days bedridden at the team hotel.

When he did totter to the crease in Australia’s first innings it was at number seven, the same spot he occupied in the second innings when Australia held out for a draw with just one wicket in hand.

After that major hiccup Clarke continued to be largely unaffected from a playing point of view until the issue in India in March.

Clarke flew to England with the one-day side for the Champions Trophy in June ahead of the Ashes series but he was ruled out of the warm-up matches as a result of a recurrence of his back injury and was also unable to play in any of the matches throughout the three-week tournament.

It was said that his back problem had flared as a result of the long flight to England.

Whilst he was not hampered outwardly during the Ashes series he is now in doubt to lead the Australian team to India next month after his back complaint reared its head again on the eve of the final one-day international against England at Southampton last Monday.

If there is any question at all over the skipper’s back ahead of the seven-ODI Indian tour he must be put on ice.

Indeed, with the Ashes series just two months away it is questionable whether Clarke should be considered for selection even he is deemed to be fit.

The ailment in question – pain in the lower back caused by disc problems – was described as a degenerative condition when first diagnosed a dozen years ago.

By its very definition, a degenerative condition is one that will deteriorate over time.

After dodging bullets for many years as a result of prudent and effective treatment Clarke has been able to keep ahead of the game but this year has been a very different case.

Three times in the space of six months his place in both the Test and one-day sides has been affected with the problem more evident than at any other time in his career.

Given his importance to the make-up of the Test side for this summer’s return Ashes series it would seem foolhardy to court disaster by sending him to the sub-continent for what is largely nothing more than a cash cow for both cricket boards.

It may, in fact, be time for Clarke and the selection panel to consider the viability of him remaining as a limited-overs player.

If this year is anything to go by, his back injury is only likely to worsen through the remainder of his career.

Australia has a ready-made replacement as one-day skipper in George Bailey – he led the Australian campaign at the Champions Trophy in June in Clarke’s absence.

There is only one truly meaningful event on the one-day limited overs calendar and that is the quadrennial World Cup.

It is next slated to be played in Australia and New Zealand at the end of the 2014-15 summer.

Some are tipping that it could be the event’s swansong.

No doubt Clarke would love to captain the side in an endeavour to reclaim the crown on home soil.

There is, however, a lot of water to flow under the bridge before then and after.

And at any time should Clarke’s back again become a major issue it needs to be addressed.

As a Test batsman he is irreplaceable in the current climate whereas he can be more readily backfilled in the one-day arena.

Cricket Australia and all its players consistently trumpet that Test cricket is the main game.

That being the case, if push comes to shove, Michael Clarke must be handled in such a way that best addresses his availability to play that format.

First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 26 September 2013