Turning the Tide

Date: January 7, 2012 / Posted by control

Finally, Michael Clarke has won over the Australian public who now see him as the right man for the job, a job often referred to by cricket fans as the second most important job in Australia – captain of the nation’s Test team.

Whilst the worm may have been turning in his favour ahead of the SCG Test, Clarke gave his new found fans 331 reasons to embrace him – an unbeaten 329 runs, a team-oriented declaration that denied him further personal glory and the wicket of Australia’s danger man, Sachin Tendulkar.

The Australian philosophy has always staunchly been team ahead of individual. In declaring when he did in Australia’s only innings in the second Test he maximized his team’s opportunity of victory while simultaneously terminating his prospects of writing himself even more indelibly into the record books.

Given Australia seemingly had their foot on India’s jugular and his decision to walk off the verdant turf of the SCG came with still two-and-a-half days remaining in the Test, many felt he should have had a tilt at further glory.

But Clarke thought otherwise, and put team ahead of self. As soon as Michael Hussey reached his own personal milestone of 150, Clarke and he turned on their heels and walked to the pavilion, accompanied by a standing ovation and thunderous applause.

It was the sign of a true leader, a man focused on the broader meaning of elite level sport – winning.

The fans embraced both the quality of his innings and the way it was rounded off. For many, it was a validation that the men in Cricket Australia’s boardroom had been right in endorsing the selectors’ choice of national captain.

Prior to this Test, Clarke has faced an uphill battle in winning the respect normally associated with the captain of the Australian Test team. Yet, when you look at Clarke’s performances leading into the SCG Test, whilst there had been hiccups, in the main he deserved a sizeable tick.

The major glitch during his short tenure was the second Test in Hobart where Australia gifted New Zealand its first win on Australian soil in a quarter of a century.

There was also the capitulation in Cape Town, where Australia was blasted out for just 47 – a performance that rightly drew great derision.

But Clarke could do little else in that innings then produce a score himself. And let’s not forget, he played a defining innings on the opening day when he peeled off a majestic 151 in a team total of 284 in bowler friendly conditions.

Australia left Newlands with its tail between its legs and its head bowed. What should have been a victory resulted in a humiliating defeat. The fans held fears that a similar fate may await the team in Johannesburg six days hence.

That would not be the case, as Australia regrouped magnificently to snatch a thrilling two-wicket victory that squared the ridiculously abbreviated series. Much of that turnaround must be credited to the skipper for it is he who had to lead the way and set the example as the squad licked its wounds and looked to move forward between Tests.

When you analyze Clarke’s record so far as Test skipper it reads well. His first time in the role on a permanent basis came in Sri Lanka in October. Clarke’s men entered the contest ranked below the home side on the ICC rankings yet won the series 1-nil.

Next stop South Africa, the number three-ranked nation. Despite the tumult of the opening Test, Australia finished at 1-1.

Two away series against higher ranked opponents for a win and a draw. Back on home soil, against eighth-ranked New Zealand, Australia let things slide in the second Test and had to content itself with a disappointing 1-all series scoreline.

And currently, the team is halfway through a series against the world number two who they have reduced to a shadow of their world ranking. It is highly improbable that M S Dhoni’s men could turn things around and record wins in Perth and Adelaide to leave our shores on level terms.

If, as expected, Australia wins one of the last two Tests against India, Clarke will have won two series and drawn two since being appointed captain – and that set against the backdrop of so much speculation about the future of some of the veterans, a fledgling bowling attack and a raft of untimely injuries.

Already Clarke has shown that he is an aggressive captain and one who has the ability to pull the right rein in the field. An example of which has been his use of Hussey with the ball. Hardly used under Ponting’s watch, Clarke has introduced him often and has reaped the rewards with some crucial scalps.

Since being installed as skipper, Clarke has a 56 per cent winning record. If he and his team continue their winning ways against India and sweep the series, his record would jump to 64 per cent – again, not bad when you consider the various issues that have surrounded the team in recent months.

Allied to his performances as leader, he has also flourished with the bat, averaging 64 in his nine Tests at the helm with four centuries. Just for good measure he has also taken three wickets at 21, including a chap named Tendulkar.

It is early days, but so far Clarke deserves a pass mark. And, with the bulk of fans now in his corner, he will more at peace with himself and with that may come even greater results – both personally and for the team.