All aboard the Michael Clarke bandwagon

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    Score a truckload of runs, lead with imagination, win a World Cup, stand tall in the wake of a mate's death... Yeah, Michael Clarke was a terrible captain. (AP Photo/Rob Griffith)

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    In the clamour to celebrate a good thing, it can be easy to forget the past. Just twelve months ago, Australian cricket captain Michael Clarke’s detractors were many.

    Following his epic triple century against India in the Second Test, his critics have been left to mumble any lingering misgivings about the Australian captain quietly to themselves.

    Clarke has given them 329 reasons to get off his case.

    If Clarke’s popularity was a stock on the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX:PUP), his scrip has risen from out of favour small-cap struggler to blue chip must-have in the space of a year.

    It has not just been the weight of runs or the crucial wicket of Sachin Tendulkar secured off his bowling which have lead to this turnaround in public sentiment. Since taking on the captaincy of the side from Ricky Ponting a year ago, Clarke has flourished as leader.

    Pup is clearly suited to being the top dog.

    I had found Clarke a little difficult to warm to at times, but felt that the bad press he had been subjected to was excessive.

    Sure, Clarke has always been more Beckham than Boonie, and comes from a different mould to the bulk of Australian cricketers who have gone before him, but so what?

    Clarke-knocking seemed like a classic case of tall poppy syndrome to my eye.

    The fact that Clarke was earmarked as a future Australian captain soon after he burst onto the international scene rankled with a lot of people, his teammates included. Clarke is an intelligent man – he must have known he was on a good thing and made sure he kept his nose clean so as not to damage his chances of taking over the captaincy.

    Being labelled the cricket establishment’s golden-haired boy was not of his doing, and if anything this has made his life more difficult.

    Clarke’s off-field life has not been uneventful, enduring the media fodder of his break-up with Lara Bingle and the famed run-in with Simon Katich in the SCG change rooms.

    I sensed that during the Bingle and Katich sagas, Clarke’s detractors were waiting for a crack to show in his outward veneer of composure, hoping that he would lash out at the media’s keen interest in his life.

    Clarke handled both these events with dignity and poise.

    Prior to assuming the captaincy, Clarke’s responses at press conferences were at times a little bland and clichéd, most likely because he saw the carrot of what might lie ahead. Clarke was keen to not rock the boat and damage his chances of higher honours by an errant slip of the tongue.

    For most players, being given the captaincy of a side adds an extra burden, but for Clarke the reverse seems true.

    Since Clarke took over the captaincy of the national side from Ricky Ponting, a weight has been lifted from his shoulders. He is no longer burdened by having to tread ever-gently for fear of ruining his chances of inheriting the captaincy.

    Clarke appears at ease, and is now free to be forthright with the media and his players in a way that was lacking previously.

    Clarke is forever smiling and clapping on his teammates on-field, and is a natural leader if ever there was one. Clarke has also bought a calm head and tactical nous to the position of captain that was lacking in his predecessor.

    Twelve months ago it seemed that Clarke was destined to follow in the footsteps of Lleyton Hewitt, a sportsman who would give his all for his country, but never quite capture the hearts of the Australian public.

    Unlike his mentor Shane Warne, Clarke is not yet a card-carrying member of The Pantheon of Good Aussie Sporting Blokes, admired and revered wherever he goes.

    Throughout his career Clarke has refused to buy into media speculation on why he has not captured the hearts of the Australian public. However, if Clarke’s upward trajectory of the past twelve months is anything to go by, he may no longer have to worry about this line of questioning for much longer.

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