Clarke made Test debut with sub 40 average: who’s next?
Michael Clarke and Mike Hussey (AP Photo/Rob Griffith)
A sub-40 first-class average is something Australian fans have to accept in the search for the next Test batsmen. Quite often Michael Clarke’s name is mentioned when justifying the selection of batsmen with a sub-40 average.
Yet, in such circumstances, only his average is ever mentioned; the conversion rate and age at debut are never considered.
Michael Clarke began his journey in the 19999/2000 season, making his first-class debut.
By November 2002, Clarke was already in Australian colours, representing Australia A against England XI where he made 50.
In January 2003, Clarke made his ODI debut against the English.
Later in the year he would make 131 against the Indian touring side, the same country he would later score his maiden Test century against, incidentally on his Test debut.
Clarke’s Test debut came in October 2004, where his ODI average was 40.91 after 34 matches. His first-class record read 48 matches for 3065 runs at an average of 37.84, with 11 fifties and 11 centuries.
Fans of Callum Ferguson often use the Michael Clarke story when pushing his case. Ferguson’s first-class career started a week after Clarke made his Test debut.
Five years later the selectors saw his potential and promoted him to the ODI side.
Later in the year Ferguson made his first appearance for the Australian A side in a four-day cricket match against Pakistan A. He had a poor series, the pick of his innings being a 60.
In 2010, the year of the Ashes, Ferguson’s name was being floated about for the first Ashes Test, especially after his recent 129 against Western Australia.
“I think he’s a big chance, runs do the talking, don’t they?” coach Tim Nielsen said.
“I think he’s done a tremendous job. He’s gone from strength to strength over the last couple of years.”
“He had a real breakthrough season two years ago then unfortunately hurt his knee. He’s come back from injury and made runs whenever he’s been given the opportunity.”
At the time he had scored 3034 First Class runs at 35.69 with five centuries and 19 fifties from 50 matches. His ODI average was 46.08 from 26 matches.
There are a number of similarities between the two.
The number of matches is almost identical, the average and number of runs are very similar and both had outstanding starts to their ODI career.
Where the similarity ends is with the conversion rate; by this point Clarke had over double the hundreds Ferguson had, including a hundred for Australia A which always weighs more on the selection table.
Ferguson also has the added advantage of batting at the Adelaide Oval compared to Clarke, who played a lot of his games at the SCG.
These slight differences and a different selection panel were enough to let one player debut with a sub-40 first-class average, while the other was left to carry on plying his trade.
One will never know where Ferguson would be now, had he made his Test debut in the 2010 Ashes series.
Shaun Marsh is another who has followed a relatively similar path to these two players.
Marsh made his Test debut last year on the back of 3232 runs at 36.31 with 17 fifties and 5 centuries from 56 matches. This is almost identical to Ferguson’s stats, right down to the hundreds and fifties.
The difference is the selectors pulled the trigger with Marsh and were instantly rewarded with a Clarke-like debut.
Marsh made 141 on debut, which was backed up with an 81 in his next match and a gritty 40 against South Africa. After that, we watched his much-publicised horror show against the Indians.
While the numbers are similar when comparing Clarke to Ferguson and Marsh the conversion rate is substantially different.
Clarke was 23 when he made his Test debut, whereas Ferguson would have been 26 if he had debuted in the Ashes. Marsh, meanwhile, was 28.
The Michael Clarke story is a motivating one for players with sub-par first-class records.
However, at present, I don’t see anyone that fits his mould.
If anything, they are more in the Shaun Marsh mould for the reasons already mentioned.
Peter Forrest is the latest to go down this path, but whose footsteps will he be following?