Is Australia finally warming to Michael Clarke?
Australians like to paint a stereotypical picture of their sporting heroes; a true blue, Aussie battler who they can relate with.
Despite Michael Clarke being once considered an arrogant ‘brand’ rather than a cricketer, the Australian public is beginning to consider the western Sydney product in a similar mould, and rightly so.
Twelve months ago, Clarke’s critics were plentiful. After his incredible triple century against India in the second Test, his knockers attempted to disappear discreetly into the background.
His detractors have become few among many. The man nicknamed Pup has become the head hound and has flourished since doing so.
Clarke has learned from his mistakes made at the beginning of his career. Responsibility has changed him for the better, not only in the press conference room but more importantly, in the middle. He has become the only reliable, top-class batsman the country has.
In his first nine Tests as skipper, he has averaged 48.28 in comparison to his career average of 46.30.
After a successful summer against India on home soil, he has become the only captain to make both double and triple centuries in the one series. Even more impressive is the fact that he has a superior winning percentage than past captains Mark Taylor and Chappell brothers, Ian and Greg.
In the past, I had always found similarities between Clarke and tennis player Lleyton Hewitt. Both young Aussies, who would fight tooth and nail for their country, yet continue to be deemed irritating by the majority of the Australian population.
Clarke has always been his own person, knowing he would never fit the fair dinkum, cobber stereotype like past captains Ponting, Waugh and Border. He rubbed the public up the wrong way as he wasn’t the average man, displaying his love for fast cars, model girlfriends, Twitter and tattoos.
Impressively, the bitterness shown towards him has never affected him, as he knows it’s our problem, not his.
Clarke’s anointment as future Test captain well before his international debut annoyed a lot of people, yet this wasn’t his doing. It acted as somewhat of a hindrance that created a burden he had to carry, whereby he had to behave in order to receive the leadership role in the future.
Now that he’s captain he seems at ease with both the media and the general public, no longer talking like a politician, but a genuine bloke. In my opinion, he’s 10 times the people person Ricky Ponting is.
Clarke’s maturity is a work in progress but continues to improve, illustrated by the way in which he handled the Simon Katich incident. Clarke apparently wanted the team song to be sung earlier than Katich wished, in order to leave the sheds and spend time with girlfriend Lara Bingle. Obviously, Clarke received an immense amount of criticism as a result.
It was later reported that Clarke in fact wanted to take debutants Peter Siddle and Andrew McDonald out in his hometown of Sydney. It’s not for me to judge which recount is correct, however wish to highlight that there are two sides to every story.
Breaking up with high-profile socialite Bingle was the best thing for him, moving him from the Sydney social pages to where he needs to be, the back page.
Scoring an extraordinary hundred against the Kiwis a week after the break up exemplified this. He handled the situation with aplomb, even publicly thanking Lara for her understanding during the split.
The Australian version of Posh and Becks are no more, with Clarke now intelligently revealing little about his current relationship with girlfriend Kyly Boldy.
With his sheer weight of runs, coupled with a technical nouse nonexistent under Ponting’s leadership, Australia are beginning to see that he isn’t in fact a wanker. He is the one man who can lead our national cricket team back to the number one ranking.
One can see a clear parallel between Clarke and Border’s captaincy roles, both leading somewhat weak and inexperienced teams, with Clarke already having 10 players debut since he began his tenure.
I believe that Clarke will adopt a nurturing role in the same way Border did and eventually rebuild the winning culture Australia once had.
The 4th of January 2012 signaled Clarke’s arrival as a leader. After notching his highest score of 329 not out, Clarke deservedly received the warmest standing ovation the Sydney Cricket Ground had seen since Steve Waugh brought up his hundred against England in 2003, by cracking a cover drive off the final ball of the day.
Clarke’s selfless decision to declare after reaching the intended lead of 450 put the team’s interests ahead of his own. He was only five runs away from the highest score made by an Australian, 334, held by both Mark Taylor and Sir Donald Bradman.
By the time Clarke retires, he will have overtaken Ricky Ponting as the best Australian batsman since Sir Don. More importantly however, considering the current climate of cricket in Australia, he will lead the current young crop of talent to become the number one Test team in the world.
Following his epic innings, Clarke said, “The most important thing for me now, especially being the Australian captain, you want your home fans to respect you.”
I think it’s safe to say that Pup no longer has anything to worry about.
Roar expert Glenn Mitchell's video summary of Day 1 of the second Ashes Test at Adelaide Oval