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Captain Clarke is the man for turmoil

Michael Clarke. (AFP PHOTO / LUIGI BENNETT)
Expert
7th December, 2014
38

How many times in the last week or so have you read a comment or heard someone say, ‘Michael Clarke has really grown in my estimations’, or something similar?

It was an interesting discussion on the ABC‘s Offsiders program on Sunday morning that made me think about this.

The point was made that it’s a rare occurrence in any of the major Australian sports that the captain or a star player would become the face of the team or the game in a time of crisis.

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More often than not, it’s the coach or the CEO, and other times it might just be a spokesperson. Even in cricket, this is true.

But when Australian cricket has been at its most vulnerable over the last fortnight, Michael Clarke has been front and centre in this still raw time of grieving, as the game still comes to terms with the death of Phillip Hughes.

A good mate of mine, who hasn’t necessarily been the biggest fan of Michael Clarke the player, never mind Michael Clarke the captain, made this admission late last week as our Sydney Day 1 group discussed our now-adjusted plans.

“My opinion of M. Clarke has also increased in the last week. Has he finally become the man/captain that those in the know always said he was?”

And it’s certainly true that Clarke has performed exceptionally in this time, in the face of what must have been – and still will be for some time – a very tough time personally.

But why does this surprise still exist? What more does Clarke have to do to win people over, considering his performances in several trying personal times in recent years?

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It seems it’s still ‘cool’ in some quarters to find fault with Clarke for whatever reason, but to me at least, he’s been pretty dependable on the field when things haven’t been going that well off it.

The obvious starting point would be returning to Wellington in March 2010 only a day or so out from the First Test against New Zealand, having left the tour to return home to Sydney and attend to the breakup of a relationship.

With all sort of scrutiny and questioning around his preparation, Clarke walked into the sheds on the first day on 100 not out off 141 balls, and having raised the second fifty in just 39 balls. He’d go on to make 168, the highest score among his 13 Test tons to that point, a 253-run fifth-wicket partnership with Marcus North helping to set up a 10-wicket win.

Three more centuries and 22 months later, and there was the bizarre criticism that he didn’t go on and make ‘big hundreds’, and that to that point still hadn’t recorded a Test double hundred. I recall at the time there even being some derision because he knocked back a lucrative contract renewal with his then life-long bat sponsor, instead using a clean bat for the Test.

Now twelve months into his captaincy, the suggestion was also that Clarke was still only worried about looking after himself.

Having rolled India on the first day, Clarke remained undefeated through to the third day, by which stage he declared with Australia leading by 468 and with Michael Hussey just raising an unbeaten 150. Clarke made his majestic 329 not out, and Australia won the SCG’s 100th and what would be Sachin Tendulkar’s last Test in Australia by more an innings.

Three years, nine centuries, and more than 2500 runs further down the track again, and the questions were back. Heading into the Third Test against South Africa in Cape Town, Clarke hadn’t made more than 24 in his last eleven innings. Never mind that he’d made 148 in the one before that, and 113 in the one before that.

Clarke had already been roughed up by Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel in the first two Tests, but Morkel took it up several notches at Newlands peppering Clarke throughout the first day and hitting him on the forearm, elbow, shoulder and helmet. With next to no sleep and what would later be diagnosed as a shoulder fracture, Clarke on Day 2 reached what is now widely recognised as his best century, finishing on 161 not out.

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And now we head to Adelaide to start the summer, with an altogether different kind of turmoil.

Clarke has lost his best mate, a man he’s emotionally and publicly referred to as “my little brother”, and he’s also the owner of the National Hamstring, injury to which was about to rule him out of action on the day Phillip Hughes was felled.

Oh, and he’s barely made a run since Newlands.

But amidst all that has gone on of late, and the round-the-clock attention Clarke is now receiving in Adelaide in the lead-up to the Test, I can’t think of anyone I’d rather send out to bat.

Clarke has proved himself to the doubters – again – and the way he’s handled himself in what is obviously a tough emotional period is clearly inspiring his teammates. You can hear that in Brad Haddin and Shane Watson’s words over the weekend.

I said last week that I was sure Clarke will play at the Adelaide Oval, and I’m also quite sure that his superb leadership throughout all this will get all his teammates on the field tomorrow, too.

The Australian team isn’t at anywhere near the depths Allan Border endured as captain, but Clarke is becoming similarly dependable when the chips are down. I’m not a betting man, but if I was, I’d be backing the skipper to do the job again in Adelaide.