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The Michael Clarke conundrum

The fifth test at The Oval will be the last hurrah for Australian captain Michael Clarke. (AFP PHOTO / GEOFF CADDICK)
Roar Pro
30th July, 2015
6

The questions surrounding Michael Clarke’s position in the Australian Test team appear to be growing with every failed innings.

Normally I would consider it blasphemy to be questioning the Australian captain – no matter who he is – but it’s hard to escape the fact that he is in the midst of a batting form slump and the decision to bat first in the third Test was extremely questionable after Australia were skittled for 136 in the first innings.

His last eight innings, including the collapse at Edgbaston don’t make for pleasant reading.

10, 32*, 7, 38, 4, 47, 14, 18.

Is it just a poor run of form, or is this the beginning of the end for one of the most gifted batsmen in the twenty-first century?

Disappointingly for Clarke, England seems to be the one place in the world that this man just can’t score runs.

His disappointing 2005 tour was the trigger for his dropping from the team less than 12 months after he was awarded the Allan Border Medal. Recalled to the team, Clarke never looked back – except in England.

Despite scoring three centuries on English soil, Clarke has played in three losing campaigns. This is his fourth Ashes tour and his second as skipper.

More than one losing tour as captain was the undoing of Ricky Ponting. Time will tell if this is the fate that awaits Clarke, should Australia lose the series of course. Given it is only 1-1 in the series and barely halfway through the third Test, I may be being premature in my assessment.

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Forgive me for crystal-balling here.

It’s not the first time that an Australian captain has found themselves under fire while leading an Ashes Tour in the United Kingdom.

In 1997, Mark Taylor was under unprecedented pressure to maintain his place in the team, with a far longer and darker run than Clarke is currently experiencing. He responded in the best way possible, with an unforgettable ton in the second innings of the first Test.

A century sometime soon would certainly help Clarke’s cause no end.

It is worth reflecting though on the transformation that Michael Clarke has undergone during his 11 or so years at the top level of the game, which is nothing short of phenomenal. Like most Australian sportspeople at the very elite level, he is a polarising figure.

Long gone are the days of being the arm-candy of Lara Bingle.

Replaced with it is a man who is a loving husband and father-to-be. A man who is a wonderful ambassador for the sport throughout the country – despite his detractors in the media and the public, let alone former Australian Test players working in the media who do anything they can to unsettle the harmony in the team.

Replaced with it is a man who guided and nurtured his team – and the nation as a whole – through the tragedy that was the death of Phillip Hughes late last year. The grace and courage with which he dealt with the loss of his best mate, while in the media spotlight, was unspeakably beautiful.

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He then missed virtually an entire summer of cricket, somehow returning to steer a team to victory at the World Cup on home soil.

In my view, Clarke deserves to depart on his terms, but as we’ve seen with Brad Haddin, that belief or privilege is long gone in Australian cricket. Maybe that’s not a bad thing.

So, simply, the conundrum is this – win or lose The Ashes – has Michael Clarke’s time come? I hope not. If for no other reason than to be around long enough for Steve Smith, surely Australia’s next permanent captain, to observe and learn.