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Was Clarke a better Test captain than Waugh?

Michael Clarke is the most polarising Australian captain in history. (AP Photo/Rui Vieira)
Roar Rookie
24th September, 2015
1155 Reads

The recent retirement of Michael Clarke has sparked fierce debate on the Australian Cricket Podcast about the rankings of recent Australian Test captains. The debate was triggered when Gav Joshi insisted Clarke was a better Test captain than Steve Waugh.

I was incensed at this statement as Waugh was one of the greatest Test (and ODI) captains we have ever had. His dedication to the baggy green culture and win at all costs approach led to a period of sustained Aussie success and dominance.

Gav argued that Steve Waugh was sometimes a selfish cricketer and not as imaginative as Clarke.

This debate led to a broader poll where the listeners were asked to rank in order the last five permanent Australian Test captains: Allan Border, Mark Taylor, Waugh, Ricky Ponting and Clarke. Five points were awarded for being ranked best captain, and through to one for last. Here are the results from the listeners.

Ranked last in the poll was Clarke. Clarke was never a popular figure and the listeners have placed him well behind the next captain.

While Clarke’s skill with the willow have never been questioned the constant doubts about his leadership skills off the field have eroded his image. Clarke won a lot of admirers for the way he led the team after the tragic loss of Phillip Hughes but that was not enough to elevate him off the bottom of the results.

Next in the poll was Tasmanian legend Ponting. Most Australian Cricket podcast panellists had him last behind Clarke because of his tactical failings, most notably at Edgbaston in 2005 when he sent the Pommies in after Glenn McGrath rolled his ankle before play.

The listeners disagreed and ranked him well ahead of Clarke, perhaps because of his unquestionable devotion to the Australian Test team and its success. He was a fierce competitor and had notable successes, especially winning away in South Africa in 2009. He always led from the front and was a much loved skipper in the dressing room.

Ranked third and well ahead of Ponting and Clarke was the man that sparked this debate, Waugh. Moulded by many heavy defeats against the West Indies early on in his career Waugh became one of the most determined and aggressive Test captains.


He was not satisfied with series victories, Waugh wanted clean sweeps, and this led to 16 Test victories in a row. Waugh was also one of the first Test captains to push for higher run rates in Test cricket which led to many days where the Aussie team scored over 400 runs. His ultra aggressive approach and embodiment of the baggy green spirit has etched him in Australian cricket folklore.

Coming in second was Mark Taylor, just 10 votes ahead of Waugh. Taylor was a very popular figure when he was at the helm. He was a master tactician on the field, imaginative with his bowling changes and field settings and always played Test matches for a result and not draws. He seemed to loosen the Aussie team up after Border retired.

Taylor’s skills on the field were matched by supreme skills of diplomacy off the field. He was a great ambassador for the game and was well liked all around Australia for his laid back nature. Taylor was and is a great thinker of the game and when he speaks people take notice. He is also my favourite Aussie Test skipper.

The run away winner, however, as voted by the listeners of the Australian Cricket Podcast, was Border. Considered by many as the godfather of Australian cricket he was the one who laid the platform for the dominant years that would follow. When Kim Hughes quit he reluctantly took the reigns of the struggling team and was able to build a winning culture.

Border put his faith in a crop of players he believed had the right attributes for Test cricket and was rewarded near the end of his career with a string of victories against England, starting in 1989 when they regained the Ashes.

So there it is folks, a runaway victory for captain grumpy himself Allan Border, followed by Tubby Taylor, Tugga Waugh, Punter and last by some margin Pup. A great response by the listeners of the podcast and the results seemed to validate my ire at Gav’s comments about Waugh versus Clarke.

It is certainly a hot topic weighing up the merits of some great captains. What do you think?

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