As Michael Clarke walked towards the podium during the presentation ceremony of the fifth Ashes Test at The Oval, the large English crowd booed him. Karthik Parimal explains why the crowd’s reaction was unjustified.
As Michael Atherton called upon Michael Clarke for the final time on the podium during the presentation ceremony of the fifth Ashes Test at The Oval, a lot of boos, clearly unjustified, emerged from the English supporters at The Oval. With a serene expression, inclusive of a faint smile, Clarke downplayed the reaction, stating that even the Australian fans would have responded in the same vein.
In March 1968, the fourth Test between West Indies and England panned out along similar lines. The first three fixtures ended in turgid draws, and Garry Sobers, the captain, had decided to make a game of the fourth Test at Trinidad. Although that Test wasn’t affected by the weather, the scores were massive. West Indies made 526 in the first innings to which England responded with 414. On the final day, the English were asked to chase 215 in just under 165 minutes (54 overs). Clearly, England had a far better chance of winning than the West Indies, for the target was low and pitch quite flat. They got there with seven wickets and eight balls to spare.
The declaration haunted Sobers for the rest of his career. Nevertheless, in his autobiography, the stalwart affirms that if a similar situation ever arose, he’d opt to go down the same path. “I believe that the spectators always have to be considered. Without those people paying to come through the turnstiles there is no professional game. That can be forgotten if players are afraid to lose and are not prepared to give the opposition a chance. Somewhere along the line you have to recognise that defeat might be a possibility. Who wants to watch a dying game when the only result is a draw?” he states in his book.
The stakes during the Trinidad Test were certainly higher. The series was wide open and, with his decision, Sobers had virtually handed it to England on a platter. Clarke’s men, however, were three games down and a result in the final Test would not have altered the overall picture. The fact, though, remains that had he not decided to chase victory on the final day at The Oval, the crowd would have been subject to yet another sombre day’s play. Intentionally or not, Clarke gave the full house a lot to cheer about by resurrecting a ‘dying game’. For that alone he deserved a pat on the back, not the spectators’ contempt.
One could argue that Clarke’s men were the first to scamper off the ground when the umpires put a halt to proceedings owing to fading light. Should they not have carried on if the batsmen were willing? The answer to this can be derived from the points Clarke made to Atherton during the presentation ceremony. If play had been called off on previous occasions when the light meter recorded readings of 8.8 and 8.1 (the minimum is around 9.0, although the laws also state that “The umpires shall be the final judges of the fitness of the ground, weather and light for play”), why not suspend the game when the current reading was 5.7? Agreed, the reaction would perhaps have been different if Australia were just a wicket away from victory, but if the gamble taken to win wasn’t paying dividends and there was an escape route available, only a naïve man would have refused to take the offer.
If anything, it’s the laws that need rectification. Clarke’s attempt to inject life into the game deserves praise and to criticise him for taking the exit, that too towards the fag end of the day, is improper. It must be noted that very few of the current crop of captains, including Clarke’s counterpart Alastair Cook, would have bravely set up a game in such a manner. Not long ago did a team choose to settle for a draw, this despite needing just 86 runs off 90 balls, with seven wickets still in hand. While most international Test captains prefer to take a safer road, Clarke is refreshingly positive. This trait of his was evident even when the Australians were being battered in few of the previous fixtures. The unit at his disposal is currently frail, but promising nonetheless.
A few days earlier, Ian Chappell, the former Australian captain who is presently one of the sanest voices in the sport, said the following about Clarke: “He hates losing but he doesn’t fear it, and there’s a huge difference between those two emotions.” Nothing exemplifies that statement more than his approach on the final day’s play at The Oval. Only if luck, at some crucial junctures, had tilted his way during the course of the series; only if he was more fortunate with the toss; only if rain had stayed away at Old Trafford; only if he had his batting order worked out. It would have been apt if Clarke was welcomed on the dais amidst a big round of applause, rather than the deafening boos that reverberated within the stadium.
As highlighted by Clarke himself, throughout the series his men have indeed worked hard, despite the scoreline, the Australians, and especially the captain, can return with their heads held high. The urn remains elusive for now, but glimpses of why they could possibly regain it during the return leg of the tour has been shown.
(Karthik Parimal, a Correspondent with CricketCountry, is a cricket aficionado and a worshipper of the game. He idolises Steve Waugh and can give up anything, absolutely anything, just to watch a Kumar Sangakkara cover drive. He can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/karthik_parimal)