Michael Clarke’s constantly recurring back problem has been his pet-peeve in the recent past. If the trend continues, Clarke’s international career may see a premature end. With the return Ashes and the 2015 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand coming up, Clarke’s workload should be managed in a better way since he is the lynchpin of the Australian batting lineup. In such a scenario, Cricket Australia need to find ways to keep Clarke fit and prevent the chronic problem from consuming his career, writes Prakash Govindasreenivasan.
A dodgy back and a rigourous international cricket schedule have left Michael Clarke in a spot of bother. His back has been constantly letting him down and keeping him out of action in limited-overs cricket and has the potential to bring a cruel end to his career. Clarke may have the will power to play through pain and would, more often than not, opt to play despite injury in a time when Australian cricket is not doing too well. However, there is a growing need for Cricket Australia (CA) to step in and manage his workload in order to help him sustain a longer career. The return of Brad Haddin in the One-Day International (ODI) scheme of things could enable the board to give the stumper the skipper’s responsibility and let Clarke pick and choose tournaments with the return Ashes and ICC World Cup 2015 in mind.
Clarke was just 17 when he learnt of degenerative back. In simple terms, it means that even the slightest of the pressures could trigger it to cause back pain for the cricketer. So, whether he is diving around on the field, playing a shot that requires him to transfer his weight on the backfoot or even picking up the ball and throwing it off balance, all of these can have an adverse impact on his back, possibly pushing him out of action.
The Australian skipper had an exceptional year with the bat in 2012 wherein he managed to maintain a safe distance from a back problem. However, 2013 has not exactly gone the way he would’ve expected.
In Australia’s 4-0 loss in India, he suffered lower back pain during the Mohali Test but used pain killers to play on. He then, missed the Indian Premier League (IPL) with a sore back and opted to rest in order to keep himself fit for the Ashes. To his credit, he did get through the Ashes unscathed but the problem returned to haunt in the recently-concluded ODI series against England.
The tricky nature of the injury puts Clarke in a bit of a dilemma. For someone who usually sets high standards on the field, it would be extremely tough for him to refrain from putting the odd dives in while fielding or be wary of the balance while picking up and throwing the ball. While batting too, his back needs him to be careful while playing aggressive strokes that could put pressure and flare up the condition and cause problems again. Despite the confidence with which he says that his chronic back problem will not cut short his career, one would not want to put their money on his statement.
What CA could do
Firstly, CA needs to explore the possibility of allowing Clarke to play just one format of the game. Given Clarke’s hunger to play as much as he can, it could be tough to convince him to the do that but will be worth the try. Even if he doesn’t give up one format, the board needs to plan extensively in order to manage him well. Although he has been named in the upcoming ODI series in India, the board needs to be prepared to keep him on the sidelines even if he just about recovers from the injury. Between the formats of the game, it seems sensible for the board to slowly phase him out of the one-dayers and let him take a call on his Test career.
If it were upto Clarke, he would want to play all forms of the game for as long as he could. At 32, Clarke has a lot of cricket left in him. Unfortunately though, unless his workload is managed, the end could be nearer than most can anticipate.