Ashes 2013-14: Michael Clarke could pick a few captaincy tricks from Sourav Ganguly

Michael Clarke (left) has to ensure that along with Darren Lehmann, he creates a happy team environment © Getty Images

By Devarchit Varma

Michael Clarke probably has never faced staunch criticism, especially from the inner circle of Australian cricket for a major part of his career. As a player, the Australian captain has so far had a splendid run in international cricket and he enjoys support and love from all corners. But the team’s poor show in the last one year along with few off-field controversies has directed some criticism towards the Australian skipper.

After some startling revelations being made by Ricky Ponting, Clarke’s close friend and former teammate, Shane Warne has joined the bandwagon and offered some advice to the Australian captain, to which he must pay heed. The Ashes 2013-14 could be a huge moment in Clarke’s career, and he must ensure that he has everything covered up before the five-match Test series begins.

Clarke’s leadership skills are not in question. Clarke is not merely a captain, he is a leader in the true sense. Right from the time he took over the reins from Ponting, Clarke has tried to lead the team from the front, has set examples, has marked high goals and standards. While Clarke has experienced some success in his tenure as a leader, Australian cricket has gone through one of its worst phase. Clarke, as the skipper, needs to ensure that there’s an end to all of this.

Warne is undoubtedly one of the best cricketing brains around and whatever he says regarding the improvement of Australian cricket — especially when the team is struggling — it cannot be ignored completely.

The losses in India and in England prompted some to say that Australia must start looking beyond Clarke. The off-field incidences like the ‘homeworkgate’ scandal, his alleged differences with former vice-captain Shane Watson and the indiscipline surrounding the Australian side only went on to further hamper Clarke’s reputation. While it totally depends on two individuals to decide what kind of relationship they want to have, Clarke can definitely listen to Warne’s comments as far as conducting a team is concerned.

The ‘homeworkgate’ scandal wasn’t the only disaster. The frequency with which some of the young batsmen in the team such as Phil Hughes and Usman Khawaja were picked and dropped from the team during the tour to India, it did no good to the general mood in the camp. It was certainly not the best decision that Clarke could’ve taken. Phil Hughes came out openly to express his frustration at not being picked as a regular member in the side.

Time and again, former players like Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting have stressed on the importance of giving a longer rope to young batsmen. But Clarke on his part hasn’t done enough. He may have valid reasons for all his decisions, but some of them certainly did not work in Australia’s favour.

It will be daft to fathom Warne’s comments on Clarke as harmful criticism. Warne himself has clarified in his column in the Telegraph that Clarke knows that how big critic Warne is. Warne wrote, “Sure, Clarke is one of my best friends but ask him and he will tell you I am one of his harshest critics.” Whatever the former cricketer wrote regarding Clarke’s Australia, he is absolutely right. Clarke will have to build a happy environment where every single individual plays without fear and with responsibility. These elements were certainly missing in Australian team that was whitewashed in India.

Warne wrote: “Clarke has Cook covered on tactics but where he must improve is in creating a happier team environment. The Australian team were noticeably happier at the end of the English summer and, as Clarke and Lehmann’s partnership started to take hold, Australia played better.”

“If we look back over the years to when England lost eight Ashes series in a row there were a lot of people in their side playing for themselves and their own positions. It was a selfish environment. This is what Clarke has to avoid at all costs. If you look at the last three Tests in the Ashes, and the recent one-day series in India, there were a lot more Australian players smiling and in form,” he added.

Warne’s ideas and comments cannot be brushed aside completely by Clarke. It will do no good to the young Australians if they are not comfortable in their space and the opportunities provided to them aren’t enough to prove that they really belong to the top level. It’s no rocket science.  The vibrant birth of Team India under Sourav Ganguly and John Wright stands as one of the finest examples of how to groom a young side. The two gave some of the young Indian cricketers enough space and opportunities while reducing the fear, and made them realise that they belonged to the top-level. The results prove that the move did wonders.

The good sign is that some of the young Australian batsmen like Hughes, in particular, showed on the limited-overs tour to India that they can excel in a happy team environment. Hughes’s grit in the middle and the ease with which he played in the seven-match ODI series is something that proves Warne’s statement absolutely right. Hughes batted with a lot of confidence and showed he belonged to the top level.

Certainly, it is time for Clarke to do what Ganguly did, and pay heed to what Warne says.

(Devarchit Varma is a reporter with CricketCountry. He can be followed on Twitter @Devarchit)