Michael Clarke has been every inch the leader of men

Michael Clarke… leader in true sense  © Getty Images

By James Marsh
Hushed suggestions of hypochondria have circled around Michael Clarke recently, but the general consensus is that his back has now officially caused him even more pain and stress than Lara Bingle. His nerve, however, has never once been questioned since taking over as Australian captain in January 2011. Whether calling one of his punchy declarations or making 10 of Australia’s total 26 centuries since he replaced Ricky Ponting, Clarke’s been every inch the leader of men despite the long-standing belief in some quarters that having his chest waxed rather than covered in Lilleean man shrub negates his capacity to skipper.
He did not start well on Friday. He fidgeted. He was discomforted. He was in at four against his will, if not, as it transpired, his better judgment. He scratched around like Jonathan Trott taking guard with a bad case of hemorrhoids, his wonderful natural litheness at first tempered by an apparent mental cramp as well as the more common vertebral one. Jarrod Kimber offers a perfect assessment of this early imperfection here, but suffice to say this fretful phase was one of the few occasions batting with Clarke that Chris Rogers, though by no means unpleasant to watch, will look the more chic aesthete.

Another relentless fiddler at the crease, Steven Smith, was a sanguine rudder on Friday as Clarke began to glide on into that serene space where it seems only Ravindra Jadeja — who took his wicket five times in three matches in India — or the memory of Simon Jones’s late swing can harm him. The newly installed Australian number five still got out his peerless downward swipe-pull in front of square, a shot reminiscent of a gardener beating down a patch of stinging nettles with a guitar, but this was the Smith you see in press conferences — a serious, thinking cricketer seemingly determined to turn the warm adulation he receives on Twitter from ironic to genuine.
At close of play, the pair had put on an unbroken stand of 174, Australia’s highest-ever fourth wicket partnership at Old Trafford. More significantly still, they’d treated the new ball with more disdain than the average Yorkshireman treats fools. England, despite not bowling anywhere near as badly as they had at times in the first Test, were left cowed in the face of Pup and Piggy.
In the video above, Clarke says of the period after the 2009 Ashes defeat that, “I lost the feeling of I wanted everybody to like me… to I want them to respect me.” Shane Watson can probably testify first-hand to this shift of attitude from his captain. Everyone else just has to watch him bat, whether or not he’s got his enigmatic back against the wall.

(James Marsh is a TEFL teacher based in the Czech Republic, although his real occupation is alienating those close to him by wallowing on statsguru. He blogs on cricket at Pavilion Opinions and can be found on Twitter at @PavilionOpinion)