Michael Clarke proves his detractors wrong - and how!

Michael Clarke became only the sixth Australian to reach 300-run mark © Getty Images

 

By David Green
 

Rewind 12 months and the reception Michael Clarke received from his home crowd was very different to what he got after his splendid 329 not out at the very same Sydney Cricket Ground.

 

Those were dark days for the heir apparent to the Australian cricket captaincy. Booed by his own supporters as England romped to a third innings victory of what had been a wretched series personally for Clarke. With his vulnerability outside off-stump ruthlessly exposed by a rampant bowling attack, Clarke’s return for the series was a paltry 193 runs at 21.44. Even his one decent score of 80 was ended just before stumps on the fourth day at Adelaide by the unlikeliest of bowlers in Kevin Pietersen.

 

With Australia humiliated, most felt it was time for Ricky Ponting to hand over the reins. But not too many were backing Clarke’s candidature. Indeed, there was a whiff of an ‘Anyone but Clarke’ campaign in the press as alternatives like Shane Watson, Brad Haddin and Tim Paine were bandied around.

 

His detractors believed that Clarke was too soft and undeserving of a job some Down Under feel is second only to that of the Prime Minister. Some cited that he had left the tour of New Zealand to deal with the breakdown of his relationship with Lara Bingle (forgetting that he had returned in time for the Test and promptly scored a hundred).

 

Others pointed to his famous fracas with Simon Katich after Clarke had requested the team song be got out of the way early so he could go out to dinner with Bingle. How un-Australian was that? Preferring to go out with his Sheila to drinking beer with the boys. This was clearly not a man cut from the same cloth as the granite-like Allan Border, Steve Waugh and Ponting – men who, if you cut them in two, would probably bleed green and gold. And in the case of Waugh who probably wears his baggy green when he makes love to his wife!

 

How wrong they all were. Clarke may well wear moisturiser and be more effete than his predecessors – Kim Hughes apart (he even had a girl’s name), but he is shaping up to be a damn good Australian captain.

 

As a disciple of Shane Warne – the best captain Australia never had, Clarke has for the most part adopted Warne’s imaginative, attacking and adventurous captaincy style. He hasn’t been afraid to bring the spinner on early on a seaming pitch, has turned Mike Hussey into a bit of a golden arm and has skillfully handled his talented but raw seam bowling attack. Yes, his paint-by-numbers press conferences are still boring, but whose aren’t in this media-controlled world of today?

 

And what about his batting? There was never any doubt about his class. We saw glimpses of his talent in the 2005 Ashes and by the time of the next series in England four years later he was head and shoulders the best batsman on either side. Unfortunately, last year’s series saw him, like many of his colleagues, enduring a catastrophic slump in form and confidence.

 

Since assuming the captaincy and albeit with the benefit of a 329 not out, Clarke averages 64.42 and now has four hundreds in 15 innings. Detractors will point to the embarrassing batting collapses at Cape Town and Hobart that cost Australia two Test matches, but these happen to all sides occasionally especially one in transition. Lest it not be forgotten that in the Cape Town Test, Clarke made an absolute gem of a hundred in the first innings against Dale Steyn at his menacing best.

 

Results too have been promising even if drawing at home to New Zealand was obviously disappointing. Sri Lanka were beaten in their own backyard and the way Australia bounced back from their Cape Town nightmare to chase over 300 in Johannesburg and square the series has to reflect well on the skipper. Equalling England’s 4-0 whitewash of India cannot be ruled out either at this rate.

 

And what about those accusations of selfishness and being self-absorbed? We’d say declaring when you were 329 not out and putting the team before personal glory goes a long way to answering that. Clarke even let Hussey reach his own landmark of 150 before unleashing his bowlers on a demoralised India.

 

Redemption has indeed been sweet for the man they still call “Pup”.

 

(David Green is the brain behind the irreverent The Reverse Sweep blog and also writes for a number of cricket publications and sites such as World Cricket Watch. You can follow him on Twitter also@TheReverseSweep. David was a decent schoolboy and club cricketer (and scored his maiden 100 the same week that Sachin Tendulkar scored his first Test ton) but not good enough to fulfill his childhood dream of emulating Douglas Jardine by winning the Ashes in Australia and annoying the locals into the bargain. He now lives with his wife and two young children in the South of France and will one day write the definitive biography of Hedley Verity)