“Off-field he has to take responsibility for some of the stuff the guys have been doing, rightly or wrongly. It’s his ship, he’s the skipper.” That is what Dean Jones had to say about the responsibility that Michael Clarke will be carrying at the Ashes this year.
This series might decide the longevity of his career as the captain of this Australian team and whatever the result of the series is, he will get the greatest credit/blame for it. Clarke will look back at his Ashes career and see a gradual decline in Australia’s fortunes. His first participation was in the memorable series of 2005 which saw England regain the Ashes after a pause of 18 years.
The only Ashes triumph that he has been a part of when the senior statesmen of the side – Justin Langer, Matthew Hayden, Michael Hussey, Shane Warne and Ricky Ponting whitewashed England 5-0 at home in 2006-07.
He largely played second fiddle to the greats in that side and was lucky to be a part of the squad as he was called in for the injured Shane Watson. The expectations at home are always high but perhaps this time they are realistically low.
Clarke does not have a squad that can match the victorious side of 2006-07 but he will desperately want to add himself to the list of those captains who tasted Ashes success as there might not be a next time for him.
Darren Lehmann’s appointment is likely to help Clarke’s captaincy, and he has done the right thing by resigning from the selection committee. He has narrowed down his focus to unite the players in the dressing room, motivating them to perform at the best level and piling up the runs himself.
Lehmann talked about his support for Clarke ahead of the Ashes. He said,” Michael has been fantastic. I’ve been really impressed with him as a leader and getting around the lads more now obviously he doesn’t have the role of a selector. That’s really important for him.”
He was bred as the future captain under the reign of Ricky Ponting but Clarke’s style makes for a bit of a contrast. Lehmann has already pointed out that he wants Australia to play an ‘aggressive brand of cricket’. Clarke’s been seen as some sort of disciplinarian on that account and even though his instincts as a captain are very attacking, he does not encourage much verbal volleying.
Ian Chappell is one of his many admirers who believe that his style of captaincy is good for Test cricket as he always strives to get a result, but he can improve on his man-management skills. Chappell said, “He’s a terrific tactician, I think he’s a terrific captain – but that’s the on-field part. I have serious queries after the last few months about his leadership ability, which is the off-field part of it.”
He’s one of the best batsmen in Test match cricket, arguably the best, and he proved his credentials yet again in India earlier this year where he was the only player in the Australian batting line-up to put up a fight when all the chips were down.
The fact that he was trying to save a sinking ship meant that those hundreds were partly in vain but such contributions elevate the stature of the captain. The players in the dressing room look up and listen to you when you talk. They want to be respected by you because they respect what you do on the pitch.
Clarke’s Ashes record suggests that he is likely to taste success with the bat if he can make sure that the injury that has been bothering him for a while now does not prop up once again.
He was sidelined from the Champions trophy to nurse the lower-back problem and stayed away from the side at London while Australia failed to win a single game at the event. It was not a morale-boosting trip and spelled the end of Mickey Arthur’s reign.
On his comeback, he scored a dominating century against Worcestershire in the last warm-up game before the first Test and hopefully, that spells the end of his injury troubles.
Australia will hope that the pairing of Darren Lehmann and Michael Clarke can make a miraculous change to the look of this current squad that has been widely criticized in the Australian media, mocked at by the British media. Clarke recently commented that he is not reading the papers but when history is written, it’s really hard to ignore that.