Blog by: Kaushal
James Anderson’s delivery to Michael Clarke in the first Test in Nottingham was the textbook definition of perfect – it pitched on a good length, and then shaped away just the right amount to kiss the off stump. Clarke had to walk back flabbergasted, knowing that there was nothing much he could have done – the delivery was simply unplayable.
That ball was almost an indication of the future, a sign of things to come, for it mirrored the tale of the rest of the series – just like Clarke had absolutely no answer to Anderson’s sheer class and skill on that fateful evening, Australia was thoroughly outplayed by England in almost every aspect possible throughout the summer.
A relentless series of nightmares have plagued Australia over the course of the last few months – close to everything that could go wrong, has gone wrong. To make matters worse, just as they began to recover from one disaster, another one promptly struck and drove them back to square one.
First, David Warner threw a punch at young Joe Root in a local watering hole in Birmingham. And so, he had to be banned. Then, Australia crashed out of the Champions Trophy. Something had to be done, and Cricket Australia hastily sacked Coach Mickey Arthur.
Arthur sued CA for $4 million, and went on to make explosive allegations, stating that skipper Michael Clarke termed Shane Watson a “cancer” in the team. Then, the injuries struck – James Pattinson was ruled out of the rest of the Ashes after his body could not handle two Tests on the trot, and Jackson Bird went flying back home because of a back problem.
Meanwhile, Australia continued to lose. And amidst all the ruins, critics discovered paradise. Fingers were pointed everywhere – at Michael Clarke’s captaincy, at the over-dependence of the Australian team on Clarke’s batting and fast bowling, at their batsmen’s glaringly obvious inability to play the spinning ball, at poor management of the batting order, at their miserable use of the DRS, at Cricket Australia’s handling of the press, and at the dramatic sacking of Mickey Arthur.
Michael Clarke seemed to be at the receiving end of it all. Somehow, everything seemed to trace back down the same road – the one that led to Clarke’s front door. Matthew Hayden ripped into Pup – he said that the buck needs to stop at the Australian captain, and that Clarke needs to step up and take more responsibility.
A large chunk of the Australian media called for Clarke’s head, and said that he’s too soft and gentle to be in charge. In The Australian, Alan Lee stated that Clarke needs to cultivate more ‘nastiness’, and must stop being such a ‘nice guy’.
Now, Clarke has never really been a media favourite – he’s the kind of person who is rarely in the news when the going is good, but is all over the front page when things go awry. His extreme passion for flashy cars, his one-time celebrity engagement, his tattoos, and his apparent obsession with his own image hasn’t really helped his reputation amongst the Australian public either. The situation had once gotten so out-of-hand that he was even booed by his own home crowd in Sydney in the 2010-11 Ashes.
Therefore, blaming Michael Clarke for the Ashes debacle is one of the more convenient options, and certainly one of the more popular options. He is the skipper, after all. When a team underperforms, the captain generally faces the music – it is all part of the package; it is an occupational hazard.
But Michael Clarke is not a normal, everyday skipper – he is the captain of the Australian cricket team – a position considered to be second only to that of the Prime Minister in Australia. Naturally, each one of his moves is perennially under the scanner, and a good twenty million eyes stare right at him.
Luckily, that is what keeps Clarke going – he loves being in the limelight; he loves being the centre of attention. Clarke made it very clear that he does not plan to step down irrespective of the thorough thrashing his team was subjected to in this series, and said that he will not allow failures in just a few matches define his career.
As Ian Chappell categorically stated, Clarke doesn’t fear defeat. He is arguably the most aggressive of the current crop of captains in the world, and certainly the most result-oriented.
His declaration against England in the final Test of this Ashes series, with the score at just 111, setting the target of 227 for England in 44 overs, goes to show how desperately he wanted to win – clearly, the thought of coming second just does not fit into his scheme of things.
He is willing to forgo the safety of a certain draw, and is ready to pay the heavy price of a loss in order to give his team maximum chance of conjuring up a victory.
He does not wait for things to happen – he makes things happen. He has no qualms about going against the tide, and against all the plans that he probably stayed up the entire night drawing, if his gut tells him to do so. Unlike his ultra-conservative counterpart Alastair Cook, Clarke is not method-driven or plan-driven. He is purely result-driven.
And over this series, Clarke has done everything in his capacity to better his team’s chances. He has chopped and changed the batting order according to the situation, and has even spent most of the series batting at two drop, despite it not being his favoured position. He has set aggressive fields, and has never hesitated to pull a rabbit out of his hat, often bringing Warner, Smith or himself into the attack.
Off the field, he has been intense, earnest and serious. Despite not being directly involved in the selection process anymore, he has rarely dodged the hard questions, irrespective of how uncomfortable the media may have made him. He has not washed any dirty linen in public, and has never picked on any individual’s performance on camera.
In this piece, Michael Jeh sums up the entirety of the situation beautifully – he says that Australia is not in this treacherous situation because of Clarke’s captaincy – they are here despite it.
Michael Clarke has been through a lot. From the dizzying heights of his century on debut in an invincible eleven astutely led by the tactical genius of Ricky Ponting, to being the sole genuine world class player in a team whose fortunes are rapidly spiralling downwards, Clarke has seen it all. It cannot be easy being the only surviving member of Ponting’s devils, where drawing a match – let alone losing – was unacceptable.
It was once said that a blind monkey could lead the Australian team of the late nineties and early noughties to victory. Michael Clarke, however, has not been blessed with such a team.
So, there’s no easy way out – it will take tremendous amount of hard work and massive dollops of luck to lift Australian cricket from the trenches they are in today. And Clarke, as usual, is in the centre of it all.