Michael Clarke - 'The quintessential Aussie'
Flip the history pages back. October 6, 2004. The first test of the Border-Gavaskar trophy between India and Australia. Australians were struggling to cope with the alien spin of Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh and were reduced to 149-4 before a young and handsome lad occupied the crease. Sub-continent environment, quality spin bowling – conditions weren’t that encouraging for the Aussie who was playing his debut test.
But there wasn’t a tinge of anxiety or nervousness on his face. He was resolute, as a typical Australian should be. Against all odds, he fought assiduously to bring up his maiden Test century and finally got the man of the match accolade. Australia won the match by 217 runs.
It marked the beginning of the wonderful Test career of Michael Clarke – A solid Test batsman and an inspirational leader. 8628 test runs, 28 test centuries, and he is the only player to score 4 test double centuries in a calendar year (2012). He was just 23 when he made his way to the legendary Australian side. Now he is just 34 when he called it quits.
A born leader
If Ricky Ponting was the captain of a formidable yellow squad, when Clarke got the reins from Ponting in 2011 he was imputed with the responsibility of transforming a young inexperienced side to a potent one. No Glenn McGrath, no Shane Warne, and no Adam Gilchrist. He had to start from scratch.
But he readily accepted the challenge with both hands. Because his veins were pumping with hot Australian blood. Leadership was inherent in him – you don’t need to teach a squirrel how to climb.
With the available resources, he formed an army. He led from the front in whitewashing India (4-0) in the Border-Gavaskar series (2011-12). In the second test of aforementioned series, Clarke became the first Australian batsman since Matthew Hayden in 2003 to score a triple hundred. But he didn’t get intoxicated by the triumphs. He knew, a captain will have to face debacles too.
And he lost. He lost once. He lost twice. The inexperienced Australian side was whitewashed by India in the Border-Gavaskar series of 2012-13 held in India. They were demolished by the top class swing bowling of James Anderson in the 2013 Ashes series in England. Australia lost the Ashes, 3rd time in a row.
But giving up was way too far from Australian culture. Clarke rose from the gore. He went in search of new talent. He found Steve Smith. He found Josh Hazlewood. He discovered Mitchell Johnson’s strength.
And he battled again, quite vehemently. He obliterated England in the next Ashes with Johnson’s pace and bounce. Australia recorded only the third 5-0 Ashes clean sweep in history. They thrashed South Africa in South Africa and became the no: 1 team. And in 2015 under Clarke’s leadership Australia became the World Champions, beating New Zealand in the World Cup final.
Clarke was much similar to Ponting in various facets. He was adept at playing both pace and spin just as Ponting. Setting competitive 2nd innings totals by taking audacious declarations was his style of captaincy. He hated losing, a draw won’t satisfy him either. Winner-takes-all or a Death-or-glory approach - that was his game.
Clarke – the expressive captain
Michael Clarke may not be an aggressive T20, player. But he never hid his emotions on and off the field. We have seen the hostility and aggression of the Aussie skipper when James Anderson irked George Bailey. We have also seen his emotional side when he cried in front of millions in the demise of his ally and co-player Phillip Hughes. He showed what he truly was.
He was the pawn and the King. He fought for victory, and at times he sacrificed himself in the process. He waited till the umpire’s signal to walk away though he edged the ball. He was also good enough to acknowledge his errors when his team lost. Win or lose – He took the entire responsibility. He has no regrets, however.
The legacy continues
Shane Watson was dropped from the playing XI. Brad Haddin had to withdraw, making way for Peter Nevil. The hunt had already begun. The hunt for the blood of a quintessential Aussie. But Michael Clarke didn’t wait too long to see himself becoming the villain. Although injuries and lack of form had been ailing him for a while, I believe there was nevertheless some more cricket left in him.
But that doesn’t matter. No matter how much faster you run, at some point of time you will have to exchange the baton. And Steven Smith is all set to carry the legacy of the Australian cricket. At least we can be happy about the fact that the average age of the current Australian squad will come down with the retirement of Michael Clarke.
The last link of the old and mighty Australian team is about to hang his boots after the final Ashes test at the Oval. After that, we won’t see someone asking for a review signaling a ‘T’ with folded fists. We will miss Clarke’s quick and accurate left-handed throws at the stumps. We will miss his immaculate cover drives and cut shots. We will miss Michael John Clarke.