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Michael Clarke - Trusted ally, Leader, Fighter and Champion batsman

He was one of modern cricket’s greatest batsmen and leaders, even if he may never be universally acknowledged as such.

Michael Clarke with Australia coach Darren Lehmann during the 2014 Ashes

Just three days ago, Michael Clarke assured us that he won’t be retiring any soon. Three days later, Clarke shockingly confirms he is.

What changed in those 72 hours?

2 hours of tactless and unintelligent batting mayhem. Yes, they were unquestionably tough conditions to bat on. They say such situations bring out the best in great players and Clarke is arguably one of the modern greats. But unfortunately, this time it didn’t. Much like his predecessor Ricky Ponting, Clarke too had to concede the end of his career due to poor form with the bat.

Ponting won 2 World Cups as captain but his career was shadowed by the fact that he lost the Ashes after 16 years of Australian dominance. He went on to lose two more and sadly, his illustrious career ended on a sour note. Unassured at the crease and a walking wicket, he was always under the scrutiny of the media. It agonised fans and cricket lovers who’d seen the best of him and wished a more romanticised ending to his career. But it was not to be. Alas, Clarke’s career may suffer a similar conclusion.

Carrying Australia on his failing back

Clarke was made captain after the conclusion of a disastrous 3-1 loss to England at home. Unlike previous captains, he didn’t have the luxury of well-established batsmen like Boon, the Waughs, Hayden or Langer, a wicketkeeper like Gilchrist and bowlers like Warne or McGrath. Yet, he took up the role commendably and for a while, it seemed like he was carrying Australia’s entire batting unit on his chronically degenerative back. 

His batting returns in 2012 is the stuff of legends. He was the first Test batsman ever to make four double centuries in a single calendar year. This included a 329* against a listless Indian team at the SCG.

He made the odd century here and there in the series that followed in 2013. But the fickle mistress we know as form began to elude him. His perpetual problems with the back didn’t help either. Often, when he made those centuries, you knew he was nowhere near his best. Though you could hardly say they were reminiscent of his typically fluent and well-constructed tons, he made gritty and memorable ones.

After enduring Morne Morkel's hostile bowling spells in the third test at Cape Town, he made a courageous match-winning century. Morkel broke his shoulder but not his confidence. But he couldn't sustain it due to more injury woes and a poor series against Pakistan in the U.A.E.

This was followed by, perhaps, one of cricket’s darkest events. The death of his beloved teammate and “brussy”, Philip Hughes. He fought against his own grief and pain to console a family affected by a freak tragedy. He gave moral and emotional strength to a distressed team, a pensive country and a traumatised sporting world. His speech at Phillip Hughes' funeral won all our admiration and sympathy and personified his leadership abilities.

Michael Clarke's emotional farewell speech at Phillip Hughes funeral won the admiration of the cricketing world.

Despite his sorrow and impediments, he made a magnificent hundred in the first Test against India at a ground which has been more than kind to him, the Adelaide Oval. But this brief moment of personal triumph and Australian victory was again cut short due to a recurring hamstring problem. The media, the public and even Clarke himself, thought this was probably the end of his career.

It wasn’t. He fought a race against time and helped Australia win back the World Cup.

Is Clarke an Australian legend?

Despite all his achievements, Clarke was never well-liked or admired among a majority of the Australian public. Some maligners accused and berated him for hiding himself at 5 rather than batting higher up the order while the others despised him for, rather, superficial reasons: the tattoos, the model wife and million-dollar sponsorship deals.

They didn’t think he embodied true Australian grit, like Border, Waugh or Ponting had done. Despite his natural talent with the bat and his aggressive and tactically shrewd captaincy, they never believed him to be the man who deserved the second most important job in Australia.

Yes, pure hogwash considering his batting and captaincy statistics are as good as any other. Of course, he hasn't had as many away victories as he would have liked, but the same story holds true with every other captain.

Clarke has never been particularly embraced by the Australian public

A victory at Trent Bridge and the Oval could have changed that. The Australian public would have forgotten their previous differences and instead, sung ballads about him. He would not only have been the man who whitewashed England in an Ashes and won them the World Cup, he would have regained the Ashes in England after a whole decade of dashed hopes. It would have been the culmination of Clarke's journey to redemption after having lost the Ashes in the fabled 2005 series under his predecessor. But it’s not to be.

One could argue that Clarke should have played solely as batsman by stepping down as captain to ease the added pressure. One could argue that he should have continued through the year and retired playing in a home Test. He would have attracted criticism either way.

In a sporting culture where criticism pervades the daily lives of sportsmen in times of success or failure and where self-appointed critics all over the social media deluge you with uninformed opinions, one must sit back and contemplate the part they’ve played in the conclusion of Clarke’s career.

He was one of modern cricket’s greatest batsmen and leaders, even if he may never be universally acknowledged as such.

Michael Clarke, the man, the ally, the leader, the fighter and the champion batsman. Respect!

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