The on-field leader, Clarke demands and takes responsibility for his now former charges, as of the end of the Ashes series. Cricket tragics, players, supporters and officials all know what it’s like to go through the rigours of cricket at any level. Clarke even more so, leading players on the field.
Granted, the last eight to 12 months have been the toughest of the Australian captain’s career. The Oval send-off will probably be the final icing on the cake. Yet, for all the giant cracks appearing in the team, and seemingly on the pitch, the backbone of Clarke’s work was never questioned.
Australia needed a fresh face and a fresh set of ideas in 2011. Clarke provided that in an aggressive captaincy and the desire to take the game on. Nothing is perfect in cricket though. The likes of the now famed “homework gate” and long arguments with selectors and management pocket the landscape. However, the 329 not out, the 2015 World Cup Victory, and the incredible steely grit Clarke displayed after the tragic death of Philip Hughes suggest a player of a warrior nature.
That is true to the last. While a severe lack of footwork and nervous prodding has yielded just the measly 117 runs, the abuse thrown Michael Clarke’s way has been appalling. One evidently disastrous Ashes test match was only the last piece of the jigsaw puzzle rather than the full kit and caboodle.
From watching his 151 on debut in Bangalore, the mentality of a long-term player was evident – a far cry from the chop-in, chop-out selections of recent tours Australia have partaken in. The highest test run scorer for Australia since Michael Clarke’s debut is Michael Hussey. Shane Watson is third.
Questioning whether Clarke wanted to give up feels unacceptable. The sheer determination in Adelaide to honour Hughes with a century was testament to almost a decade of service at the time; a time where the service took a toll ready to snap.
To consistently keep up performances across a decade in any sport would be physically and mentally challenging right to the limit. That time has come for Clarke. Disappointing, yes, but the string has snapped.
Now, the tables have turned. The Trent Bridge turmoil threw the days numbered into days now zero. Yet, the fresh-faced blonde in Bangalore is Australia’s greatest cricketer to debut since the year 2000.
Where the middle order failed, Clarke soared. He scored 2688 runs across the 2012 and 2013 calendar years with nine centuries. Success is written all over those numbers. Even with the controversy amid the Indian homework catastrophe and the plethora of hounding from Cricket Australia, Clarke battled.
Perhaps one of his greatest battles was the one when Mickey Arthur made way for Darren Lehmann. Bringing a former Australian into the side was a turning point, even if it took a while for the players to settle in.
Clarke’s relationship with Lehmann was obvious when England were humiliated 5-0 in the 2013/2014 Ashes. Perhaps that was his last true act of great power and performance, before things slipped.
Clarke’s defying act has been to keep going in the face of adversity. At Lord’s, he was at the front in the field. After that, the problems cracked. Touring teams can’t consistently win away. Captains frustrate and snap.
Differences, rifts, and arguments aside, Clarke never stopped trying. No captain is perfect, and no player is ideal. Yet, the career of the man nicknamed “Pup” came close to that.