One couldn’t help but feel sad for Michael Clarke as he announced his retirement from world cricket yesterday. Some would call it a little too late. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. But nevermind their criticism he would be remembered as one of the Aussie greats who helped rebuild the team after the golden generation legends went off the big stage one by one. Not only did he rebuild the team, he also took it close to the glory days. No. 1 in the Test rankings as they displaced South Africa off the perch.
Yet there were doubters. Doubters who felt that he was one player who couldn’t quite match his potential. Some called him an arrogant spoilt brat. Some called him an over-rated cricketer. Words were and phrases used were different but the moral was the same.
There would always be someone to criticize you no matter how well you play or how much you score. Clarke would obviously know it better. Scoring 151 on debut against India in front of Indian crowd on a hostile track (hostile for visiting teams in India means a spinning track) where all the the other Aussie batsmen struggled was definitely one of the brightest starts one could have dreamt of. Yet there were the arm-chair critics who doubted his technique. Some called it ‘too flashy’. He played in the air too often. There was an aura of recklessness around him. That score on his debut was never matched until the 58th Test when he scored 166 against Pakistan at Hobart, a glaring gap of 56 Tests and 6 years. Not that he did not score any century during that period. He did, as many as 11 but was unable to latch on to a big one. Some said he lacked patience. As the team once been termed as invincible now turned into a mediocre one with most match-winners from the golden generation retiring. Yet he was consistent- consistent in getting out just before breaks, getting out quickly after the hundred. It all gave more fodder to the critics who believed that Clarke should take more responsibility as he was now a senior member in the side. His off-field antics were believed to be the reason for the lack of performances. Images of him posing in an underwear, dating models, his love for expensive cars surfaced which promoted more apprehension about him. All this especially because the team was struggling. But that average never dipped below 40. It always hovered in the mid-40s and dropping him would have been unjust. Also there wasn’t any player in the Aussie domestic circles who could replace him.
In 2011, as he took over the mantle from Ricky Ponting, things changed. Clarke changed. The off-field antics, the carelessness were all gone and he stood up as a responsible captain who could command the team. His own performances spoke for him however there was little to write about the team’s performance. The team was in the transitioning phase. Yet Clarke was blamed for the losses. He tried hard to fight against the public perception at the same time fought against himself. His back injury had slowed him down. His back was brittle.
2012 was the most productive year for for him. He was loved warmly by the Aussie crowds, a first. The reason was such. His bat had done the job for him. 329*, 210, 259* and 230. all this in one calendar year. But the fairy-tale was restricted to Australia. Outside the Island told a meek story. The average was less than 40, away, pale in comparison to the home average. Subsequently they reached the pinnacle in Test cricket, winning against South Africa and atop the test rankings.
4-0 humiliation by India in India, Champions Trophy disaster and the Mitch J and Watto homework controversy along with Micky Arthur’s turbulent reign followed. The reputation earned was fast draining. And so was his back. 5-0 thrashing of the Pommies was a great add to his achievements. Next up were the South Africans in their own backyard. With the series tied at 1-1, what the whole world saw was a batting marvel. Comparable to Malcolm Marshall’s devastating spell with the broken arm and Anil Kumble’s determination with a broken jaw. Morkel had produced an amazing display of fast bowling. He hit Clarke in the ribs. Then the head, the hand and the gut. He batted with a broken arm, his resolve not hampered a bit. He had graduated from being a flashy, reckless batsman who couldn’t score the big runs to a responsible, mature leader who’d rather die on the field than to give up. Australia won that series and most importantly Clarke won people over.
They lost the series against Pakistan but that was a mere aberration. However, this time his hamstring called for a strike against Clarke. And then there was the Phil Hughes saga. Michael Clarke was visibly shaken by it. But he did emerge as a people’s leader with the way he delivered his eulogy and stood by Hughes’ family. Next series, his back injury recurred and yet he came in to bat after retiring hurt and scored a magnificent century and in the process becoming the first Australian captain to score a hundred after retiring hurt. At the end of the innings he was so drained that he had little doubt that his time was up and that he couldn’t carry the rigors of test match cricket with a battered back.
He played against the ailing West Indies side this year and did little of note in the series. By then there were already calls for his head as critics felt that Clarke himself was a weak spot in the team. There was little surprise in it as Steven Smith was on song and anything that he touched turned into gold. The arm-chair critics now wanted him to take over the reins from Clarke. These calls were serious and turning into shrill notes. But the selectors kept faith in him and retained him as the captain for the Ashes series. Clarke’s individual performances were dipping and had been a year since he had last scored a ton- A 128 against India in Adelaide.
Now a 3-1 loss and just 117 runs in the 4 matches and 8 innings at 16.71 tells the tale. Not sure if his decision to retire has come a little too late as the critics would say, however surely one of the best batsmen of his generation is trodding off the stage, not in the best of manner though.
However, he leaves behind a legacy of cricketers who’ve moved on from being a team in the transitioning phase to a more mature side. Clarkey or I’d rather call him ‘Pup’ is around for another Test match as a player and I sincerely hope that he ends his career on a high!
After retiring, I personally hope that he be associated with cricket be it as a presenter, commentator or with the team in a coaching role. He has a lot to offer to cricket and as he’d said once, “the game owes me nothing and I owe the game everything”. So after retiring, it would be to give back everything to the game. His technical nuances would really be helpful- to a team as a coach or to the viewers as a presenter/commentator. We’ve already had a glimpse of Clarkey as a commentator during the series against India while commentating for Chanel Nine.
Good Luck to you, Pup! And thank you for all the memories. Cheers!