Clarke’s graduation to a big dog

Imran Khan once said that if cricketers were to base their self-esteem on the comments made by public, it would be stupidity. He said that people tended to lift you, when you performed well and hurl abuses when you failed

 

Michael Clarke has just gotten himself into that place where he can say that he has seen both the sides of the coin. He was one of the failures in the Ashes and was rightly castigated. His place in the team was under scrutiny, both from the public and selectors alike

 

After the 168 that he scored in New Zealand, he endured a rough patch till the second innings century in the final Test of the Sri Lanka series. It was in Sri Lanka that a lot about Michael Clarke was unravelled. For starters he was the Man of the Series in the ODI series and found that responsibility bought to surface the bubbliness that made him an exciting player to watch before Ashes 2005

 

The sixty runs that he scored at Galle in the second innings were crucial to the team’s cause as he stood strong when the wickets were falling around him and he also scored the runs at a fair clip. In the final Test, when it seemed that Sri Lanka were going to push for the victory with a 163 run lead, he uncorked vintage batting on them. He scored his first century in 18 months. This innings was so  good that he did not get a single run off an edge(outside/inside). Another thing that was so very good about this innings was the way he shepherded an under pressure Hughes to his century. In the company of Hussey, he twinkle toed towards a draw and an elusive series win for Australia

 

A considerable achievement considering that Lyon was representing his country for the first time and his handling of the spinner was a happy departure from his predecessor. After being vice-captain for three years, he knew each players strengths and weaknesses. His adroitness in handling the bowlers pitchforked him into the good books of former captains. Amongst the 12 spinners that have had a tweak after Warne’s retirement, and till Lyon’s debut, Clarke was placed a joint third in the wickets taken tally along with Krejza. Nathan Lyon has quickly climbed to second in that list now as he enjoys the confidence of his captain

 

Clarke had been groomed for the captaincy and after Ashes not even a young kid would have approbated his candidature for captaincy. After the World Cup debacle, Clarke was named the captain. Captaincy of Australia isn’t as easy in these days as it was in the days of Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting. It was in a fractured state that Clarke took over the reins of the team. Going by the history of captains being given the marching orders, it was indeed a brave decision by Clarke to take up the captaincy

 

In Sri Lanka, Ajantha Mendis ran circles around the batsmen in T20 matches. He took it upon himself to lead from the front and succeeded in the ODI’s. The win in Sri Lanka was called as a win over “a transitional team”. His critics said that sterner tests would await him in the Highveld. He passed them by not losing a series

 

The first Test in Cape Town presented Clarke with contrasting fortunes as he played an innings which is every cricketer’s boyhood dream- counterattacking, when the chips are done. The innings offered an insight into Clarke’s character. He was beaten many times with pace and swinging deliveries by Steyn in the early part of his innings. It is to Clarke’s credit that he withstood the barrage and counterattacked the bowlers. The innings was such that the next 20 wickets to fall were 8 runs short of his innings. It did not help that 10 wickets of his second innings fell for just 47 runs

 

They were 21/9 at one stage. At that moment, it looked like they would be bundled out for less than 26, the lowest total in Tests. Cross 26 they certainly did but the heads were hanging in shame when they were bundled out for 47. He said that his innings meant nothing, as it didn’t result in a victory. He even went to the extent of terming it useless. It seemed as if Clarke would need a miracle to level the series. The miracle answered to the name of Pat Cummins in Johannesburg. The win was made possible by the batting exploits of Khawaja, Ponting, Haddin and Johnson. The cheeky grins of young Cummins reminded one of Clarke in his debut Test

 

Imran Khan said that the only way to earn respect as a captain was to keep on performing. Clarke seems to have taken the advice to heart as he unleashed the classical version of himself in the first Test against New Zealand. His driving through covers and straight down the ground was a sight for the gods. His best moment in the match though, came as a plotting captain. The dismissal of Williamson in the first innings was planned to perfection. Lyon was flighting the ball well and Clarke induced pressure by putting in a leg slip. He saw that Williamson was reluctant to come down the track and used the stretch to reach out for the ball. He had the belief in the bowler and his own strategies. Another aspect of his captaincy came into light when Ponting was struggling on the third morning. Ponting fell across to a few deliveries and was in danger of being dismissed. When Ponting played a ball straight down the pitch, Clarke shouted his approval with “Well played, Punter”. Though he was dismissed soon after, the approval of his captain would mean a lot to Ponting

 

Bigger Tests will await him when he takes on India and England, two teams that Australia haven’t been able to put it across in the past few years. Till then he will revel in the good start that he has had to his captaincy stint

 

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