While Michael Clarke’s retirement announcement at Trent Bridge was a little sudden, it didn’t really send shockwaves through the cricket world. Nobody was really that surprised were they?
It is my practice to post a tribute to the greats when they retire. This I will do for Michael Clarke after his final Test, later this month, at The Oval. For now, I would like to explore some of the complexities of the failings around Michael Clarke and the Australian cricket team. I will be asking many questions but I don’t really know the answers.
While CA would like to think they are more transparent in this day and age, I think it is beneficial to remember that the average guy in the street has no idea of what really happens behind closed doors. It is useful to keep this in mind when forming opinions on a great player who deserves respect.
Michael Clarke’s form has been poor in recent times. His performance in the immediate past, in his own words, has been “unacceptable” (interview with star reporter and BFFL, Shane Warne post match). Clarke has struggled for form since he returned to the team following the recurrence of hamstring troubles at the beginning of last summer. In six Tests he has not reached 50. But it is more complicated than that. In the two years prior to this Ashes, Clarke had been inconsistent. While he scored five centuries in that time, including some truly epic innings (the 187 at Old Trafford in 2013, 161 with a broker shoulder against South Africa in March 2014 and 128 in Adelaide following a very emotional time were all truly great innings), he has not passed fifty in any other innings.
Clarke is just 34 years old. In this day and age, you would expect a few more years out of him. Why did he retire from international cricket effective almost immediately? Was this a case of dropping himself, or was he told he was going to be dropped and retiring seemed the most dignified option? Are there other factors that contributed to his decision to retire that also contributed to his struggle for form. Clarke was not only struggling with the bat. In the last two Tests he dropped a couple of regulation catches and second slip.
To put Clarke’s age into perspective, I have listed the retirement age of the recent captains and also some of his modern peers. I have restricted the list to specialist batsmen because bowlers and wicket keepers have a different shelf life to batsmen.
Taylor (34y 67d)
Ponting (37y 347d)
Waugh (38y 214d)
Border (38y 241d)
Boon (35y 27d)
Langer (36y 42d)
Hayden (37y 66d)
M Waugh (37y 139d)
M Hussey (37y 221d)
Clarke will be around 34 years and 144 days when the 5th Test concludes. That is around the same age as Mark Taylor. All the other captains were three years older or more. All of the batting peers were older, especially in the most recent times.
Captains do get more tolerance during form slumps, especially winning captains. Mark Taylor had a horrific run before he turned it around in 1997 and had another 18 months. At the time the team was sweeping all aside and in any other circumstances, Taylor would have been dropped. Steve Waugh was under pressure as well before making a similar recovery. It must also be remembered that like Taylor, Clarke has had chronic back troubles, not to mention hamstrings. That has been a burden for Michael Clarke for many years.
I don’t want to be indelicate but it should be remembered that the death of Phillip Hughes hit Michael Clarke very hard. The nation was gutted by the death of Hughes and Clarke earned admiration and respect in the way that he handled his own grief and was the spokesman for the Australian cricket community. That was only about 9 months ago. I wonder how much Clarke is still affected by that tragedy.
And with Clarke, it is even more complicated. Clarke interviews well. He always handles the press nicely and is often disarmingly honest and seemingly open. His candor at times has made me uncomfortable – while I think it was admirable to be honest enough to make a comment that it was easy for England because they were only playing 10 players, I have to wonder if that comment was best for the team and for Clarke himself. But there have also been times when I wondered if Clarke walked the talk. Did he sometimes say the right things in public but not follow that up behind closed doors? Mickey Arthur was hung over the “homework” fiasco. Michael Clarke gave his full support at the time but when Arthur got the bullet, there were no negative impacts for Clarke. In in the fallout from HomeworkGate, Clarke assured the world that everything was cool with him and Watto. Watson’s behaviour was not consistent with that, nor was the file that Mickey Arthur released after his sacking.
And it should not be forgotten that Clarke was at loggerheads with CA just before the Hughes tragedy. There was a dispute about how Clarke would qualify for the 1st Test against India. Clarke was ready to test out CA and do it his way. That was rightly put aside but it was never resolved.
And even further back, when Clarke was captain in waiting, there was the Katich affair. That was when Katich had to be stopped from punching Clarke’s head in because Clarke wanted the team song to be sung so that he could shoot through. So, while Clarke does seem a good bloke on the one hand, he had made his enemies over the years.
We will probably need to wait until next year when the book comes out to find out all the details of Clarke’s retirement decision. There are many things that could have contributed to his reasons for leaving the game. Some of them may have been a lack of support in the team or the authorities. It might have been just because he has had enough of fighting injury. Maybe he felt that with Steve Smith in the wings, having had a very successful debut as captain, that there is someone else ready to take over.
At any rate, Clarke has been a heavyweight or world cricket. His final series, as with Ponting’s will not contain many happy memories. Australian cricket has some problems and they are certainly not restricted to Michael Clarke. For now, I hope that the Australians can pull it together and put on some sort of show for Clarke’s final match. It would also be nice for all cricket fans if an Ashes Test can extend beyond three days.