It has already been noted by many that the selection of Michael Clarke in Australia’s 15 man World Cup squad is problematic. The prospects of him being fit to take part in any significant part of the tournament and to remain fit and to perform at anything near his best is entirely unknown. Commonsense would say that the chances are low. The situation becomes sticky because Clarke and Cricket Australia seem to have different ideas on when deadlines should be imposed for Clarke to prove his fitness. This should not surprise anybody when we remember the nasty confrontation that was shaping up immediately before the tragic death of Phillip Hughes.
Immediately before Hughes’ injury and death, CA and Clarke were at odds over how he was to prove his fitness for the 1st Test. Cricket Australia, the selectors and Lehman were in agreement that Clarke needed to play at least a two day match to prove that he was ready. Clarke disagreed and was adamant that playing one day of a Sydney first grade match would be ample. It is widely accepted that situation was not going to end favourably for Clarke and that he was to be replaced with none other than Phillip Hughes in the 1st Test.
Of course, that all changed in a moment with the gut wrenching loss of Hughes in late November. Clarke showed outstanding leadership and deeply mortal qualities that won the support of the nation. In the wake of Hughes’ death, all cricket was cancelled in the lead up to the rescheduled 1st Test. Considering all of those factors and the grief and emotion, and given that Clarke could walk, allowing him to play and captain the team was the only choice. The serious tensions of the week before were rightly left aside. Clarke scored a century and Australia won. Clarke also proved that the selectors were right in suffering further injury on day one – an injury that ruled him out of cricket for a long time. Nothing was said at the time (like, “I told you so”) which was also tasteful.
However, those tragic circumstances have only deferred the inevitable. Clarke’s body is still broken, he and cricket authorities will be locking horns again in the near future. It is sad but unavoidable given Clarke’s attitude. I don’t see how a leader can think they can function above the rules and guidelines of the organization to which they belong. Players simply cannot be allowed to choose their own terms for inclusion. All international sportsmen desperately want to represent their countries whenever possible. This is why selection processes are objective and removed from conflict of interest.
No international sportsman likes to lose his place in a team whether because of injury or loss of form. Reinstatement is no certainty. This is particularly true of captains. Added to this situation is that the injury is serious and the absence extended. The stand-in captain had three whole Tests and won the hearts and admiration of all. He broke record after record and now this has spilled into the One Day spectrum. Steve Smith is a winner and has reached god-like status even more quickly than Clarke did. Furthermore, Clarke is naturally flamboyant and loves the limelight. That is his nature and it’s not necessarily a criticism but he must be finding the situation hard to take, happy as he no doubt is about the team’s success.
Michael Clarke was on his way to greatness by the end of 2011 but his team was lacking consistency as was he. Then 2012 saw his place beside the cricket gods confirmed when he started the year with a triple century, followed by three more doubles. By the end of 2012, Clarke’s stocks could go no higher but surely that did not place him ahead of the game. Surely, he still has to submit to the authorities that he serves.
In 2013 there was a downturn in Australia’s fortunes, playing nine consecutive Tests away without a single win. During this time occurred HomeworkGate and it was obvious that the team was in turmoil. Through all of that, Clarke was always impeccable in front of the media but I did wonder if he was at all times sincere. There was some evidence that he was not as Mickey Arthur, after his dismissal, produced a dossier that included claims that Clarke had called Watson a cancer on the team. This was despite Clarke’s assertions that all was well with him and Watto, even though Watto didn’t do his homework.
It was a shock move but a right one when Darren Lehmann unexpectedly replaced Mickey Arthur. His leadership turned things around and it would seem that he was a good mentor for Clarke and the team. The end of 2013 saw Australia sweep England aside to win the Ashes and all was well. At that time, Ricky Ponting released his autobiography just in time for Christmas. The most controversial part was his thoughts on the dressing room brawl with Simon Katich. In 2009, Clarke demanded that after victory against South Africa, that the team song be sung by a certain time and then wanted to leave when the deadline was not met. You can read my account of it here: http://dongles.org/Interpreting-the-brawl/. Ponting may not have expressed himself as well as me but he expressed his concerns about Clarke at that time and wondered if he was ready to be captain. He came under heavy fire because criticism of Michael Clarke was simply not permitted. Ponting simply said that was in 2009, Clarke has come a long way since then but he stood by what he said at the time. I agreed with Ponting and was glad for the correlation as I had just published my book where I said:
Pup – and it seems “Pup” is an appropriate name – was more interested in meeting his fancy, high maintenance, Prada-wearing girl, to jump into the $300,000 car and high tail it to the nearest happening night club and be seen with the A crowd, than celebrating correctly with his team mates. Maybe he should move to America. Perhaps you might think that five hours is long enough to party with the team. Perhaps it is. Mike Hussey’s other half may have been on the other side of the country (or not – how should I know?) but the fact is that he is named Mr Cricket, he gets to choose when the song is sung. Any insubordinate upstart who wants to challenge that should be kicked out of the herd. They certainly should not be allowed to be vice captain (or stand in captain). Being at the top in any area requires sacrifice.
Clarke did turn it around and losing Lara Bingle was a good move. He has become a great batsman and a good captain but he’s not perfect. And he certainly isn’t above the game itself although it must be hard to feel that way with so many worshippers. I found his stint with Channel 9 during his injury worrying. I have at times over the years felt uncomfortable when great players retire and are rushed into the commentary chair to analyse and criticise players that were recently their peers. So much more so when Clarke hopes to rejoin the players who are coming under his scrutiny. It seemed to me ill-advised and just not cricket.
But is this symptomatic of the age? Image does appear important to Clarke. Marketing and exposure are important. I’m sure that his agents are looking after his financial interests. Does all of this make it difficult for Clarke to hold the cricket authorities in the correct respect? And we must remember that Clarke is gen Y which might also account for some of his behaviour.
Ultimately, if Clarke does not submit and go along with whatever decision is made, he is going to create turmoil for himself and his team. This might come during the World Cup and may have negative consequences. And that might extend to the longer process of reshaping the team over the next two years. I hope Clarke is part of that but it has to be on terms of Australian cricket, not his own.