Tag Archives: Michael Clarke

surviving Mornzilla

Short ball.

Ribs. 40.6.

Morne Morkel bowled two of his first three balls to Clarke full. He bowled all three over the wicket. That was a massive waste of time and effort. That over didn’t start when Steyn went off after one ball, and it didn’t start with Morkel’s over the wicket ball in the corridor, it started when Morkel came around the wicket and slammed the ball into Clarke’s ribs. Clarke didn’t play it, he just clutched it to himself like an injured bird. There was now little chance of Morkel coming back over the wicket. Or Clarke getting tested with the full swinging ball.

Short ball. Short ball. Elgar over.

Arm. 42.3

Morkel now had his aim right. It was somewhere between the arm pit and left nipple. Clarke was moving back and across and into the missile’s trajectory. He was a slow-moving target, and Morkel hit him right on the arm. It looked like, to paraphrase Clarke himself, “a broken f**ken arm”. Which is something that one of the South Africans might have mentioned to him. The super slow motion looked like a shock ad to teach you the lessons of not wearing arm guards. At the end of the over, when Clarke was touched by the physio, it looked like he’d rather not be.

Warner tried to protect his captain by keeping strike a couple of times. One ball that Warner called two on Clarke just jogged the one to get back on strike. Clarke had moved back to No. 4. Clarke hadn’t made any runs. Clarke would not hide at the non-strikers end.

Short ball. Short ball. Elgar over. Short ball. Short ball.

Shoulder and head. 44.3.

Clarke had had enough of standing upright and being hit, so he dropped to get under another ball on an armpit-nipple length. This time the ball didn’t quite get up, but Clarke couldn’t see as he had turned his head away, and the ball crashed into his shoulder. From there it ricocheted up into his jaw. Clarke tossed his bat, stumbled off the pitch and was surrounded by worried South Africans. None more so than Morne Morkel. Seemingly everyone within Cricket Australia with a first aid certificate came out to check on the captain. The cameras found Shane Warne looking worried on the balcony, an odd twist on the grieving wife shot. They decideed that Clarke is okay. After a few minutes, he faced up again.

Hand. 44.4.

The ball was straight back at him, Clarke flinched early, he took his eye off it, this time it hit his hand and flew straight up in the air. Clarke had no idea where the ball is. JP Duminy rushed in like a mad man from a deepish short leg, the ball beat him to the ground, but went very close to the stumps. Clarke could have been caught, Clarke could have been bowled, and Clarke could have had a broken hand. Clarke is under attack.

Gut. 44.5.

Clarke was now clearly over just being hit and decided to try the attacking option. The pull shot to get away from the short ball worked for him in Adelaide when England tried the same thing. This time he just sort of got hit around the gut as the ball ended up behind him.

When Warner faced a short ball from Morkel it ended up smashing it’s way to the fine leg boundary between two fielders. The difference was as great between Warner and Clarke as it was between Mornzilla and Elgar Smurf. Everyone at the ground wanted to fast forward the Elgar overs or any balls when Warner was facing. No one even worried much about Steyn’s injury.

Short ball. Elgar over. Short ball. Short ball. Short ball. Short ball. Elgar over. Short ball. Morne taken off.

Thumb. 86.3.

With the new ball Morkel achieved some sideways movement. And for a while, he pretended that Clarke was just another batsman. Clarke even pushed one through mid-on in what looked like very civilised cricket. More shockingly, Clarke smacked a pull through midwicket. But Clarke wasn’t just another batsman, and Morne went back to the beautiful barbaric nature of armpits around the wicket. Leg slip came back in smelling blood. And Morkel produced it with another ball that almost ripped the top of Clarke’s thumb off. Much time was taken to reattach the thumb nail. Blood was wiped away. And then Clarke took any chance he could to get off strike for the next ball, surviving a possible run-out and getting a well earned five.

Finally Clarke could rest at the non-strikers end. He had nothing left to prove, and nothing left to injure. He had survived.

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Clarke and Cook: Glamorous white stallions and dour sheep

Alastair Cook tweeting about his surprise wedding and putting up a picture of him leading his new bride on a white stallion would seem odd. As would a picture of Michael Clarke dressed in military fatigues or with a dead deer at his feet. Cook isn’t about to make much of his body a canvas or become an underwear model. Clarke isn’t likely to wear gumboots and tend to his livestock before dawn. Clarke and Cook are two very different human beings.

A Google image search of Michael Clarke will come back with a man who has posed for as many cameras as any wannabe starlet. Red carpets, underwear shots, shoots for GQ, he has done them all. If you’re an Australian cricket fan under 20, you could be forgiven for thinking Michael Clarke has spent your entire life staring back at you in a sultry way or with a painted on smile.

Cook’s image search is mostly made up on him looking stern or pensive. Generally on the field, or at a press conference. There are very few shots of him doing anything fun (painting nude girls and holding up a cricket bat in a naked shoot are the exceptions, not the rule). On the occasion he does pose, you often get a look at his hypnotising eyes, eyes that seem to trap you, and which would be better used by a dystopian dictator looking to instill fear into the population.

Clarke’s image and game has been sharpened and pushed by a series of well-meaning people. Some who have made much money and great reputations from a stylish batsman. Like many working-class kids who find money and fame early on, he made the most of it. He bought showy cars, lived in the flashy part of town, ate at the cafes where the paparazzi hung out, and dated a C-grade celebrity.

Slowly he grew out of that. At its worst, his hometown paper called him a tosser, he felt the need to tweet an apology for not walking, and he was booed at the SCG in his first Test as captain.

Cook’s life has always been a bit more straightforward. He went to Bedford, a school with Nobel Laureates, Olympians and the school attended by Sir George Arthur Harwin Branson, Richard Branson’s grandfather. He was a chorister at St Paul’s Cathedral School. Two-and-a half years into his international career he had his first book out. In it he tried hard to distance himself from his middle class background, but a few paragraphs later talked of how his family often skied.

He is barely seen off the cricket field, isn’t the face of many products and almost unbelievably for a professional sportsman of his age, isn’t on twitter. Cook left his wedding in a tractor.

The off-field images of them are also pretty accurate of the way they play.

Cook looks after himself, does what he has to do, isn’t always stylish or pretty, but is damn effective. Leads from the front at No. 1. Takes few chances. It has been written that if he had to, Alastair Cook would give birth. It wouldn’t be pretty, but he would get it done. Robotic and efficient, at his best he makes massive scores without a bead of sweat. The sort of leader his country has always respected.

Clarke is stylish on and off the field (I’m sure that line has been used in the thousands of lifestyle pieces on him). When he started he was brash and aggressive, now he is smooth and reliable. Bats down the order, in part, to shield himself from the swinging ball. Willing to gamble, but never as much as people say. A nervous starter with pretty feet who once set, especially in his home country, is almost impossible to dislodge. A new leader for a changing country.

But Cook and Clarke have had amazingly similar cricket careers. They even both married women they knew before they could realistically be presumed to be future Test captains.

Clarke started in Bangalore with a blazing hundred. Baggy green on his head, he was the symbol for Australia winning their final frontier in India. Cook started in Nagpur, holding England’s top order together with a half century in the first innings. Then making a hundred in the second dig to push the game beyond India’s reach.

Both had major obstacles to overcome once they had been in the side for a few years. Cook’s technique had never been textbook, but with a stagnating career average (it was roughly 42 for 30 Tests), and a sudden angled bat that kept nicking off, Cook had to do something just to get on the tour to Australia in 10/11. In the second innings of a game Pakistan were dominating, Cook made 110. Two Tests later he would play Australia at the Gabba.

Clarke was the golden boy of Australian cricket. He had won in India. Taken on the English bowlers. And seemed indestructible. But he got trapped in a vicious cycle as the boy who didn’t want to be dropped. The worse his form got, the more the press talked about this once in a generation boy not being the missing link. It seemed like he could think of little else. Eventually he was dropped. But thanks to a gift that has happened to many Australian batsmen (a Shane Watson injury) Clarke was brought back, cleaned up his game, kept the ball on the ground and made lots of runs.

They both know what it’s like to play in one of their countries’ most successful teams. Clarke came into the team in 2004, has won a World Cup, and enjoyed everything that goes with being the number one Test team in the world. Cook was a major part of England becoming number one, and producing a new, if albeit brief, golden era for English cricket.

Both were also the apprentices for the top job well before they got it. Despite much psychological testing, a thorough interview process and England’s endeavour to do things by the book, Alastair Cook was only not getting the job if he shot Giles Clarke in a hunting accident.

In the modern era no new Australian captain has been as hated as Michael Clarke was. Yet, there simply was not another option when Ricky Ponting stepped down. Strauss and Cook would appear far more similar than Ponting and Clarke, but the “break your arm” comment would suggest that both men learn from their seniors.

As captains, both men have averaged more than their career average. Cook even managing to do so without the very constant daddy hundreds he made under Strauss. His overall average should still be higher, but despite this he will retire England’s highest-ever scoring Test batsman, unless a giant anvil lands on him within the next two years. Clarke is averaging a staggering 63 as captain despite the fact he took over after one of the worst summers of his career. In the summer of 2010/11 Clarke averaged 17 in seven Tests. Suddenly being called a tosser and booed wasn’t his biggest problem.

They both changed their careers, and public perceptions, with Everest runs. Before Cook’s innings at the Gabba last Ashes, he was seen as a one-dimensional plodder who could score handy runs but wasn’t a game or series changer. That one innings, followed up with Adelaide, changed how everyone saw him. In two series against India he did it again. And suddenly the plodder became a batting monolith.

Clarke had taken over as full-time captain for tours to Sri Lanka and South Africa. As is often the way, Australian tours, Ashes aside, are not really poured over the same way. Instead of 20 to 40 press in the box, it’s two to four. Instead of free to air, it’s cable. So, even though Clarke played one of his greatest innings in South Africa and drew an away series with a heavyweight, few noticed.

They did notice when Australia managed only to draw a home series against New Zealand. So in his next series, against a rapidly declining India, he had to win, and win grand. The winning took care of itself when at Sydney he changed his public perception (probably forever) with a triple century whilst wearing the baggy green. Tosser pretty boy was gone; true Australian hero was born.

As captains, both men lead much as they play. Clarke is attacking and stylish, yet still flawed. He’s not the tactical genius he gets credit for, nor the terrible man manager everyone assumed. He has survived two coaches being sacked, stood down from his selectorial duties and is currently running a team much in his own image. Not for the first time Australian cricket looks like it could be getting something right, but it’s fallen hard on its face in recent times after good series. Whether they are playing well or not, Australia still seems one massive collapse from a disaster, something Clarke’s batting will try to hold together.

Cook’s captaincy is well thought out, predictable and safe. He took over a machine that had just started to show some wear and tear. Strauss, Hugh Morris and Geoff Miller are all gone or going, Andy Flower is the only one who remains from England’s amazing two years. When Cook took over, he fixed the broken Pietersen situation, defeated India from behind and then won the Ashes. He was on a roll.

Now his team has run into Mitchell Johnson, every flaw they had has been opened up. His team currently look a bit like him, out of answers, and unable to capture the magic they had previously. But they are still the team that made it to number one, with most of the original playing parts still here. Cook and his team can still turn this around.

Somehow these two men with similar cricket histories and vastly different personalities have ended up playing their 100th Tests together. Thanks to Mitchell Johnson, the news is not really about them. And with Sachin clocking up 200, and many other players passing 150, 100 Tests is no longer the number played by the only the iron men of cricket. Clarke has brought his up in under 10 years, Cook in under eight.

You could argue who is greater and who has achieved more, but such conversations are mostly useless and should be kept in bars or 2am twitter fights where they belong. They’re both pretty damn good. And they both have interesting futures as leaders.

Clarke will hope this isn’t a fluke and Australia is finally back. Cook will be trying to work out what has caused this decline, and what to do next.

Before this series Clarke had the Ashes loss and Ricky Ponting’s book to contend with. People had openly started questioning whether he was the right man to lead Australia forward. Mike Hussey’s book brought back the Clarke/Katich rift, and even the Hussey/Clarke rift, even if in both cases Hussey was trying to be nice. Alastair Cook just tended to his sheep and gave the occasional positive press conference.

There are still many photos to be taken of them in their careers, or even in this series. Clarke’s current twitter avatar is one of him looking disappointed in the rain of Old Trafford. The promotional photos for the Ashes before the series have Cook with an easy smile on his face, next to a stern Michael Clarke. Right now, those photos could be reversed.

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an imperfect perfect knock

There was not an eyelash out of place. His skin was flawless. The lighting was perfect. The bat was sponsorless. And Michael Clarke bathed in the adulation people save for prophets as he made 329 not out.

Each shot was assisted by balletic artistry. Each moment a perfect representation of how cricket should look. Interviews were given during the innings. He floated from end to end. India’s role was little more than that of the concerned extras. A million romance writers working for a million years couldn’t write a better moment of perfection.

So at Lord’s, when all Clarke could do was stand still and headbutt a ball from Stuart Broad, it was clear that this wasn’t the Clarke Australia wanted, needed or were promised. This was the bad Clarke. The human piñata. The invisible back complaint was stopping him saving his team.

At Old Trafford, the signs weren’t good. Clarke was seen walking gingerly around the nets in the days before the Test. It didn’t get better when he hit the middle.

While many were talking about the Usman Khawaja double dismissal, Clarke had snaked back up the order to No. 4. The position that had mocked him so far in his career. And when Jimmy Anderson went past him twice in the first over as he groped eagerly for the ball, it seemed the same would happen. Clarke looked so bad, that his only form of defence was spending some time in the middle of the pitch with Chris Rogers trying to ensure it was the last over of the session. He failed at that.

At his best, Clarke’s back foot doesn’t move. He doesn’t get back and across like other batsmen. It just stays there, giving him balance and grace. Except here, it was moving. And it was moving the wrong way. It was inching back like a tailender. Clarke wasn’t still and ready, he was moving and unsettled. It was a twitch.

Clarke does a lot of things; he can waft outside off, lose focus near breaks, and struggle to not go at a moving ball. But he isn’t a flincher. He’s not afraid of fast bowling. He doesn’t back away. This is a man who averages over 50 in Test cricket. He’s not a young boy finding his way. Yet, that is what he looked like. A player with talent who was worried that he would be hit.

When the ball was full, he didn’t suddenly come good either. Balls were left preciously close to the stumps, or they were left off the face of the bat. He used the inside edge. The ball missed the outside edge. It was by far and away the ugliest and worst Clarke has batted since he was sainted in Sydney. It was the anti-Sydney. Nothing was perfect. Nothing was working.

Now it could have been a form thing, just a bad day, or even just having too many things on his mind. It could have also been that damned back.

A back injury is not sexy. It’s not a gaping wound from your chin that the bandages can’t stop the blood seeping through. It has no scars, no great slow motion shots of bones breaking, and unless you’re watching someone closely, it can be hard to pick up at all. Clarke showed some signs of it. A stiff attempt to duck the short ball. Bad footwork to the seamers. And running between the wickets slightly under his best pace.

For the first 20 runs, whether Clarke’s back was the problem or not, there was a problem, and could have been forgiven to hire a team of lawyers to sue anyone who showed the footage for defamation.

Had England had a leg slip for Clarke, like they did at Lord’s, that would have been as far as he got. Instead Clarke changed. The short balls from the pacemen were pulled. He used his feet to Swann. Any loose ball was scored from. It was still not Clarke as perfect pictorial elegance, but it was a free scoring Clarke. His journey from 20 to 50 was off as many balls. He was in.

Clarke may average 42.76 away from home, but since his beatification; he’s not travelled much. And since his beatification dismissing a set Clarke is not an easy thing. In some cases, it just doesn’t happen. The only way to stop him is by putting a microphone in his face at the end of a session. Clarke was not batting like he was invincible, but like he’d been lucky to make it that far, and he wanted to not just survive, but try and damage England. He played the uppercut over the slips cordon. Hit Tim Bresnan over mid-off. And Slashed at wide ones when he felt like it.

His team lost the plot and their coach in the Champions Trophy. They lost the first Test by a whisker. They lost the second by a megalodon. By just suggesting they could win a series Clarke could make a whole room laugh. Not capitalising on a good start today would have been handing the Ashes over in a far more friendly way than any sponsor could on a podium.

Rogers was in top form and more aggressive than usual as he punished England’s constant overpitching. Steve Smith had more luck than Lyle Lovett. They both helped, but it was their captain who made this an Australian day.

Clarke doesn’t look like a fighter, and he often doesn’t bat like one. The pretty guys often have the hardest time convincing us that they are really trying. Clarke might have scratched, scraped and scragged early, but he still hit the ball through cover like it was intended to be. When he used his feet, the ESPNcricinfo commentary referred to it as “feet shimmering over the surface”. If Steve Waugh had made it in his more military style, people would have rushed to call it a fighting captain’s knock that took a man filled with intestinal fortitude who left his blood sweat and tears out on the ground as he dragged his side to safety. They may not have even mentioned shimmering feet.

Aesthetically, this was not perfection. But for Australia, this was a perfect imperfect innings. They have never needed Clarke’s runs more than they did today. And he made them by any means necessary. Not on a pedestal, but down in the mud.

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Michael Clarke: Pup, claymation and immortal

Michael Clarke was never supposed to be mortal. Clarke was one of two once in a generation players. Big things were expected of him. He wasn’t supposed to be human; he was supposed to be a legend. When he couldn’t produce it, his home crowd booed him.

Clarke was supposed to be the next Ponting and a future baggy green legend. A man who was supposed to continue Australia’s dominance. He was to be a working class boy with a bit of fight and flair that would punish attacks and win matches for his country. Instead, by the 10/11 Ashes the Aussie fans saw an unlikable player who was choked by his teammate, dated Australia’s Kardashian, apologised on Twitter, wasn’t the right kind of Australian, looked upset playing the short ball, dined in trendy cafes, and worst of all, had an average average.

Some of it was unfair, some cruel, and some plain wrong, but Clarke had left his fate with one of the most fickle sporting publics on earth by simply not making the sort of runs that someone with his talent should make. Clarke was never supposed to be a normal player; he was supposed to be a legend. And when instead your massive talent only has you averaging in the mid 40s as Vice Captain of a losing side, not many people rush to your side.

A mile from where he started, an inch from the Test captaincy, no one knew how he would do, and few wanted to learn. But the story of Michael Clarke is not just about an unwanted man. Clarke has been many things in his career. When he started, he was just a pup.

PUP

Unlike Ponting, Clarke had not dominated Shield Cricket. His talent was obvious if you saw him, but no one watches Shield Cricket. No one. So to some it seemed like Clarke had been promoted under the NSWales promotion system, rather than because he was ready for Test Cricket. All those murmurings from Victoria and Queensland disappeared pretty quickly as this fresh faced kid lit up Bangalore for a hundred. Even with fuzzy images on pay TV, Clarke was an instant superstar. He had Mark Waugh’s grace, Neil Harvey’s footwork, Michael Slater’s enthusiasm and Shane Warne’s style.

His first Test in Australia he made another hundred, and then added 91 in his first Test at Lord’s.

Clarke wasn’t the finished article. His energy was amazing, but would sometimes excite him to play a stupid shot. Ian Chappell would point out during almost every innings that Clarke would play the ball in the air at catchable heights. Clarke was an unpolished stone that could change a game in either direction for Australia. It was the raw batting you can only do when you are young and unscarred. Clarke might have come from humble beginnings, but when you saw him using his feet he looked like he had been pre-ordained to play for Australia. And he knew it.

Ex-players lined up to reinforce just how once in a generation he was. The press was fascinated by him. He was essentially a puppy version of Warne. There were stories about how he liked to do his hair before getting off planes, and how much he liked sports cars. But it didn’t matter, as he was the new golden boy, the player who would continue Australia’s dominance and the winner of the Allan Border medal.

Nothing could possiblye go wrong.

DROPPED

Don Bradman, Ricky Ponting and Shane Warne were all dropped at one point in their career. Someone along the line must have mentioned to Michael Clarke that he was on his way to going through his whole career without being dropped. It seemed to become his obsession. The exciting, attacking and reckless player was replaced by someone who terrified of being dropped.

The worse he batted, the more never being dropped seemed to become an obsession. The 91 at Lord’s was thrilling, but from there on Clarke seemed lost in a sea of starts. Every failure reminded him of his lofty goal, and the carefree attacker was re-placed by a mere mortal who was worried about losing his spot.

This happens to players all the time. The most attacking players in domestic cricket can often become prettified shells at the top level. That isn’t supposed to happen to a Hollywood superstar and keeper of the flame like Michael Clarke. With his talent and confidence he was supposed to be the gift that kept on giving to Australia.

What was amazing was how quickly he had gone from the missing link to the omitted. The ink was still drying on the articles about how Clarke would become one of the all time greats when he was already on the outer. Australia had credibility to regain after the 05 Ashes, and anyone not performing had to be moved aside.

Clarke just couldn’t perform, and with no confidence, and his own words floating around the press, he was rightfully dropped from the team.

FRONTRUNNER

Perhaps all Clarke needed was to be dropped and get his head right. People who have never failed often fear it the most. Once he had failed, the pressure was off, now he just had to get back into the side. Thanks to a Shane Watson injury, and there are many cricketers who can thank one of those, Clarke was brought back for the Ashes massacre of 06/07. It was a good time to be a middle order batsman. Clarke would come in when bowlers had been crushed, and bring up an effortless hundred.

However, when the top order did collapse, so did Clarke. All of his hundreds came in massive totals and they came when Australia were 3/216, 3/206, 3/241, 3/199 and 3/284. It was good batting, and he had his confidence back, but it wasn’t overly important to his team.

Clarke was a changed batsman as well. Batting was always easy to him. Not always runs. His boundaries looked easy, but so did his dismissals. In losing some of this natural aggression, he’d become prone to wafting at full balls, in a way that slips fielders drool about. But mostly he’d improved. The slashes through the offside had been limited. When driving he either kept the ball on the ground, or went well over the fielder’s heads. He’d done exactly what he needed to do in his fairly short hiatus, he’d evolved as a batsman.

The 06/07 Ashes cemented him in the team. Being dropped was not an issue anymore. His next move would be promotion, not demotion.

VICE

With his place secure, and his future looking bright, it was probably the point in his career when you expect Clarke to take off. To go from good batsman to legend. At times it looked possible. The Ashes 09 had two brilliant, yet fruitless innings, and in general, Clarke made runs. Even occasionally when Australia needed them. But he never quite looked right.

Clarke had lost all the public support. People no longer liked Pup as the cocky young kid, because he wasn’t one. Off the field he was portrayed as an unlikeable social chancer. He also became a scapegoat for an underperforming team. Plus he seemed to generally suffer for not being enough like Douggie Bollinger.

Clarke also added a new habit of going out just before major breaks in play, often when he was well set. Like never wanting to be dropped, this became something that seemed to eat at Clarke and restrict his normal instincts. Clarke sacrificed many good starts because of this batting tick. It cost Australia so many times, and seemed to affect overs as they could see how much pressure Clarke was under.

He was good enough to still make runs with this problem, but he didn’t make the impact he needed to as Ponting, North and Hussey all found form slumps. Too often he underperformed or frustrated.

Then his body seemed to give up. A bad back became a very bad back, and Clarke started to bat like a Claymation Mike Atherton. Against short bowling he was little more than a target.

The off field acts, strange apologies, bad body and poor timing meant that the Australian public now actively despised Clarke. No player had been mocked more since Kim Hughes was around. Opinion polls for Australian captaincy had Cameron White as a clear favourite ahead of Clarke, despite White not being in the Test side, and not looking good enough when he was.

By the time he walked out onto the SCG for the 10/11 Ashes, Clarke was a broken man in a battered team. The Australian crowd was not used to losing, and when Michael Clarke walked out their hatred had boiled and the local hero was booed. It wasn’t the whole crowd, and there was some applause as well. But when a local hero gets booed, something has gone terribly wrong.

A few months later, Michael Clarke would be captain.

LEADER

While many had given up on Clarke, those who hadn’t might have hoped that the new role would help him. Make him more accountable, give him a new focus. Help him get the best out of himself. Few thought tactically he would struggle. While he hadn’t captained much, but when he had he looked positive and aggressive. He was very much like Shane Warne, never wanting the game to stagnate, willing to take a risk, and had that energetic glow that some captains have before a life of press conferences drains the spirit out of them.

Human relationships had never been his forte. Shield players would mock him as someone who would only talk to his agent or bat sponsor. Some players considered him a shell of a human. A cricketing Richie Rich who had never lived a real life. They whispered that he was hard to relate to, and they saw him as aloof. Few ever said he was a bad person, it just seemed that he was hard to know.

As captain, he had to change. He needed to get the trust of his bowlers. Fix a failing batting order. And deal with something that no Australian captain had ever dealt with before, having the ex-captain still there.

When Australia arrived in Sri Lanka, it was two teams in transition, and the sub continent is not a place Australia generally do well in. This player who had been seen as a vacuous glamour hound was already a better tactical captain than Ponting. Yet it was how they played that was really amazing. In their last Test series they looked like a team that was chained to a radiator and beaten. Now they looked like a team that couldn’t wait to get out and play.

It was the trip to South Africa that not only showed the new Australia, but the new Clarke. At 3/40 with Steyn fully flared, Philander in a groove and Morkel fully Morned on a pitch that was helping quick bowlers, Clarke became the Clarke he was always supposed to be. In scoring 151, he scored more than half Australia’s runs while also outscoring the South Africa and Australia combined totals in the 2nd and 3rd innings. It wasn’t the innings of someone who was born under earth’s yellow sun.

Then he backed that up at home with a hundred on a tricky Gabba pitch that essentially beat the Kiwis. These were good scores, but they weren’t iconic. He was an in form Australian captain scoring runs when they were needed. That was good, but a he had only won one of their three series under Clarke, and a draw to the kiwis is considered a loss in Australia. It was certainly mourned like one.

Then India turned up in Sydney.

Michael Clarke had used a cleanskin bat. He was on his home ground. He made a triple century. He smashed the Indians. He gave interviews as he jogged off the ground. And he wore the baggy green while he did it.

It was exactly what people wanted from him way back when he first arrived. It was the lack of innings like this that turned the public perception as much as any off field acts. It was what the greats do. It was pure. It was Australian. It looked great on the front pages of the papers that used to abuse him. It was very nearly double his highest previous score. It was grown up.

It was iconic.

This new Australian team had their legend.

The last time South Africa was in Australia, Clarke was choked by Simon Katich in the SCG changeroom. Much has changed since then.

Michael Clarke is now popular. Michael Clarke is now Test Captain. Michael Clarke is now iconic. Michael Clarke is now untouchable.

Right now, Michael Clarke is not mortal.

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two attacking captains and an alien/god

When I was young I used to look out my window all night waiting for a UFO to go past, and during the day I would stare at cricket games looking for attacking captaincy.

Michael Clarke sent his batsmen out to slog and then declared giving the opposition a chance of winning.

Darren Sammy changed the batting order and took it upon himself to slog large.

Modern captains don’t really like doing things like this.

Probably because newspapers, websites, twitter, facebook and asshole bloggers abuse them for making mistakes. Being a bit defensive is a couple of day story, losing a Test you could have drawn is a couple of year story.

Or if it’s Adelaide in 2006/07, it’ll never go away.

So when two captains decided to actually try and win a Test, knowing that they might have to risk losing to do so, it was kinda weird.

Michael Clarke didn’t have to play aggressive cricket. He could have sat back and made sure that Australia couldn’t lose the series.

Darren Sammy could have played out the draw. I doubt it would have surprised that many people.

Test Cricket scoring rates went up, then the pitches started to get a bit fun, but teams were still largely conservative.

Sporting declarations had been eased out of the game.

But here we had two captains who were willing to look a bit stupid to win a game.

Clarke didn’t consult his PR team, Sammy didn’t talk about sweet sweet inner thigh honey.

They just threw it out there and had a go.

Their reward was for the game to end in a draw.

Which means if there was a cricket god, he’d be a real fucken prick.

It’s more likely that the cricket god is an alien who has been to Adelaide, and hates it when you shine a torch in their eyes.

Adelaide.

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Revenge of the Krab

There was once a time when Simon Katich choked Michael Clarke for not celebrating a win long enough.

Now he has been told he is not required or good enough to get into the list of best 25 cricketers in the country.

According to some media outlets, he’s angry.

I bet he is.

I imagine he has made a list, and those on that list will be dealt with in an ugly yet effective way.

Simon Katich’s death list may never be found, but in the next few weeks we may start hearing stories like this.

David – found naked in a bathtub having been force fed 52 cans of beer, still in the can. Boon’s body is a lumpy mess, and his moustache has been carved off his face with a knife.

Jamie Cox – a corpse is found in a local men’s hairdressers having been stabbed with tiny blunt scissors over 18614 times. It doesn’t make the national news.

Andrew – a transsexual prostitute corpse is found in a lawfirm office, it’s been strangled, or shot, no one is sure, and the story keeps changing.

Greg – the head of a man is found, near by is a wide bring hat with razors on the brim.

Michael – the body of a man is found at a trendy cafe on a sydney beach, it’s quite clear to officials that it’s been choked by an Australian flag.

Personally I think Katich should have been dropped, but if I ever meet him or have any contact with him at all I’ll tell him that his dropping was the biggest mistake I’ve seen by Australian selectors, then I’d buy him a beer and tell him how I used to troll some cricket blog who used to make fun of him.

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India are world champions for eternity: even American Christians love India

The world will end tomorrow, or today, or a few days ago depending on when you read this (that’s a trick line, because you’ll already be dead).

It’s rapture time. Or as these particular weird fucked up group of bible masturbators say, “Blow the trumpet, warn the people!” Which sounds like you are warning people before you fellate them.

The nut in charge has predicted the coming of a second Jesus before, and got it wrong. So he’s due.

And what does this mean?

The Christian Fundamentalist God loves India.

Perhaps because of Sachin, or even Sehwagology. Perhaps God was holding off hoping Americans would stop fighting over birth certificates and creating laugh track TV shows long enough to become the best team in the world, and when he saw that wouldn’t happen, he merely picked the new America, India.

We’ll never know for sure, as we aint going upstairs to get a meeting with the Male Homophobic Christian Fundamentalist God. We’re all dirty sinners here; you’re probably masturbating right now, or applying peanut butter and calling your dog.

While you do that, God has chosen the first time in human history that India are the best side in cricket to end the world. Perhaps Sehwag’s batting really did cause the apocalypse?

After May 21 they may not be. Players retire, get injured, lose form or sleep with the coach’s wife, but right now India are the best, and they’re going out as number one.

Sure, we may be able to play cricket in hell, but you just know they’ll be nothing in the pitches for bowlers. And can cricket really survive with a fourth version of cricket, Dante cricket?

Ofcourse, cricket (and less so the world) ending now is not all good news.

We’ll never Simon Katich knife Michael Clarke after he runs him out.

The Hashim Amla sex tapes will remain unwatched.

Runako Morton will never scream can you dig it at a baying crowd of street thugs in matching outfits in his unofficial role as king of the gangs.

The leader of the UN will never be Kumar Sangakkara, and he’ll never be rich enough to own the rights to the back catalogue of Billy Ocean or Hank Williams.

The cyborg that Martin Crowe created (just because he had a spare Sunday afternoon) to hold his brain will never get a chance to take 5000 test wickets.

It’s a shame because the world would have loved Mushtafiqur Rahim’s novelty dub hit, “I should be so Lucky”.

Salman Butt doesn’t have the chance to find Jesus, become popular on a celebrity dancing show or rebuild his name by getting cancer.

England will never get a chance to see Graeme Swann hosting retro 1950s game shows.

It ends all hopes that Kevin O’Brien did of doing something that people remember him by without stupid hair.

And the UDRS will always remain shit.

What will happen is that India will remain the eternal champions of the world as we all burn in the Christian Fundamentalist Hell.

The real shame is not that we’ll miss the stuff above or that India are number 1 for ever (which isn’t a shame if you’re Indian, although you’ll be in hell, so hard to celebrate too much) it’s that we all know Tony Greig will be down there commenting on all our torture. Blow by blow. Getting the details wrong, calling Sri Lankans little, talking about the broad shoulders of some blonde 19 year old, and generally making hell, hell.

Sehwagology saves.

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Clarke won’t captain a team with Ponting in it

That isn’t my statement, although I also thought it was true before today.

That was a headline from 31st of December.

The question someone asked Michael Clarke was if he would captain Australia with Ponting in it.

“No. I’ve always said from day one Ricky Ponting is my leader, my captain, and I’m certain he’ll be back captaining ASAP.”

What has changed in that time.

Well, Ricky Ponting is now not his leader, because he has stepped down.

Is it that simple.

Did Michael Clarke really mean,

“No. Ricky is my captain now, and while he is captain I can’t be, because we both can’t be captains at the same time.  We both can’t be sitting in the same chair.”

Or did he mean,

“I’ll never captain Ricky, he scares me to death.”

Or even,

“I won’t captain him until he makes a public statement retiring from the job but wants to stay on batting.”

Now, because of Ricky’s semi retirement, Clarke is going to take over a team with Ponting in it. Probably.

The person who told him off in Perth, all of three tests ago, the man who was default coach, default selector, and iron fisted captaining grouch and one of the greatest players the country as produced.

You could understand why someone like Clarke wouldn’t want to captain Ponting.

Yet now Ponting has stepped down from the top job and thrown the ball back into Clarke’s court.

What will Clarke do?

Can he walk into the job, swing his power around and say, sorry old man, this is the future, you are the past, thanks, but no thanks.

Or should he try and look like he doesn’t give a shit about Ricky, that he has hardly noticed Ricky even exists, and that Ricky is just another face in the crowd that Michael Clarke needs to mould in order to bring Australia back to glory.

The third option is for Clarke to get hypnotised and so that instead of seeing Ponting he sees Walter Matthau grumbling in the corner of the changeroom.

I think it’s great that Ponting thinks so much of Clarke that he is willing to really test him at the start of his reign as captain.

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Take the collar off Clarke

Michael Clarke should not be the next captain of Australia.  I’ve said this for longer than it’s been fashionable.

I don’t see him as a natural leader of men and I’ve seen enough tactical decisions from him in the field to not feel comfortable with that side of him either.

It should be mentioned that I don’t factor in his tattoos, boring ass twitter feed, who he dates, what he does with his hair, the magazines he’s in, the trendy café he eats at or even what car he drives when looking at him as a captain.  You can run the team from a beachside café with a shit hair cut just as well as you can from a diner with a cap on.

My problems with his captaincy have almost nothing to do with the reasons he seems to be hated.  If he wore a pirate earring, read Sylvia Path on the balcony and only talked to people who watched modern day French Films I wouldn’t hate him more, or think he would be less of a captain.

All I can go on is his past actions.

He has publicly stated he would never captain Ricky Ponting.  Making it sound like he was scared of leading him.  I want a captain who would at least publicly say he would captain a sabre tooth tiger if he was picked.

He has said at times he doesn’t always feel comfortable going to Ricky Ponting with suggestions.  He’s the Vice Captain of Australia; this isn’t some title you get when you’ve sold 100 whoppers.  It means something, and he should be chipping in, especially when he sees Ricky losing it.

He wouldn’t change his game for T20 cricket.  In real terms I care almost nothing that he played bad T20 cricket, but in the larger worldview, if he can’t change his game for his team when it is needed, that is a problem.

His apology for not walking.  I appreciate a man who apologises.  Too many people never do.  But don’t apologise for not walking.  Apologise for wasting our time, yes, but you don’t for walking. You’re Australian, that is fine, don’t apologise for that.  And if you are going to apologise, do it like a man and do it in front of the press core, not via twitter 12 seconds after play.

His lack of appearances at the press conferences during the Ashes.  Clarke did not appear at a close of play press conference until the 4th test.  Watson, Haddin and Hussey all came out on days when Australia was pummelled and they did little to justify walking out.  He should have come out before Melbourne.

His role in the Andrew Symonds outing.  It never felt right, and he has never spoken about it publicly.  It seems like it was more personality based than fishing based, and he was the captain in charge at the time.

I know nothing about him.  I follow him on twitter.  Read all the cricket press. Watch his interviews. Have been to his press conferences.  And have followed his career since the day he began, and other than he likes fast cars and is a bit metrosexual I know nothing about him at all.

How can this be?

Who is Michael Clarke? What does he believe in?  Who does he vote for?  What pisses him off?  Does anything piss him off?  Is he embarrassed by his public acts of affection for Lara?  Why did he wait until Lara was in a bind before leaving her?  Does he like leg slips?  How does he believe Mitchell Johnson should be handled?  Why so many bowling changes in Sydney?  How will he fix over rates?  Would he be a better captain than Cameron White?  Has he read Mike Brearley’s captaincy book?  Does he believe in human cloning?  Will his back ever be truly healed? Is he nervous or energetic?  Why should he be the next captain of Australia?

I just want to know who he is.  Perhaps he is the right man for Australia; perhaps they need a yuppie (© Crash Craddock) captain right now.  Maybe they need him.  He is a man who has reshaped his game on 3 separate occasions to make it as an international cricketer.  Someone who left a tour to get his life in order, only to return and make his highest test score. And someone who stated desperately that he never wanted to be dropped from the test side.

That is the most I know of Clarke, that he didn’t want to be dropped, and that desperation to stay in the side.  It was the most human I’ve ever seen him.  And although it was a bit depressing at the time, it showed that he has a fire inside him, there is a desperate ugly will to succeed in there, I want more of that and less of his corporate image.

Enough of this ghosted corporate cardboard cut-out, bring out Michael Clarke so we can see if we actually like him or not. Because it seems the image that has been carefully created is not working.

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twas the night before boxing day…

‘Twas the night before Boxing day, when all through the house

Not a creature was stirring, not even a Strauss;

The bats were knocked in and oiled with care,

In hopes that Mark Nicholas would never be there;

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,

While visions of cover drives danced in their heads;

And Richie is his jacket, and Punter in his cap,

Had just settled down for a long summer’s nap,

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,

Punter sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.

Away to the window he flew like a flash,

Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

When, what to Punter’s squinty eyes should appear,

But an Ian Chappell, and a barrel of beer,

Chappelli’s mouth was so lively and quick,

“Open up you little dick”.

Then he yelled and the others came,

And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;

“Now, Bill! now, Steve! now, Mark and Bob!

On, Kim! on Graham! on, Greg and AB!

To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!

Now drink away! Drink away! drink away all!”

They drank so fast it was if they flew,

Laughing and abusing Mark Nicholas too.

And then, in a twinkling, Punter heard on the roof

The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.

As Punter drew in his head, and was turning around,

Down the chimney Mark Nicholas came with a hound.

He was dressed all in trendy clothes from his head to his foot,

And his body hair had long since gone caput;

A bundle of baggage he had flung on his back,

And he looked like metro with a fresh shaved sack.

He was skinny and shady and hung like an elf,

And Punter laughed when he saw him, in spite of himself;

A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,

He let punter know he had nothing to dread;

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,

And started tweeting platitudes like a complete jerk,

And then Chappelli punched his nose,

And the others stood around him, trying to impose;

He sprang to his car, as the blood ran out,

And young pup cried like a small scout.

But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,

“Happy Boxing day to all, I’ll captain Australia out of spite.”

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