The definition of funky captaincy seems to only be truly known by Shane Warne. But moving all the fielders back to ensure that Michael Clarke is on strike to Stuart Broad should surely be considered funky captaincy. It is psychological, innovative and attacking.
Surely when Clarke came in, he wasn’t expecting to be treated like a tailender? Clarke was expecting England to poke his flaw with a stick, but maybe not so hard.
What was more predictable was Broad coming on. It could have also been funky, but it had to happen despite the fact Broad had just finished a spell of bowling. Broad had a short leg and a leg slip, so Clarke knew what was coming. When it did, he pulled it.
Clarke has a pull shot, but he wouldn’t generally play it to the tenth ball he faces. The next ball he was at it again. Two fours in two balls. It was a bit different to how he played the short ball in the first innings when he looked like an osteoarthritis-riddled octogenarian who walked into a game of cricket by accident.
The first pull had authority, the second one nervous energy, but he’d conquered something. Perhaps not his back, as he still didn’t need to be twisting all the way, but he no longer looked like the target that Broad has been flicking darts at for six Tests.
The next over he played a back foot push as pretty as anything you will ever see, or at least as pretty as any three played in Test cricket this year. Broad bowled three more balls at him, one short that Clarke pulled to the sweeper on the boundary (a decidedly less funky move by Cook). James Anderson was taken off as well and Clarke was set.
The problem with Clarke is once he is set, you sort of have to wait for him to leave. At the last Gabba Test, had it been timeless, he’d still be out there batting. At the Gabba he’s averaging over a hundred with five centuries. The short ball didn’t work, he wasn’t tested enough with full balls outside off stump, and the next best way to get Clarke out is when he walks down the wicket and misses a spinner when he’s scored well more than a hundred. That is how England eventually got him. By then, any hope of a miracle victory was well gone.
It was Graeme Swann who took the wicket, it was his first. After 20.5 overs, Swann had 1 for 112. At the declaration he’d improved that too 2 for 135 off 27. Swann has travelled the world and been very successful. But in Australia, like many offspinners before him, he’s not the same creature. Australian pitches eat up the best finger spinners, and other than success at the Adelaide Oval, Swann has been another casualty so far.
Clarke, and David Warner, played him like he was a part timer brought on to improve the over rate. When Swann finally removed Clarke, he mocked the fact he’d taken a wicket. As he took George Bailey’s wicket, he seemed to say “two-fer”. But Bailey’s wicket probably deserved more than Swann mocking himself, as it was his 250th Test wicket, making him the third quickest there for England, and at an average of 28.
Yet in this match he’s been out-bowled by Nathan Lyon and even at times Joe Root. At one stage Swann was so desperate he asked for a review of a ball that Warner had middled.
Swann’s form at the Gabba is really the anti-Clarke. His first four overs here last time went for 34 runs. In the first innings of that Test he ended with 2 for 128. It’s as if the Gabba doesn’t like him. Some have suggested using more over spin, but it’s not as if that’s the easiest thing for a spinner to do. Although at times trying that might have been preferable to just looking disappointed that his fielders couldn’t cut off the runs almost every single ball. It’s not as if Swann is the only offspinner to have struggled at the Gabba. In the whole history of Test Cricket here, only six offspinners have taken produced five wicket hauls.
The combination of Clarke finding his feet, on his favourite ground, against Swann bowling on a pitch that hates him, when he was in a shocking mood, while his team was losing, against a guy who plays spin really well, meant that Clarke raced to his hundred and Swann had the sort of day Clarke did on day one. Clarke overcame his flaw, and rubbed salt in Swann’s at the same time.