Australia v India, 4th Test, Adelaide, 2nd day January 25, 2012

A ruthless yet respectful Clarke works for Australia

Michael Clarke hasn't let things go stale on the field; he has surprised even the most cynical of cynics and has managed to get the right results without changing his ways drastically

In EA Sports' Cricket, the video game, every time you got Michael Clarke to hit a four you heard Mark Nicholas say, in his posh accent, "The blonde bombshell from New South Wales has arrived."

It was just a video game all right. However, it was also a time when Clarke was only just establishing himself as a batsman in the national side, but had been earmarked as the next Australia captain. Nicholas, meanwhile, was gradually becoming the Richie Benaud of Channel Nine. And it just didn't sound right.

Blonde bombshells didn't captain Australia. That image kept taking a further battering whenever Clarke failed to produce an innings of substance when Australia began failing, whenever he suggested he wasn't comfortable in captaining Ricky Ponting out of respect, when he went to Twitter to apologise for not walking, or when his personal issues got the better of his cricket.

All that wouldn't matter, of course, if we didn't think it was coming all too easy for him. His runs seemed to be coming at 3 for 300 rather than at 3 for 80. We wondered if his position as the future Australia captain had been revisited at all. If all that was needed for him to become Australia captain was Ponting's retirement. If this image-conscious, media-savvy good-looking batsman whose ugly fighting trenches were hard to recount would actually be the man to take Australia forward.

Captaincy, though, didn't come easy to Clarke. Or not at an easy time, at any rate. Australian cricket was going through a tough phase having just lost the Ashes at home for the first time in 24 years, Clarke's own place in the batting line-up didn't look that secure, and the initiation was to be a tough one. There would be the 47 all out at Newlands, there would be their first defeat to New Zealand at home in 26 years, he would be leading Ponting, and the team would be in transition.

Clarke has surprised even the most cynical of cynics. That he has become the first captain in the history of the game to score a triple and double-century in the same series is not all of it. He has brought freshness to the captaincy. It would not be an exaggeration to say that he has out-captained the pants off his opposition numbers. He seems to know his bowlers better, and the fields they need. Nathan Lyon has bowled with better fields than R Aswhin in this series. His bowling changes have worked so regularly that it has become scary to shake his hand lest you turn into gold. Admittedly he likes to contain with the tail, like other modern captains, but he doesn't do so by rote.

Clarke hasn't let things go stale on the field. He is forever trying to do something. He has not waited for things to happen. If his fast bowlers - the plan A - haven't delivered for a while, he has been quick to shake things up by bringing Michael Hussey or himself on. In Sydney he got rid of Sachin Tendulkar, when he was close to getting the 100th hundred. The shrewdness that you saw in his bowling when he wasn't the captain has accompanied Clarke the captain too.

Then there has been his batting, which has blossomed with the captaincy. It began with the century in Cape Town when everybody else struggled to score. The triple and the double here have come from 3 for 37 and 3 for 84 respectively. As captain in 12 Tests - the 12th yet unfinished - he has scored 1157 runs at 62.57. Clearly he is relishing the role.

Clarke the captain has been his own man too. Not for him is mental disintegration off the field. He has been ruthless but respectful. Not in any of the press conferences has he said that beating India has been easy, although it has looked so. There haven't been any boasts, which might put pressure on his side or bring closer scrutiny. He doesn't want his team to deviate off the goal of winning every Test match.

You could see in Clarke's press conference that Brad Haddin's comments about India turning on each other easily wasn't something that he condoned. He might have his own views of the opposition, which may or may not concur with Haddin's, but it is unlikely in a year's time that you will see an Australia cricketer make comments in public that could wake up an opposition already sleepwalking through the series.

All through the series Clarke has spoken about his need for earning respect, which suggests he has been conscious that there might have been lack of it among the common man following Australian cricket. A columnist who called him a tosser in 2009-10 wrote after Sydney how he had been forced to re-evaluate his judgement of Clarke's. The respect seems to be coming now, although this is still early days. Most of the modern captains bring a certain freshness when new to the job - MS Dhoni did too - but the endless cricket consumes them. It will be interesting to see how long Clarke manages to retain that freshness.

What is, in an ironical sort of way, more commendable is that Clarke has managed the results without changing his ways drastically. He takes overthrows off his bat, but belatedly apologises and asks if those extra runs can be struck off, reminiscent of the non-walking and Twitter apology. Minutes ago he gave his new bat sponsors proper air time in a press conference, although in response to a direct question about his bat. All that won't matter, though, as long as he is making the tough runs, making the right changes, setting the right fields, and winning Tests for Australia.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Andrew on January 27, 2012, 1:13 GMT

    @ popcorn - IMO, he will be surpass Tubby Taylor as the best captain since Benaud. @ niraj13 - the "reasoning" behind Clarke's running the 2 overthrows was he was supposed to have been annoyed at India appealing. At the end of the day he was remorseful & wanted the runs deducted, which I am surprised couldn't be done, particularly in light of adjustments can be made for boundary saves where the fielder touched the rope.

  • Bhaskar on January 26, 2012, 9:10 GMT

    @ Ponting_the_best - If you single out venues then Ponting has all Indian, Sri Lankan & Pakistan pitches where he has averages akin to a tailender. Ponting is infact the worst batsman with over 10,000 runs when touring sub-continent. LOL

    He is bashing a spineless Indian bowling attack at home. No great deal. India has never been a bowling team abroad, they get walloped most of the time because of their bowlers giving 100s & 200s for out of form batsmen. No wonder India wins very less abroad, as Sunil Gavaskar said once, "it is the bowlers who win matches". India is very poor when bowling pace, they are way too inferior. If India has to win they have to bowl spin everywhere else it will be a pop corn attack & players like ponting will feast on them. Ponting averages 58 at home, 46 away.

  • Dummy4 on January 26, 2012, 7:24 GMT

    Just one of those times and he clearly makes use of them.

  • Dummy4 on January 26, 2012, 2:37 GMT

    unfortunately i disagree with every poster who is ranking ricky as one of our greatest captains. he is one of our premier batsmen behind sir don. certainly. but the loss of the ashes series (x2) bruised an already ,even captaining stint. ricky inherited a decent cricket team from stephen rodger but didnt take them to the heights stephen did. but then again ricky inherited the aussie team which was the most successful team in history in both forms of the game at the time. he was never going to reach the same heights , so maybe we are judging him a bit hard.?? ( except for losing the ashes, unforgivable. ) michael clarks batting this series has been great. his captaining has been good but he has had a good team to work with against a very struggling india team. lets judge him in a few years time. just because he now averages 62 as a captain. before this 600 run plus indian series, he would be lucky to have averaged in the 30's or 40's. oy and stop bashing tendulkar. champion !!

  • Dummy4 on January 26, 2012, 2:30 GMT

    Just a question for those who say it will be interesting to see how Clarke performs when things aren't going his way:

    What do you consider losing a test to NZ and getting bowled out for 47 as a team? Are these considered things going well?

    Why don't you just say what you mean in the first place? You mean how will he go in India if things aren't going well. This is a tired argument from a nation whose team has let them down by showing no fight and completely the wrong attitude.

    I am no big fan of Clarke or the Australians (I'm a Kiwi) but credit where it is due, they have well out performed India who are (prior to the series) ranked higher than Australia.

  • andrews on January 26, 2012, 2:05 GMT

    Clarke hasn't lost a series as captain. One suspects it will be a long time before he does. Watch this spot.

  • Simon on January 26, 2012, 1:23 GMT

    Enjoying some of the Indian fans going on about sportsmanship etc. Upset about the 'boorish' behaviour of Pattinson, Haddin and co. What about the conduct of your own players eh? Sharma hasn't won too many Aussie fans, neither has Kohli with their ridiculous displays, and Zaheer Khan has been giving as good as he got from any Aussie.

  • Mike on January 26, 2012, 1:13 GMT

    Really develiped into a brilliant batsmen. As an Indian I really love watching him bat. Nice to see him come good, at first it seemd as if a player with such great potential would not make it.

  • Dummy4 on January 26, 2012, 0:47 GMT

    it is good to say winning in australia with a b class team,if they come to india or neutral venues they will be smashed by india,they need to pull their weight and learn to play in sporting pitches,otherwise they will have a shameful display like england in india or dubai where they are looking like a sorry lot,as england is going to loose 3-0 to pakistan in uae,same will have to australia in neutral venues and sub-continent.I just am sorry for australian cricket,scared to put pitches with slight spin

  • Dummy4 on January 25, 2012, 23:47 GMT

    Nice article Monga..

    The losses to NZ and South Africa aside Clarke is doing a great job so far.. Time will tell whether he is up there with the greats.. Already he is pushing his average up towards reaching above the 50 mark which is a good sign.. Any true champion, by definition, needs that one key ingredient which truly makes them deserving of the title, and that is CONSISTENCY over time..

    At the moment he is doing all the right things.. Leading from the front, saying all the right things in the press, setting the attacking fields, playing to win, all of the above earning the respect of the Australian cricket fans..

    Now that he's getting an appetite for large scores opposition teams best figure out how to get him out.. The youngster Yadav seems to have found an opening, Other fast bowlers around the world will be analysing the footage for sure..

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