South Africa in Australia 2012-13

Clarke's captaincy forged in South Africa

Daniel Brettig

November 5, 2012

Comments: 35 | Text size: A | A

Michael Clarke celebrates his ton, South Africa v Australia, 1st Test, Cape Town, 1st day, November 9, 2011
Michael Clarke braved a grassy pitch and the formidable South African attack to crash a bold 151 at Newlands © AFP
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As the pundits assemble their predictions for the series between Australia and South Africa, a glance at the last meeting leaves as many questions as answers. A 1-1 stalemate across two hectic Tests in Cape Town and Johannesburg, the series was over all too quickly.

In Dale Steyn's words: "It was like the first two rounds of a boxing match, two heavyweights. Just as soon as we found our feet the Aussies were on their way home."

The Australians were relieved to be doing so, for the result they secured had arrived despite the most chaotic back-room environment imaginable. The Tests took place in between the announcement of the Argus Review's caustic findings and the finalisation of the new coaching staff, selection panel and team performance regime. The dressing room was in a state of considerable flux, with the captain Michael Clarke virtually the only man sure to be there in the long-term.

A few weeks from becoming national coach, Mickey Arthur was still with Western Australia - Troy Cooley a reluctant interim mentor after the departure of Tim Nielsen. Two of Cooley's assistants, Justin Langer and Steve Rixon, were applicants for the senior job. The new bowling coach, Craig McDermott, was trying to instill methods far removed from those advocated by Cooley over the previous five years.

Gavin Dovey, the team manager, was less than six months into the job after replacing Steve Bernard. And Andrew Hilditch was serving out his final tour as part-time chairman of selectors, his replacement John Inverarity making a visit to observe. Pat Howard, the newly-minted team performance manager, also dropped by.

Looking back, Clarke told ESPNcricinfo the difficulties of that tour, and the trip to Sri Lanka that preceded it, were the making of his captaincy. Having secured strong results on those two tours, Clarke reasoned that things could not get too much more difficult, and the establishment of a settled support network around him will be a decided advantage entering the return bout with South Africa, this time to be played over a more satisfactory three Tests.

"That's really been forgotten, the fact we had so many changes in that South African series and even in Sri Lanka, but we managed to still have success," Clarke said. "I'll never forget that, I'll never forget the work and the time I had to put in to try to bring the team together to perform against such a good team in their own backyard. Credit to the players, because their attitude, their work ethic, their will to try to help the team win, was what managed to help us to win in Sri Lanka and then also level the series in South Africa.

"We're in a better place now, that's for sure, but so are South Africa probably. They'll be flying high in confidence after beating England. We've got to play our best cricket, if we play our best cricket I'm confident. Last summer I said I was confident we could beat India if we played our best, and I feel exactly the same now. If we play at our best against South Africa in these conditions, we can beat them."

Clarke's evolution as a leader made another important step between Cape Town and Johannesburg. On day one of the first Test he played as well as he ever had, braving a grassy pitch and the formidable South African attack to crash a bold 151. At the time it felt like an innings that would not be forgotten, yet by the end of the second day it was ancient history. A maelstrom of wickets, 23 in all, had seen Australia toss away their advantage and South Africa sprinting to victory. If he had been considered a singular individual in the past, Clarke now knew beyond all doubt that as captain, he would be defined by his team's results.

"Personally I think it's probably the best hundred I've made for Australia," Clarke said. "I needed to make runs for the team, they had a very good fast bowling attack in conditions that suited fast bowling, and while I managed to get through my first 10 balls I think I got hit in the head three or four times, hit in the gloves another six times or so, and I managed to turn that around and score some runs.

"But when I say that I think it's my best Test hundred, it's one of the most irrelevant Test hundreds because of how the game panned out. I was very disappointed in the second innings, I didn't make many runs. I'd just scored 150 so I was the one player who was in form and I needed to make runs in that second innings. I'll never be happy, however many runs I've made I want to make more. I'm greedy when it comes to batting, I want to keep making runs and help this team win. If we're not winning, you won't see me happy, that's for sure."

 
 
'When I say that I think it's my best Test hundred, it's one of the most irrelevant Test hundreds because of how the game panned out. I was very disappointed in the second innings.' Michael Clarke on last year's Cape Town Test
 

So Clarke was a nervous man throughout the Johannesburg Test, which began with the mighty gamble on the 18-year-old Pat Cummins' debut. It ebbed and flowed, albeit at a slightly more leisurely pace than Cape Town, and Clarke's batting contribution was minimal: 11 and 2. He achieved plenty in the field, coaxing a remarkable display out of Cummins and also making the most of Nathan Lyon's spin on a surface not expected to favour spinners.

By the end, when Cummins coshed the winning boundary with just two wickets to spare, Clarke was mentally exhausted. But he was also delighted, and the matter of how many runs he had scored simply did not matter. Out of a chaotic beginning, his team was on the way up.

"My value on winning has always been the same, do whatever the team needs you to do to win. If you need to try to hit your first ball for six, because that's what the team needs, then you do that. That hasn't changed over the years, I've always felt that way," Clarke said. "I guess it re-emphasised that, it showed me that I'd rather get a duck and win.

"When you're younger you don't see things that way, it's one of the things Ricky told me when I took over the captaincy, he said you'll see the team have success and that'll give you as much if not more joy than your own performance, and that is 100% true. Jo'burg is a great example, I didn't score many runs in that game, but the fact that we still won, I enjoyed that a lot more than making 150 in Cape Town."

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by dunger.bob on (November 8, 2012, 4:01 GMT)

I'm impressed with Clarkes captaincy so far. There is a fluidity to it that was lacking under Ricky. Clarke will try things whereas Ricky seemed to stick doggedly to "the plan" even if it had not been working all day. Clarke will set an unorthodox field, make a bizarre bowling change or come up with some other tactic to try to get out of a rut far earlier than Ricky ever would. Clarke may occassionally get carried away and make too many changes, but I'd prefer that to sitting back on your heels for too long. 9/10 from me so far.

Posted by Meety on (November 8, 2012, 1:44 GMT)

@Bollo on (November 06 2012, 15:54 PM GMT) - he's a confused individual our OzzyHammond. He thinks he lives in Oz!

Posted by Bollo on (November 6, 2012, 15:54 GMT)

Oh Hammond - Ponting at No.3 since S.Waugh retired, 6500 runs at 51...not to mention the most dominant batting line-up of all-time. You really would enjoy an Australian loss more than an English win in these next series wouldn@t you...very sad really.

Posted by couchpundit on (November 6, 2012, 13:43 GMT)

Yeah Mr.Clarke...when an non-team man like you ascends to top position, thats the main thing you have to do. You started your captaincy by taking out very good opener from Australian cricket. Talk of Irony.

Posted by Hammond on (November 6, 2012, 12:50 GMT)

@Meety- Australia haven't had a world class batting lineup (let alone a number 3) since Steven Waugh retired.

Posted by Meety on (November 6, 2012, 10:02 GMT)

@TommytuckerSaffa on (November 06 2012, 06:17 AM GMT) - they haven't always.

Posted by truebleue_cricfan on (November 6, 2012, 8:54 GMT)

'I'd rather get a duck and win'....perhaps Sachin Tendulkar needs to read this.

Posted by Hammond on (November 6, 2012, 8:45 GMT)

Can't wait for the carnage to begin next Friday. Maybe all of the Aussie spectators will get up and leave like they did in Brisbane in 2010?

Posted by TommytuckerSaffa on (November 6, 2012, 6:17 GMT)

@meety. SA have a world class No.3 already in the Almight HASHIM AMLA (all hail, all hail to Hashim) so your argument is flawed. Clarke is scared of the new ball.

Posted by Mary_786 on (November 6, 2012, 5:43 GMT)

@Ross_fleming i agee with you bud, I also heard Clarke's encouragement for Khawja's man of the match innngs and to me that was good because he was the captain of the opposing team but he was putting his selector and National captain hat before any other role. He will lead us well this year.

Posted by   on (November 6, 2012, 5:18 GMT)

Micheal Clarke - One of the best captains to me !!!

Posted by BravoBravo on (November 6, 2012, 2:22 GMT)

Clarke is a very promising captain and a prolific batsman but he has way to go before he matches the to the caliber of THE REAL CENTURION, Mr. Ponting (winner of more than hundred test matches). Ponting is a match winner, like Lara and Inzamam who could single handedly win the match for their team. SA so far does not have a match winner like them. SA is very good in playing very first test match of any series, after that they kind of fade out as the series progresses. This SA team is well balanced, and ofcourse they are #1 but in my opinion AUS is going to WIN the series. Nonetheless, it will be a hard fought and entertaining series worth to watch.

Posted by KhanMitch on (November 6, 2012, 2:21 GMT)

Clarke has done a wonderful job as captain so far even though I wasn't sure when they got rid of Punter as skipper. I went to the NSW vs Qld game and one thing i noticed was that even though he was NSW skipper he appreciated good peformances from the opposition in his positive comments for Khawaja's batting and Burns batting.

Posted by Sunil_Batra on (November 6, 2012, 2:19 GMT)

@Edwards_L agree with you mate, Clarke has been a good captain but in that record chase it was Khawaja and Punter who top scored not Hughes, though i agree wiht you that Clarke is a very good leader for the younger players coming through such as Khawaja, Hughes and Warner

Posted by Meety on (November 5, 2012, 23:29 GMT)

@TommytuckerSaffa on (November 05 2012, 19:40 PM GMT) - so is that Kallis's excuse too?

Posted by TommytuckerSaffa on (November 5, 2012, 19:40 GMT)

Thats it Clarkie, keep batting yourself at 4 and 5 so you keep facing the old ball....Too scared to bat 3

Posted by Ragav999 on (November 5, 2012, 18:16 GMT)

People wrote Australia off halfway through 1999 World cup,before 2007 World Cup, 2nd Test in Johanessburg after 47 all out. We all know what happened afterwards.

Posted by bouncedout on (November 5, 2012, 16:48 GMT)

There is no possible way that Aus can win this series

Posted by LordKratos on (November 5, 2012, 14:44 GMT)

Clarke is still learning, he should be happy just to get the chance to test his team against this super saffa side, a test win for him would be a bonus

Posted by Bollo on (November 5, 2012, 14:28 GMT)

@maddy20. SL away was Clarke`s first full series as captain and Oz became only the 3rd team to beat Sri Lanka at home in 23 series, over more than a decade. Only one other nation, Pakistan, (recently defeated in a 3-test series in SL btw) has won there in that time - a major achievement indeed, particularly after Australia`s previous test series - the humbling Ashes defeat.

Neither India nor South Africa have won a series in SL for 20 years, why wouldn`t Clarke be proud?

Posted by Clan_McLachlan on (November 5, 2012, 14:26 GMT)

That 151 was some of the best batting I've ever seen.

Posted by maddy20 on (November 5, 2012, 12:57 GMT)

I cannot believe that Clarke has considered , the series win in SL has a major achievement. The Lankans , have not won a test series against any opposition in a long long time(about 2.5- 3 years), either at home or away. We know their away record is nearly as bad as Bangladesh but their home record in the recent past has been absymal to say the least! But glad that the positive mindset he instilled in the team had got the job done.

Posted by Hammond on (November 5, 2012, 12:53 GMT)

Will be funny to see how the headlines will read after the next two ashes series. I wonder if everyone will be so complimentary to MC then?

Posted by Josh0070016 on (November 5, 2012, 12:41 GMT)

Michael Clarke is a good Captain, but he is still learning as a captain, he still has a long way to go to match with guys like Border, Waugh,Loyde,Smith, and Pointing.

Posted by Spelele on (November 5, 2012, 12:08 GMT)

@Edwards_A: while Clarke is definitely a good captain, I think his captaincy is a tad over-hyped! One has only to look at your comment to see this. When did Hughes score an 80 odd in a run chase (on account of some unknown clandestine 'motivation' from Clarke!) in that series that you are referring to? You don't have to make things up to hype up your players!

Clarke has been hailed as an attacking captain, but we haven't really seen him being tested (the mostly excellent bowling by his bowlers, and the dominantly weak batting line-ups that he has faced have ensured this). The one possible time that he was really tested is in the SA series during the SA run-chase in the remarkable Cape Town Test. SA cruised to victory and ended on 230 odd for 2. Where was his so-called 'inspired' captaincy then?

I have a feeling that by the end of the series, Clarke's adorers might be singing a different tune. Having said that, all the best to these two very good sides :)

Posted by Spelele on (November 5, 2012, 11:51 GMT)

Lol Marcio, get over it! Stop moaning about an apparent 'chest-beating' by SA fans which only you seem so be aware of, and on each and every article where no such chest-beating is taking place!

Even if there was some chest-beating, South Africans would be fully entitled to do this! We are tired of a long history where Australians thought they were the only ones entitled to voicing their support for their team, just because Australian teams were dominant. Now that the scales are even, anyone and everyone can boast. That won't change anytime soon, so get over it!

Posted by Paul_Rampley on (November 5, 2012, 11:39 GMT)

I still remember when we got out on 49 against South Afria and then the next game under Clarke's captaincy we chased down a record 300 total, that for me was fantastic leadership by Clarke. Khawaja's 80 odd and Hughes 70 odd in chasing that total only came because Clarke was there to motivate the youngsters in the team. With talen such as Doolan, Khawaja, Hughes, Burns things are starting to look postive for Aus from a batting viewpoint as well.

Posted by Mary_786 on (November 5, 2012, 11:32 GMT)

Clarke has done a wonderful job as captain. He was the first captain to bring in a sub continent player in Khawaja in the team and that was fantastic for the game in Australia. As a leader he leads by example and I know we will be in safe hands under him in the big series against South Africa and in the Ashes next year.

Posted by Saffie1987 on (November 5, 2012, 11:17 GMT)

How does it feel to be on the side of the fence for once Marcio? Don't tell me that "some" Australian Fans didn't do the same in the past!?? Just deal with it!

Posted by Highflyer_GP on (November 5, 2012, 11:16 GMT)

@Marcio: you're the only one who's been moaning in all these articles. I've seen chest-beating from Aussie fans too, makes for good banter. Didn't think I would need to explain that to an Aussie.

Posted by sfarazi on (November 5, 2012, 11:11 GMT)

There is so much talent out there in the ranks waiting to be given a proper chance to play for Australia. Ponting, i'm afraid, isn't the same Ponting which is ony natural considering his age so it's high time that new players are given a chance to support players such as Michael Clarke. In my opinion, Australia can't really go back to that Golden era with players like Gilchrist, Hayden, Warne etc but they can at least nurture the talent that is there. Perhaps bring in Khawaja because he's playing some quality cricket in tough conditions.

Posted by Eskimo on (November 5, 2012, 10:37 GMT)

@Marcio. To be honest, not too many SA fans are boasting about mopping the floor with AUS. We are expecting a tougher fight from AUS than ENG put up. I think SA played well against ENG, aswell ENG played poorly. Similar to the previous Ashes you could say. Those boasters might just be English supporters bashing Aussies to soften the blow of the previous SA series against them. I can assure you, no SA supporter will underestimate AUS, especially in their backyard. Although SA won the series last time and AUS were favorites. It has changed since then.

Posted by   on (November 5, 2012, 10:17 GMT)

Yeah right Michael . So you dont mind not scoring runs as long as your team is winning ? Lets see how long that feeling lasts when you eventually have a barren run .

Posted by SurlyCynic on (November 5, 2012, 9:44 GMT)

It's amazing how Australia's batting has changed over the years. They used to have 6 batsmen of Clarke's quality, now he is head and shoulders above the rest and they're struggling to find test standard batsmen. Still, the bowling is competitive in home conditions so the series should be interesting.

Posted by Marcio on (November 5, 2012, 9:40 GMT)

Nice to read a positive article amidst all the doom and gloom reports, and the relentless chestbeating of SA fans who think SA have the series sown up 3-0 already. Clarke will need all the capatincy skills he can muster, given the abysmal preparation for the series. It's been even worse than the last Ashes series. Looks like CA has not leaned anything. Mind you, to be fair, it has been the Champions League which has been the main source of the problem, which wasn't entirely their fault.

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Daniel Brettig Assistant editor Daniel Brettig had been a journalist for eight years when he joined ESPNcricinfo, but his fascination with cricket dates back to the early 1990s, when his dad helped him sneak into the family lounge room to watch the end of day-night World Series matches well past bedtime. Unapologetically passionate about indie music and the South Australian Redbacks, Daniel's chief cricketing achievement was to dismiss Wisden Almanack editor Lawrence Booth in the 2010 Ashes press match in Perth - a rare Australian victory that summer.
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