March 12, 2010

Clarke's next move the most important

By making it to New Zealand in time for the opening Test, Michael Clarke will re-affirm his credentials to be Ricky Ponting's eventual replacement

Over the weekend Michael Clarke will provide more proof that he has the attributes to be Australia's next Test captain. During the past five days Clarke has been everywhere but with his team. Instead his relationship with his fiancée Lara Bingle forced him home to Sydney, where every facial expression is being interpreted by gossip columnists and sports followers.

The liaison has been on and off more than a thigh pad according to the rumours, but what matters to Clarke and his cricket is when he gets to New Zealand. By making it there in time for next Friday's opening Test in Wellington he will re-affirm his credentials to be Ricky Ponting's eventual replacement. If a 28-year-old vice-captain can tidy up this sort of mess he can deal with anything that happens in the game.

Unless something even more damaging than a break-up occurs - his partner is a young 22 and facing the glare of a nation - Clarke will be listed at No. 5 at the Basin Reserve. "It's currently a question of when, not if, he rejoins the squad," a source close to the team said on Friday.

Cricket Australia has been supportive by giving Clarke time off during an episode few can understand. Over the two years of his engagement to Bingle, Clarke has become the team's paparazzi player, a role which can create jealousy and divisions.

With the glamorous Bingle on one arm and a firing Slazenger in the other, Clarke joined and embraced the sporting and entertainment A-list. Together they have become almost omnipresent, featuring in television, internet and magazine advertisements while launching their own drink brand. They play some cricket and do photo shoots as well.

The point of over-exposure came earlier in the month when a nude picture of Bingle, which was taken by a former boyfriend, was published. In the steam of publicity, horror, legal action and cheque-book journalism, Clarke left the squad in New Zealand to wade through the trouble with his fiancée. And then it became even more complicated.

The sole focus on the team has been lost briefly for Clarke's personal gain. Some commentators have said he can't have a high-maintenance girlfriend and captain the Test side. Former players have been surprised at him being allowed to leave the squad for a relationship matter.

Confronting the former captain Allan Border, who is so cuddly and opinion-less in his television commentary role, for time off in those circumstances would never have been contemplated. Life is different now. Partners are not handbags.

One former Test batsman has the mantra "Happy wife, happy life". Sure it's patronising to the partner, but for players who spend most of the year away from home it is necessary to develop a way of maintaining a relationship. A settled family means a less distracted cricket tourist.

Club players in new liaisons quickly learn the tensions created by spending entire Saturdays standing in a field. International cricket is riddled with broken marriages due to the dysfunctional lifestyle of regular, extended travel. Whether Clarke's goes the same way is between him and Bingle.

Calling off the engagement will not prove Clarke's suitability for captaincy, but negotiating through these difficulties will. If he becomes the side's leader he will be a chief counsellor on every tour for cricket and family matters. Whatever the outcome, this episode will help him eventually.

A publicity-hungry model - or any sort of partner - should not prevent a person from getting a job or leading the country's cricket team. Even if she flips the bird to television cameras, as Bingle did this week from the balcony of their beachfront apartment. Cricket Australia's boardroom has become less stuffy with the appointments of Mark Taylor and Matthew Hayden, but previous players have been hurt for less.

In 1956 the fast bowler Pat Crawford was prevented from travelling to England on the same boat as his pregnant wife. She had to go on another ship and he had to walk out on the team to attend the birth. By the end of the Ashes tour the marriage was over.

Shane Warne's after-hours excesses cost him the Test captaincy but in Clarke's situation he is trying to make everything neat, not worse. In cricket terms the scandal is him doing the best thing by himself and his partner, not the team or country. So far he has pulled out of a couple of one-day internationals, the game's most disposable form. The next step is the crucial one.

Two years ago Clarke arrived late to the West Indies tour, missing the first Test after Bingle's father died. He stayed back to support her and arrived for the second match to score a century. There is room in cricket for sensitivity and success. Another mature contribution in Wellington next week will allow Clarke to write off a horrible period and prove he is qualified as Ponting's successor.

Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Steve on March 12, 2010, 21:21 GMT

    To all the single males commenting here who have never represented your country in elite level sport: "It's none of your damn business what Michael Clarke does in his private life". Also your opinions about what he and his employer (Cricket Australia) have agreed is his best course of action are completely irrelevant.

  • Matt on March 12, 2010, 18:44 GMT

    What a baby.He should be allowed home for family death or serious illness/injury and that's it.The bloke is'nt commited to his country, he needs to think on how lucky he is to get paid to play cricket and show some bottle.

  • Bala Gangadhar on March 12, 2010, 15:33 GMT

    I am surprised at such a indifferent attitude of the author. It is for Michael to decide if he needs Lara in his life or not. Professional cricketers sure know the value of a stable relationship for a career. Michael is trying to comfort his friend in need. Why are we trying to question his commitment to the game of cricket. Remember Cricket is just a part of life but I am sure it not as important as a person you care for. He may play cricket probably for another 10 years and I'm sure Cricket Australia has some level headed gentlemen who will look at this not as non commitment to cricket but as a commitment to his life. Peter, it is my sincere suggestion to understand the importance of people in life before you write another article that deals with any form of relatinship. I agree no one is bigger than the game but life is much larger than cricket and to ensure you get full value out of it, you cannot concentrate just on a career.

  • Taij on March 12, 2010, 15:18 GMT

    What a mess ! In the end, he will have to choose either Cricket or Bingle, for this relationship will affect his playing internationally. His mind will be elsewhere while on tour and it will do emense damage to his team and mates, much more if he is made captain. If he chooses Bingle,(perfectly OK) then he must give up his campaign for the captaincy and playing Test Cricket for Australia. Ask Thorpe(England) for advise.

    Bingle will mingle and the cameras will tingle and when you see, it will mangle you. Good luck pup, you deserve better.

  • Vineet on March 12, 2010, 14:39 GMT

    Trust me folks Lara bingle deserves attention... :) I mean come on, any normal human being would do that... who cares about a bunch of useless ODIs... Every team plays 35-40 ODIs yearly. Why can't some one miss few of them for a girlfriend like Lara Bingle. Be realistic.

  • Ian on March 12, 2010, 11:40 GMT

    Personally I dont care about ANY of the players personal lives. The only thing I want to know about the players is how they are playing. I do not care about Bingle, I did not care about Simone... Should Clarke be captain should have absolutely nothing to do with anything but the attributes as Billy stated above.

  • Prashant on March 12, 2010, 11:31 GMT

    Breaking news : Michael Clarke is playing the upcoming 2 match Test series...but in my PC :)

  • ankur on March 12, 2010, 11:11 GMT

    Wow never seen this sort of stuff happening before..........what happens if she gets pregnant? will he take paternal leave for 5-6 months?

  • Adrian on March 12, 2010, 11:00 GMT

    Michael Clarke was great at Under 19 level, captaining Shane Watson well in the Under 19 team, and could have the chance to do it again at senior level, where Shane Watson is finally living up to his potential, and, as a former captain, perhaps Michael Clarke is the man to lead him. Oddly enough, another former under 19 star, Nathan Hauritz, is also starting to do well, and again Clarke's leadership should do wonders. Clarke's technique and record overall probably isn't good enough to comfortably make the team, which should be a criteria for a good captain, but his captaincy skills themselves are superior to any of the others in the same boat. Watson, certainly, lacks the level-headedness required, similarly with Johnson. Clarke may end up being a "professional captain", like Mark Taylor, but perhaps that is exactly what Australia needs. As for Lara Bingle, he probably should dump her, to be honest. She is not worth the hassle.

  • Dummy4 on March 12, 2010, 9:51 GMT

    Wow! How abt this? Clarke minds his life and we ours! Cant believe that I am reading such a regressive article in Cricinfo. I am no fan of Clarke but this is the lows of news-making

  • No featured comments at the moment.