Michael Jeh March 17, 2010

The Clarke and Bingle saga

Michael Clarke's press conference today was sensible, understated and realistic

The best thing about Clarke's press conference was that he was prepared to accept that life in the spotlight is part of the social contract that an international sportsman has to deal with © Getty Images

Fair play to Michael Clarke; despite enduring a trying week, he has, thus far, maintained a dignity that has so far escaped just about everybody else involved in the B Grade soap opera that has been his life in the last few days.

His press conference today was sensible, understated and realistic. The best thing about it was that he was prepared to accept that life in the spotlight is part of the social contract that an international sportsman has to deal with. For that admission alone, he may yet escape the worst of the media attention that might otherwise have been directed at him – it’s almost like he’s disarmed the media by giving them the gun and removing his bulletproof vest. It takes a cad and a bounder to shoot an unarmed man!

I’m not one of those who feels particularly sorry for him, nor do I get any real satisfaction from seeing his personal life in mild turmoil. To be honest, it doesn’t particularly interest me one way or the other. When he first started dating Lara Bingle, I was one of those who doubted it would last because I doubted the whole “true love” thing that the cheap magazines promoted. Nonetheless, it has nothing whatsoever to do with my life, so if sports stars want to date pretty girls who set their stall out to catch high-profile husbands, that’s their business. Good or bad. Just don’t complain too much when it goes pear-shaped. Not that Clarke can be accused of that. Good on him.

As far as real drama or tragedy goes, it hardly rates a mention on the world scale. Clarke effectively admits as much by not making a mountain of a molehill and accepting that he will inevitably face some sledging from the crowds in New Zealand and perhaps the opposition players too. One really can’t control what the crowd will dish out but it would be a sad thing if the Black Caps turn this incident into a sledge-fest on the field. Cricket is a nobler game than that and Clarke himself is not the most abrasive character in the Australian set up so it would be a credit to Vettori and his lads if they can rise above the cheap shots and just play cricket. In fact, that in itself may unsettle Clarke more; he may well be steeling himself for some cruel taunts and it may play with his mind if the New Zealand fielders say absolutely nothing on the Bingle front.

In Brisbane’s main Sunday newspaper, an excellent writer by the name of Peter Badel wrote a fascinating piece on the Michael Clarke brand and how his management went to some lengths to position him favourably in the public eye. As far as management teams go, Clarke is looked after by one of the best in the business so it was no surprise that it was a carefully planned strategy, replete with flow-charts and statistics and marketing plans, all of it aimed at giving the Australian public a look at the “real Michael Clarke”. Reading the article, it seemed a bit odd that this sort of information was made public. After all, if the intent was to promote him as a normal, everyday sort of bloke who wasn’t the flashy, blonde-tipped pretty boy that the media sometimes portrayed him as, surely letting on that this was all going to be achieved through a sophisticated brand strategy was almost going to have the opposite effect.

Likewise, I think Clarke missed a trick by allowing the engagement split to be announced via a short statement issued by his manager. I reckon it would have been more effective had it been done by him personally in front of the cameras, even if it was followed by a comment like: “I’m sure you’ll understand that this is a difficult time for Lara and myself. We’re hurting inside and we’d really appreciate a few days to deal with this in private”. He might have copped a few awkward questions but generally speaking, even the most hardened journo might have actually softened a bit and left him alone.

Perhaps that’s exactly why he’s come out today and said publicly that he fully expects a bit of stick from the crowd. I think the reverse psychology thing’s a smart move.

Not much else over this whole saga has been particularly smart. Whoever disseminated those compromising photographs of Lara is lower than a snake’s belly for treating any lady like that. Lara’s pleas for privacy sound a bit strange from someone whose entire career was founded on forcing her publicity on us when we didn’t even know who she was a few years ago. Her claims of naivety and wide-eyed innocence were diluted somewhat when it was revealed that she had no such diminutive qualities when it came to dating a very publicly married man with young children. And to top it all off, giving ‘the bird’ to the media just about sealed her fate – no brand strategist could possibly see how that photo wouldn’t come back to haunt her if she ever became the First Lady of Australian cricket. After all, we now know that love comes second to personal brand.

All in all, not much good has come of any of this apart from such cheap jokes on the Internet and a weird fascination with the private lives of sports stars. Personally, I’m more interested in Clarke’s cover drive than what is under his coverlet but it was almost impossible to ignore the media frenzy that this ridiculous circus generated. Let’s just hope that the New Zealand lads can show a bit of class and take cricket back to decent heights by staying true to their integrity as fellow-professional colleagues. Leave the gutter-stuff to any drunken idiots in the crowd and just play cricket.

Mind you, the prize for best sign from the crowd still belongs to that erstwhile chap from Hamilton a few days ago: “Clarkey, where the bloody hell are you?”

Now that’s clever. Even Clarkey must have seen the funny side of that.

Michael Jeh is an Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, and a Playing Member of the MCC. He lives in Brisbane