Putting team ahead of self
|When was the last time an out-of-form player said something like "there's no doubt the selectors will need to have a look at my performances"? © Getty Images|
In a recent article I made reference to Michael Clarke's commendable dignity in the face of his much-publicised split with his fiancee. His latest comments after Australia's loss in the World Twenty20 final only serve to reinforce my view that as a person and as a character he shows many admirable qualities that befit the status of the highest sporting office in his country.
What's impressive (and clever) about his frank admissions about his own poor Twenty20 form is that he's coming out and saying what almost everyone is thinking - "I certainly know they [my performances] haven't been up to scratch through this whole tournament and probably in Twenty20 cricket in general," Clarke said after the final defeat in Barbados. "I'm sure the selectors will sit down and have a look and if I'm not the right guy for No. 3 and the captaincy then they'll make that decision." By loading his own gun, he not only displays an honesty that is refreshing but he also ensures any criticism that is likely to come his way is bound to be muted. It's very difficult to be crucify an honourable man who offers no excuses or tries to hide behind a smoke screen.
Yes, I am one of those people who think his spot in Australia's Twenty20 side should probably go to another youngster in the domestic ranks. Someone like Adam Voges can also bowl handy left-arm darts, Travis Birt is a powerful hitter, George Bailey is not only a fine hitter but good leadership material too, Lee Carseldine is a classy performer and Callum Ferguson is due back from injury soon. Peter English's mature and sensible piece today is exactly the sort of perspective one needs in the aftermath of disappointment. No need to rush a decision on Clarke's Twenty20 future but equally, it needs to be addressed at some point in the future if the selectors are fair dinkum about selecting the best possible team.
One of Clarke's problems is that because of the scheduling of Australia's domestic Twenty20 tournament, he is unlikely to play in that format and stake his claim or improve his skills. His non-involvement in the IPL is another problem - one less platform to show what he is capable of and one less stage to work on improving certain key aspects of his game. So how he goes about trying to justify his future selection or change his game to a more power-oriented style is a question left unanswered.
The curious thing is that Clarke, in his youth, had the shots to be the perfect Twenty20 batsman. He was renowned for being a flashy stroke-maker. And with today's cricket bats, you don't even need to be a muscle-bound Adonis to clear the boundaries. Players like Gautam Gambhir, Salman Butt, Mahela Jayawardene and Shivnarine Chanderpaul are not big men either. They seem to have the ability to hit boundaries so it's certainly not a physique thing. Not that Clarke is a diminutive chap by any means but he's not quite the build of a Cameron White, Chris Gayle or even an Angelo Matthews. So it's obviously something about his technique that seems to limit his ability to swing freely. He holds the bat much lower down the handle than he seemed to do when he first broke into the international game. And his quick feet almost seem to disadvantage him in the sense that because he gets so close to the ball, he can comfortably chip down to long-on and long-off without having to swing hard to compensate for being further away from the pitch of the ball.
If you watch someone like David Hussey, he almost tries to keep some distance away from the ball to allow his hands longer leverage. The modern sloggers tend to open up their stance and swing through the arc whereas Clarke generally tends to hit more classically down the ground when he's looking to hit a six. His only six of the tournament, against Bangladesh, was a classical little chip over the bowler's head, timed to perfection but not hit with savage intent. That's a lot different from the way a Shane Watson or White or Hussey attempts a six. They try to hit it out of the park, thereby giving themselves more latitude for error. If Clarke gets it slightly wrong, he tends to hole out to the boundary fielder, as he did against Bangladesh when he tried to repeat that very shot against Mohammad Ashraful.
I just think it's a refreshing change to see a captain (or any player for that matter) adopting such a frank attitude to their own form. When was the last time an out-of-form player said something like "there's no doubt the selectors will need to have a look at my performances"? He's almost inviting them to consider dropping him, if his output doesn't benefit the overall team cause. And that's one of the really powerful traditions of Australian cricket teams; they really do believe in the mantra that the team comes first and if that means the captain himself must fall on his sword, Clarke is living proof of that proud, unselfish tradition.
I've seen it happen time and time again in Australian sport where the leader never expects to be judged any differently to his foot soldiers and where unselfishness is a hallmark of the very best of Australian traits. I've done a lot of research into the ANZAC legends and this sort of image keeps cropping up there too, of leaders prepared to make hard calls on themselves and perhaps even making the ultimate sacrifice if it meant victory for the overall cause. I'm not saying it's a uniquely Australian thing - nothing annoys me more than when universal human qualities (or foibles) are referred to as being uniquely Australian (or un-Australian) - but nonetheless, having lived in a few different places around the world, there's a lot to admire about the way Australian leaders leave their ego at the door and devote themselves to their team cause.
Actually, I'm not entirely correct in that assessment. Australian politics is unique in that respect - our fearless leaders in that sphere show no such courage or honesty. Can you ever imagine them saying what Clarke has just said about himself? No, they'd just send a junior Minister out to sell the bad news. "Oi, David Warner or Steve Smith, just pop out and do that press conference today will you? Wish Collingwood all the best and say that I'm busy trying to figure out which players let me down in this tournament. I can't do everything for this team you know!"
Michael Jeh is an Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, and a Playing Member of the MCC. He lives in Brisbane