July 12, 2010

Michael Jeh

Clarke's T20 captaincy hangs in the balance

Michael Jeh

Michael Clarke needs to rediscover his form in the shortest version of the game © Getty Images

Whichever way you look at it, Michael Clarke's reign as captain of Australia's T20 outfit must be under serious consideration. Let's look at it from a numbers perspective. Since his early days as a flamboyant strokeplayer, he has now modified his technique somewhat which has perhaps made him more reliable in the longer formats but has come at the expense of his strike-rate. His rate of scoring has dropped markedly in the last few years, despite predominantly starting his innings whilst some of the Powerplay overs are available to him. His highest score in a winning cause is just 37, and even that was chasing a mere 75 posted by India at the MCG in 2008.

What's also interesting is that he actually scores faster in games that Australia have lost. His overall strike-rate in losing causes is greater than in winning ones. I wonder how many other top-order players from the stronger teams score faster in games that their team lost. I can understand why lower-order sloggers may end up with that sort of anomaly, often not batting in comfortable victories but swinging blindly when the team is under the kosh.

It's dangerous to surmise too much from that sort of statistic because Clarke could argue that when there is less of a need for him to score quickly (i.e. winning), he eases off the accelerator, but when his team is up against it, he scores faster. His detractors however could counter that by pointing out that his average is almost 5 runs per innings lower in games Australia loses, which is quite a significant difference in a shortened innings.

In ODI cricket, he averages about 50 with the bat in games Australia wins but that drops to 29 when he's on the losing side. That sort of difference is probably consistent with most cricketers, unless they are from teams that lose much more often than they win or if they have a reputation (like Michael Hussey) for being good in a crisis. Actually, even that seems a bit too much of a chasm - I haven't got the time to do a comparison with other cricketers of Clarke's era but I'd be surprised if the gap was as much as 20 runs per innings.

The reason for this drop in scoring rate and boundary-hitting ability is probably part-technique related and partly attributable to a change in mindset. Without pretending to be an expert in the art of batting, just from looking at him on the TV, it seems like he's choking the bat a lot more these days, is a lot more hunched at the point of delivery with an upraised bat and most importantly, he seems to exclusively commit to the front foot. It means that teams can choke him up with the short ball and not being a natural hooker or puller, the boundaries are then that much harder to find.

Even in ODI cricket, I seem to recall him getting out caught at mid-on, mid-off and midwicket, choking that front foot swat that is more like a cross court tennis shot than a genuine pull. By restricting himself to looking for boundaries in the “V”, he's also hitting to the areas that are usually most protected. Unless he can find the beef to take on the boundary riders and clear them comfortably, like David Hussey, who also camps on that front foot, he will often find his hardest hits get picked up by the sweepers. Leaving aside the six hitters, if he needs to find boundaries, he'll probably need to hit the ball with power through point, square leg, midwicket etc. Someone like Mahela Jayawardene or Salman Butt comes to mind - they don't trade in sixes as much as the Chris Gayles and Cameron Whites of this world (to name but a few) but their boundary ratio is much higher than Clarke's.

But what might actually seal Clarke's fate quicker than any statistical analysis or amateur coaching assessment (mine) is history/tradition/custom. You see, it has always been the Australian way to pick the best team first and then find a captain from amongst that lot. Different countries, most notably England, have had different philosophies to this issue, but Australians have always prided themselves on the leader having to earn his place in the team without question. Even reading through accounts of war journals from World War 1 & World War 2, the Australian troops appeared to have less of an inclination to allow their leaders to direct operations from afar. It may just be the romanticism of war writings but you generally get the feel that the soldiers and their leaders would always be in the trenches together.

Clearly, if the Australian selectors are fair dinkum about pure performances and remain true to that long-established tradition, Clarke's future in international T20 cricket must be in severe doubt. I can think of at least one player in each State team whose domestic numbers would seriously challenge Clarke's record, although in fairness to Clarke, he has barely played any T20 cricket at domestic level. This is where not playing IPL might hurt his chances to improve his skills although it might now be the case that his asking price will be much lower at IPL auctions. And if he loses the captaincy, it's hard to see how he can then justify holding his spot on his pure batting numbers alone.

I've long been a fan of the way Clarke conducts himself with dignity and poise, through the Lara Bingle episode and then with his self-effacing comments after the T20 World Cup. Despite that, I must confess that watching Michael Clarke “Mark II” (since he returned to the side after he got dropped) playing limited-overs cricket is no longer the same pleasurable experience as watching the young dasher who debuted in 2003. His Test match batting is still very attractive, as evidenced by his excellent recent record and a couple of sparkling knocks on the 2009 Ashes Tour.

In ODI or T20 cricket though, his method seems to be very formulaic: chipping down the ground for one, nerdling it down to fine leg, pushing to the sweeper cover and occasionally going inside out over extra cover for the boundary. Yes, he bats in that middle period when that is what tends to happen in modern ODI cricket but so do AB De Villiers and Umar Akmal and Kevin Pietersen. When Clarke walks out to bat, I'm not expecting boundaries whereas if Ross Taylor or even Scott Styris for that matter, is at the crease, I may rely on them a bit less but you get the sense that anything might happen.

Clarke will have plenty of time now to put away his T20 strategies and focus on what he does best - playing Test matches. But it's only going to be a matter of time before that question has to be answered. I'm prepared to go out on a limb now and predict that he won't be in Australia's next T20 World Cup squad, as captain or player. Not unless the man can once more become a boy!

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

RSS Feeds: Michael Jeh

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by Hallie on (January 26, 2012, 17:45 GMT)

The expertise shines tuhrgoh. Thanks for taking the time to answer.

Posted by G110 on (July 14, 2010, 6:08 GMT)

Agreed, Cameron White does need to be installed as Twenty20, even ODI skipper by the next World Twenty20. If he's not, then its bloody ridiculous! He's a natural leader who can do nothing wrong since become a batter who should be bowling 3-5 overs every here and there! And to say the least, why isn't he in the Test Team?

Posted by Frank on (July 13, 2010, 11:04 GMT)

I salute Clarke for the way he handled Mohamed Aamer when he got out to him in the second match. If Aamer had tried jumping on and fondling any other opposing captain after getting him out he would have got a taste of willow for his trouble. Probably lost his match fee and earned a suspension too from the MR. Imagine if Dennis Lillee did this to Javed Miandad after getting him out.... Can you even imagine the situ if Tait had done this to Afridi in this very series. His handling of Aamer and the situ was one of the finest I have witnessed in recent times. The game needs this and it makes the term 'Ugly Australian' hard to roll of the tongue. Great stuff Michael.

Posted by Michael Jeh on (July 13, 2010, 10:41 GMT)

D.V.C - I like your point mate. Never thought of it like that but you're on to a good thing I reckon. Yes, in the very short game that is T20, a bowling captain or middle order player might be best if the "responsibility" theory is anything to go by.

Posted by Umair Javed on (July 13, 2010, 9:01 GMT)

I agree with the captaincy of Cameron White in T20s.He is the guy who can led the team perfectly.Cameron White is natural player and captain for T20s.Australian Cheif Selectors Should be the captaincy give to Cameron White,s hand.And the vice captain of Australia Cricket team in T20s Should be Mike Hussey.And I agree totally Pup is the great player in Test & ODIs.He is the future captain of Australia Cricket Team.

Posted by ayush on (July 13, 2010, 7:49 GMT)

like colngwud devilliars clarke is undoubtedly one of the best in the 50 over bussiness.....but unluckily he is unable to perform as well as they have done in t20 format...

Posted by D.V.C. on (July 13, 2010, 1:36 GMT)

This type of thing makes a good case for a bowler as T20 captain. Whenever a batsman is captain they seem to modify their game to play "responsibly." You simply can't do that in T20.

Posted by Jai C Singh on (July 13, 2010, 1:07 GMT)

Agree totally.Cameron White should have been made Captain a long time ago.Unless he is dropped NOW (from T20s) Pup is going to end up like Damien Martyn,trying too hard but paying the ultimate price. He IS a stylist, an accumulator and "there's nothing wrong with that".Dravid and Laxman were omitted without disgrace, Chanderpaul plays only because WI have no choice, while Mark Waugh,Mahela and Sangakara were able to adapt. No disgrace in Pup not being able-he will still end up a great Test batsman.Unfortunately, too few can walk away without being pushed.

Posted by Jason on (July 12, 2010, 20:06 GMT)

Here's my take Michael: Clarke was always going to find it hard to succeed in T20. He doesn't have the power, but more importantly he's never played enough T20 to improve his technique. 1 or 2 matches shoved in each season is not enough, I think he really needs an IPL stint to 'find himself' in T20. That said, I don't think he should be playing T20 anyway. There are very few players who are good over all 3 formats at present - I think it's hard to master all 3 forms. I don't think it's in Australia's best interests to force Michael Clarke into changing his T20 technique. That's valuable time he could be using to strengthen his Test batting which has become excellent. Plus there is the fatigue issues that come with playing the extra games and tournaments that are basically exhibition matches designed to bring in crowds. They can't be good for Pup's back.

Posted by Vinay on (July 12, 2010, 11:54 GMT)

Clarke the captain seems even more reluctant to turn to Clarke the bowler. Clarke the bowler seemed to have a knack of picking up wickets.

Comments have now been closed for this article

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Jeh
Born in Colombo, educated at Oxford and now living in Brisbane, Michael Jeh (Fox) is a cricket lover with a global perspective on the game. An Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, he is a Playing Member of the MCC and still plays grade cricket. Michael now works closely with elite athletes, and is passionate about youth intervention programmes. He still chases his boyhood dream of running a wildlife safari operation called Barefoot in Africa.

All articles by this writer