The misery that is Michael Clarke
Michael Clarke is mired in the worst kind of slump a batsman can experience. His problems are not just mental, he also has to deal with a technical flaw.
In most instances coming to terms with a slump for an international batsman involves purely reaching the realisation (after weeks of tinkering with footwork, your grip, and wondering if your eyes are failing) that what you really need to do is focus on the ball leaving the bowler's hand. Nothing else. It's as simple as that.
Most struggling batsmen think that's what they're doing, but in reality they're watching an area around the bowler's hand. This problem can be triggered by any number of things, ranging from lack of confidence to personal issues, but there's one common denominator: the runs just don't flow.
In Clarke's case his over-eagerness to stamp his authority at the crease has him committing too early on the front foot. This in turn leads to technical issues. Even in defence he plants his front foot and then sends the bat on a reconnaissance mission: Off you go, willow, and see what you can find out there.
There's nothing in his current play to suggest a stay at the crease will be either long or fruitful, but that could change with one long innings. Ideally a stint in the Sheffield Shield competition would do wonders for his batting.
However, this isn't an option, as there's no Sheffield Shield cricket being played. At the moment it's all Twenty20, and while attack is often the best way for a strokeplayer to exit a slump, it would be senseless asking Clarke to play in the Big Bash for New South Wales. What he needs is to play a long innings, perhaps one full of strokes, but definitely one resulting in a substantial score. A big score calms the nerves, rallies the confidence and erases all the rubbish that clogs the mind like a Mumbai traffic jam.
Therein lies the dilemma for the selectors. They can't demote Clarke to help him sort out his problems, while replacing him with a batsman who is only scoring quickfire twenties and thirties in Twenty20 cricket is risky.
There's also another reason why it's difficult to drop Clarke. He's doing a good job as captain. Not that Australia should ever choose a captain and then the other 10 players, but Clarke's leadership is contributing to the team's winning record. However, if they start losing regularly then the pressure on Clarke will rise quicker than a Harrier Jump Jet.
Clarke's situation is not unlike that of former Australian captain Mark Taylor in 1996-97. Taylor endured a famously prolonged slump that resulted in calls for his axing, but despite his personal turmoil he led the team with great authority. At the time, former Australian batsman and noted wit Doug Walters was asked on radio for his assessment of Taylor's problems. He produced this wonderful piece of twisted logic: "He's batting too long."
When asked to explain his theory, Walters replied: "Think back to when Greg Chappell had his slump. He made a lot of ducks, so no one knew if he was out of form. But Taylor keeps making 17, 9, 15, 13," continued Walters. "Everyone can see he's out of form. He's batting too long."
Chappell's slump in 1981-82 also attracted a lot of controversial comment, with one wag at the MCG holding up a sign saying: "If Greg Chappell could bat he'd be a great allrounder."
However, there are crucial differences between Taylor and Chappell's slumps compared with Clarke's current misery. Whereas Clarke has now gone 19 innings without a Test century, Chappell only had a span of 10 knocks separating two three-figure scores.
Taylor's century drought in Tests was a debilitating 24 innings but he was at least exceeding 50 regularly in ODI matches. And importantly, both Taylor and Chappell had the opportunity to play some first-class tour matches that eventually led them to resolving their crises of confidence.
In Clarke's case he's lumbered with the added pressure of the upcoming World Cup as he searches for an exit from his personal fog. In addition, he's one of Australia's crucial batsmen on the subcontinent as, in form, he has the ability to dictate terms to good spinners.
Somehow Clarke has to find a way to clear his mind and sort out his technique in order to post a big score. If he's successful he can look forward to the World Cup with confidence and anticipate his elevation to the captaincy without constantly facing questions about his poor form.
Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is now a cricket commentator and columnist