New Zealand v Australia, 1st Test, Wellington, 1st day

Focus back on Clarke's solid batting

Brydon Coverdale in Wellington

March 19, 2010

Comments: 13 | Text size: A | A

Michael Clarke takes off, New Zealand v Australia, 1st Test, 1st day, Wellington, March 19, 2010
Michael Clarke shut out the pre-match hoopla over his relationship with Lara Bingle to score an important century © Getty Images
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Not for the first time this week, Michael Clarke had cameras trained in on him for several hours, tracking his every move. On this occasion he didn't mind. These cameras cared only about where he hit the ball, not what was hiding behind the blinds of his Bondi apartment.

Test cricket is about grit, not glitz, and the only models of interest are the role models out in the middle. Any promising young batsmen looking for an example of how to block out external influences should note the way Clarke batted at the Basin Reserve, pacing his way to a century that put the focus firmly back on his cricket.

When he strode to the crease at the fall of Michael Hussey's wicket, Clarke was under pressure. Had he failed, the questions would have come thick and fast. Was he distracted? Did he come back too soon? A group of men in the crowd were dressed up as Lara Bingle and there was mild heckling, but not much and with little wit. "Where's the ring?" and "show us yer Bingle", came the drunken cries from the grass. He did much better than that; he showed them his class.

It would have been easy for Clarke to blaze away early and look for the big flashy drive to announce his return, a stroke that would have stuck it to every person who pored over the intimate details of his break-up. Instead, he defended. He watched, waited and wouldn't budge. He took 16 balls to get off the mark and at one stage had 3 runs from 36.

This was a determined Clarke, intent on reminding Australia that he is one of the best Test batsmen in the world, not just the ex of a headline-grabbing Sydney celebrity. In the lead-up to the match, he said he was still able to focus on his cricket. But the round-the-clock coverage when he was home in Sydney was hard to avoid, and he made special mention of Bingle after reaching his hundred.

"I'd be lying to say I haven't read or I haven't watched the television or the news and stuff," he said. "I've seen it. I understand that you guys have a job to do. Me being a professional athlete, it's not just about what I do on the field it's off the field as well.

"Lara has copped a lot of criticism over the last couple of weeks and it takes a very strong woman to be able to handle that. It's respect to her and it's respect to my team-mates to give me the time away I needed and then the opportunity to come back and make me feel so welcome back in the team."

He was also demonstrating that he is a responsible vice-captain, having come in at 115 for 3 and needing to steady the innings. The first sign of the fluent, attractive batting that has been a feature of Clarke's best performances came when he moved on to the back foot against Daryl Tuffey, waited for the ball on the rise and crunched a drive forward of point for a boundary. It was his 86th delivery. Just as he didn't speak to the media until he was ready, he didn't start attacking until he knew he was mentally prepared.

A lovely six chipped over long-on against Daniel Vettori followed, and there was another that cleared the sight-screen a few overs later. When his hundred arrived with a quick single that required a dive from his partner, Clarke ran a big arc around mid-on and midwicket, kissed the badge on his helmet, got a hug from North and the smile couldn't be wiped from his face.

"I probably got to a stage at about 80 where I said to Northy, I can't stop thinking about my hundred," Clarke said. "He was very supportive, he said 'mate, if you see it, just hit it'. I played some horrible shots from fifty to a hundred but I had a bit of luck. For some reason I couldn't stop thinking about it. I was happy to get there tonight, I don't think I would have slept too much if it was on 98 or 99."

There was also a long acknowledgment of the applause coming from the change-rooms. That he had the full support of Ricky Ponting and Tim Nielsen to leave the tour, sort out his issues, and return, meant a lot to Clarke.

"The support I've had from family, friends, team-mates - I've spoken to you guys about not wanting to talk about my personal life but the support I've had from Lara as well has been tremendous," Clarke said. "Without her and her support I certainly wouldn't have been back over here. To my family and friends that have supported me and Lara, I thank them very much."

Ponting spoke on match eve of the weight that was lifted off Clarke's shoulders when he faced a packed media conference in Wellington on Wednesday morning to speak for the first time since he flew home to Sydney. A well-judged hundred, which could yet turn into something far greater, will remove any remaining burden.

Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo

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Posted by   on (March 26, 2010, 5:56 GMT)

Pup has been my fav cricketer since i was just 5. He really deserves this century.

Posted by   on (March 20, 2010, 4:35 GMT)

Pup is one of my fav cricketers. Clarke has shown tremendous mental strength to emerge from a personal trauma (which, IMO, should not have been none of our business in the first place) and the publicity glare provided by the tabloid press. His outstanding performance yesterday and today is really commendable. It also gives the clue to why Australia has been on top of the heap for over a decade - the tremendous mental strength the team members have whose self belief ultimately withers down the opposition. I can only wish Michael Clarke's personal life also becomes, sooner than later, something as serene as this innings.

Posted by Gunner1950 on (March 19, 2010, 16:29 GMT)

Well done Michael, a real class act. Not surprised at the lack of Kiwi original or witty humour, about the same level as their cricketing ability.

Posted by   on (March 19, 2010, 12:12 GMT)

Clarke..for whatever he is or may be as a person.. showed a very bright side. The monk like ability to shut out the external influence and do the 'job' at hand..is just not as easy as it sounds. Well played, Pup... He is sure one of the better batsmen around!

Posted by CricketMaan on (March 19, 2010, 12:08 GMT)

Well done mate! I can't wait to read Peter Reobuck's U TURN column on clarkes great innings and how he has proved everyone worng. Where r u peter!

Posted by wix99 on (March 19, 2010, 11:58 GMT)

Any doubts about whether Michael Clarke will be the next captain of Australia were well and truly erased today.

Posted by ballferret on (March 19, 2010, 9:49 GMT)

the riposte has been Warnesque!

Posted by   on (March 19, 2010, 9:40 GMT)

Why has so much been made out of this Clarke issue? Break-ups happen to loads of people in all streams. We don't get time off work to sort out such kinds of is

Posted by BARCAGURU on (March 19, 2010, 9:26 GMT)

Where are my comments? I have posted comments more than 5 times, its seldom published here

Posted by   on (March 19, 2010, 9:23 GMT)

Shows what he is made of. Grit and Determination

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Brydon CoverdaleClose
Brydon Coverdale Assistant Editor Possibly the only person to win a headline-writing award for a title with the word "heifers" in it, Brydon decided agricultural journalism wasn't for him when he took up his position with ESPNcricinfo in Melbourne. His cricketing career peaked with an unbeaten 85 in the seconds for a small team in rural Victoria on a day when they could not scrounge up 11 players and Brydon, tragically, ran out of partners to help him reach his century. He is also a compulsive TV game-show contestant and has appeared on half a dozen shows in Australia.
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