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Candid Michael Clarke's revelations and reckonings

Michael Clarke's new autobiography is a bit like the man himself. Passionate, emotional and very much a rollercoaster. His time in Australian cricket spanned eras, while also taking him from a young member of a powerful team, to contentious vice-captain of a struggling one, then captain and selector during another most turbulent time. There are plenty of candid thoughts and revelations, as Clarke...

...Tells of how he was a manufactured right-hander.
Clarke's desire to bat right-handed even though he was left-handed in most other things was out of deference to his father, Les. At the age of six, Clarke and his father have the following exchange.

"I want to bat like you."

"Sure, all you have to do is stand on the other side of the bat."

So it was the Clarke followed the likes of Brian Lara, Adam Gilchrist, Michael Hussey and David Warner as batsmen who play with a dominant top hand. Only Clarke is that rare exception - a left-hander who turns right.

...Says Andrew Symonds told him he had ambitions to captain Australia.
Clarke's early cricket life is populated by a series of "big brother" figures, from Neil D'Costa to Brad Haddin to Shane Warne to Symonds. They are opposites in most every way, but grow close in the Australian team. When Symonds is threatened with being sent home from England in 2005 after infamously showing up drunk to an ODI against Bangladesh, Clarke says he'll also quit the tour if Symonds is banished. Later Clarke supports Symonds in the Monkeygate case, even though he doubts the veracity of pursuing a charge of racial taunts.

According to Clarke, Symonds says his motivation is this: "I'm sick and tired of them [India] getting away with it. We never get away with anything, but they do." The incident and its politically expedient aftermath does affect Symonds, about the same time Clarke is appointed Australian vice-captain. In the West Indies, Symonds confides in Clarke that he'd like to lead the team one day. "You'd make a great captain Symmo, but what do you want me to do about it?" Clarke replies. "You should go and talk to the selectors about it, throw your hat in the ring." Instead of that, Symonds has a long drinking session later in the tour, and in the presence of Brian Lara pours a drink over Clarke's head. They barely speak after that.

...Admits what he said to cause Simon Katich to grab him by the shirt.
Realising that Katich, Hussey and others in the Australian dressing room are intent on making Clarke wait for the team song, in the SCG dressing room in January 2009, he explodes in a fit of rage and invective.

"Hang on, you're doing this out of spite, you f****** dogs. Have the balls to say it to my face."

Katich's reply of "what did you say?" brings the rejoinder "I said have the balls to say it to my face, you weak c****."

With hindsight, Clarke says he got a couple of things wrong here. First, his earlier organisation of a bar for the team to move on to later in the evening should not have been such a big deal in his mind. Secondly, he admits the language he used to Hussey and Katich was wrong. "There is a string of actions I took that night that I'm sorry for."

...Says in hindsight he should not have been vice-captain to Ricky Ponting.
In Ponting's 2013 autobiography, the former captain detailed his oscillating relationship with Clarke, and a feeling he wasn't best supported by his deputy. Three years on, Clarke agrees, and concedes he should not have been made vice-captain in the first place.

"In his autobiography, Ricky wrote that he was 'disappointed with some of the things I did as vice-captain'. He didn't accuse me of being treacherous or disruptive, but said I was reluctant to get involved in planning meetings or daily debriefs and take on a leadership role. When my private life was turbulent, he said, I would go into my shell. He was right. I was not a good vice-captain to him."

Clarke's biggest leadership influences were his dad, Mark Taylor and Shane Warne. All took different views on captaincy to Ponting, and Clarke says he was not a good "actor" when it came to falling into line behind Ponting as deputy. Adam Gilchrist and Brad Haddin, Clarke believes, were far better deputies.

...Reveals that the Argus review panel asked him whether he wanted Ponting in his team as captain.
"If you become captain of Australia, would you want Ricky Ponting in the team?" That question, Clarke says, was put to him by Don Argus, Mark Taylor, Steve Waugh, James Sutherland and Malcolm Speed in an interview at the SCG in 2011. The nature of the question means the interview takes place before Ponting has actually quit as captain, which he does on his return from a failed World Cup campaign in India in March. Clarke recalls making a strong affirmation of Ponting's importance.

The panel also ask Clarke what he thinks about the captain being a selector, a role he will find himself filling before the end of the year. Clarke's response? "It's all about accountability. The way I've been brought up to play cricket, the captain has always taken accountability for success and defeat. If I was captain and I had played a big part in picking the players at the selection table, I would be able to stand up and say 'it's my fault, I stuffed up. We picked the wrong players.' I'd be happy to put my hand up and take responsibility for that." Soon he would be, though not in the way he had imagined.

...Says the selectors were going to drop Ponting had he not retired in Perth in 2012.
Clarke's relationship with the former national selector John Inverarity appears one of the most problematic in the book. Clarke says he struggled almost immediately with Inverarity's schoolmasterly conversational style, railing against any sense of being talked down to. Earlier in his career, Clarke had asked to be told he had been dropped by Ponting rather than a selector, suggesting he never really acknowledged the authority of the role. Later, Clarke reveals that in the lead-up to the 2012 SCG Test against India, his crowning batting moment, that Inverarity had emailed Mickey Arthur to say "I have technical deficiencies and I am not the player I used to be". Rage at that assessment helps to fuel the monumental 329 not out that follows.

But most telling of Clarke's recollections is that later that same year, when Ponting is struggling after low scores in the first two home Tests against South Africa, the selectors decide to drop him after Perth. "John confides that the other selectors have made their minds up that Perth will be Ricky's last Test match, whether he scores nought or a hundred." Ponting, of course, had come to a similar conclusion. But things would have played out in far more ugly fashion had he not.

...Conveys his unhappiness at how his power was reduced with appointment of Darren Lehmann and influence of Pat Howard.
Homeworkgate in India in 2013 was effectively the end for Mickey Arthur, as Howard and James Sutherland concluded that the Test team needed a different kind of mentor. Lehmann came in with the view that the coach should be a more dominant figure in the running of the national team, something Howard agreed with at least partly due to his background in rugby. But Clarke did not agree, and makes this patently clear. This was true in hindsight as well as foresight - he disliked the way Ponting had delegated many tasks.

"There are a million and one things they have taken away from the captain so that I can focus on what happens on the field, but I want those things! I was not expecting to be moved down the food chain, halfway through my captaincy." Clarke's discontent about this change runs through the next 12 months, despite the success it reaps. So when things change later in 2014, he is even more unhappy.

...Speaks vividly of the hours and days around the death of Phillip Hughes, and how it affected him.
The arguments Clarke finds himself having with Lehmann, Howard and the selection chairman Rod Marsh in the lead-up to the 2014-15 home Tests are many, related principally to his fitness. It is all coming to a head on the day Phillip Hughes is batting at the SCG in a Sheffield Shield match. But from the moment Clarke checks his phone after a fitness session, everything is cast aside. The passages at St Vincent's Hospital are raw and vivid, including the moment that Clarke and Ponting, both weeping openly, farewell Hughes together. But they also convey a level of shocked detachment in Clarke that allows him to work as the go-between for the inconsolable Hughes family and the wider cricket world.

Within days there is the funeral, then the Adelaide Test, in which Clarke goes on to a hundred despite recurring back trouble that leads the team physio and friend Alex Kountouris to exclaim "If you bat here and do your back again, you mightn't be able to play another game. Ever." The lack of time to grieve Hughes' death brings up other issues, and a very real fear of falling victim to a similar fate. All this compounds in the West Indies ("the worst tour of my life? No contest") and England through 2015, leading finally to retirement. "Through that period from November 2014 to August 2015, I am burnt out by a lifetime of cricket and unable to stop and take in the enormity of Hughesy's passing."

...Discusses how his behaviour over the years suggested obsessive compulsive disorder.
The book's final chapter is entitled "Obsessive and Compulsive", and tries to make sense of so many enigmatic and contradictory events chronicled over the preceding pages. A lot of this relates to Clarke's degenerative back condition, that forces routine to be near enough to monastic in order to get him onto the field each day. But there are also other moments, like the day in 2003 when Clarke recalls betting with the then team manager Steve Bernard that he will be retired from international cricket by the age of 30. That, of course, is the age at which Clarke then finds himself made captain of Australia. That same year he is offered the option of surgery that will replace the worst of the degenerative discs in his back. But Clarke cannot abide the idea of the six-month layoff that would entail, so he is fuelled by painkilling tablets and injections throughout 2011-12, his peak period. But that gives way to more physical infirmity, anger and impatience and no let-up in an obsessive desire to keep driving forward. "Until," he writes in the very last sentence," I retire, when the fog lifts."

My Story - Michael Clarke, published by Macmillan Australia, is available now