Clarke focussed on delivering results
Michael Clarke is prepared for even more criticism in his latest role, but he knows captaining Australia is about achieving good results rather than winning the popular vote. Clarke, who takes over from the injured Ricky Ponting for the SCG Test, is an easy target for critics who snipe about his A-list lifestyle and accuse him of being soft.
The off-field matters are not a cricket concern, but everything has been magnified since he has moved to No.4 and entered a worrying form slump. "Everybody's entitled to their own opinion," Clarke said after becoming Australia's 43rd Test captain. "It's great to see the board and Cricket Australia continue to support me and give me this opportunity. For me it's about doing whatever I can to help this team win this Test match and level this Ashes series."
While he polls poorly in tabloid newspaper surveys, Clarke is a hugely marketable figure among higher demographics for his style and sporting ability. "It's part and parcel of what we do now as a professional cricketer," he said. "You spend a lot of time in the media, so for me I've copped criticism throughout my whole career, and it's no different now."
Clarke, 29, was anointed for Test captaincy before he had played a first-class game, but the last six months have been particularly rocky for someone who was preordained as a leader. He has managed only 322 runs at 21.46 in eight Tests after shifting from No.5.
With the associated waves of criticism, his failures made it seem like he subconsciously didn't want the job he had been groomed for. This week there is no choice. It is Clarke or nobody. Everyone has to get used to the idea that a boy from Sydney's western suburbs, who now lives across from Bondi Beach, is holding the second-most treasured job in Australia. Clarke has captained the country in 36 limited-overs matches and Ponting said he had already been "a great leader".
There have been regular gripes, in public discussions and private whispers, about Clarke's high-flying activities and speculation about his influence on young team-mates. He and Simon Katich had a dressing-room fight early in 2009 and older players such as Matthew Hayden, who is on the Cricket Australia board which approved the nomination, have highlighted his Generation Y behaviour. All but two of the men he will lead at the SCG will be in their 20s. He is the captain of the future.
Ponting said there was no issue about Clarke being popular among the squad and believed he was capable of handling the extra pressure. "All this dressing-room stuff that's been in the media and in the papers hasn't ever been around our rooms at all," Ponting said. "Everyone he's played with, and who will play under him this week, he'll have their total support."
Like Ponting, Clarke has been struggling for runs in this series, and he has been told he must first concentrate on his own game before worrying about the direction of the team. "When it's your turn to get out there and do the job with the bat or to do whatever you need to as captain, you pay full attention to that," Ponting said. "It's nothing new for Michael. He's been there and done that and he'll enjoy the week."
Clarke has been Ponting's deputy since the West Indies tour of 2008 and while the 36-year-old will be on hand to offer advice in Sydney, he won't be telling his replacement what to do. "Michael and I have worked together very closely for a number of years now, so he's going to do things his way and that's the way I want him to do it," Ponting said. Both players hope Clarke's elevation is temporary.
Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo