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Michael Clarke is no prima donna leader, but large chunks of the Australian cricket public still haven't warmed to him
Peter English at the Gabba
January 30, 2011
The fifth ODI was dedicated to charity but there wasn't much given to the captain Michael Clarke. For so long the anointed leader, Clarke is out of form as well as being out of favour in large sections of Australia.
Of course big parts of the country quite like him, but boos usually find a way to drown out the cheers, as Clarke discovered when he walked out to bat at the Gabba this afternoon. Jeering the leader has been a popular past-time this summer, whether it was the England fans targeting Ricky Ponting during the first four Tests, or the locals showing displeasure at Clarke's elevation when the incumbent was injured.
Pockets jangled with coins headed for the collectors' buckets, raising money for the Queensland flood victims, but there was only sympathy for Clarke after he was welcomed with boos. After that most supporters clapped him extra hard when he hit three boundaries in his first 13 deliveries, and later brought up his first one-day half-century since the game here against Sri Lanka in November.
He was also applauded loudly, with some standing in acknowledgment, as he left with 54 off 74 deliveries, an innings which became the high point of Australia's 248. A handful of angry radio listeners texted apologies to Clarke for the behaviour of the people in the stands, especially on a day throbbing with community spirit.
It probably happened to Mark Taylor in 1996-97 - although most of his most famous slump occurred overseas - and Greg Chappell can't have been popular during his duck run in the early 1980s, but turning on the leader is a rare event in Australia. Booing the opposition is standard, as Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen re-discovered tonight, but Clarke is a victim of the displeasure in the early stages of his captaincy.
"Obviously you'd like people to be cheering but I can understand why a few of them were booing," Clarke said. "I've had a lot of support throughout this time, I haven't performed as well as I'd like, so I don't blame the public for being disappointed with my performances. It was nice to finally contribute and help the boys get a win. It was a great feeling."
All the unwanted attention is extra strange because his team is doing so well. Under Clarke the side has moved on quickly from the Ashes defeat and the 51-run success gave Australia a 4-1 lead, sealing the series with two games remaining.
The best way for him to win the adoration is to score fluent runs, but that has become increasingly difficult over a summer without much love. What he has shown is his dedication to exiting his slump, even if it is not paying off yet.
He has given up the associated riches of Twenty20 by retiring from the international format to focus on Tests and ODIs. This week he was so desperate for a decent bat that he suggested to the Australian hierarchy that he turn out for his Sydney club side. The request was rejected. Those two actions are not the behaviour of a prima donna leader, but a man who wants to excel for himself and his country.
As a person Clarke can be generous. The day before this game he walked on to the Gabba with a group of under-9s from a Brisbane club side to spend time with them, just like he did on Friday with school children affected by the floods. Part of it was his job, but there is more to him than professional duty.
Like all of his team-mates, he donated his entire match fee to the flood appeal. "It was a no-brainer for the boys," Clarke said. "Everyone is doing that and the boys are signing a shirt as well.
"It's great to see so many people in this country be willing to put their hand in their pockets for such a wonderful cause. A lot of people have been devastated by what's happened and the least we can do is donate a bit of our money and our time. That's a reason why it's even more special tonight to get a victory. It's great we've won the series."
By the end of the game the tally from Cricket Australia and its supporters had reached approximately A$6million, a phenomenal amount of financial support. Over the next week, before the team leaves for the World Cup, Clarke deserves some goodwill too.
Peter English is the Australasia editor of ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Peter English
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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