England v Australia, 3rd Investec Test, Old Trafford July 31, 2013

Clarke determined to fight in adversity


Michael Clarke could be forgiven for thinking that it's all getting a bit much. His team is on the verge of losing an Ashes series and possibly a seventh straight Test. His own run-scoring has diminished since the highs of 2012. Most significantly, his sore back will trouble him for the rest of his career. The Queen looked more sprightly when she took the field at Lord's than a stiff Clarke did at training in Manchester on Tuesday.

Last week, the respected ABC radio commentator Jim Maxwell caused a minor ripple when he said, rather matter-of-factly, that he believed Clarke would retire within the next year. It was not an opinion Maxwell alone held. But despite his back pain, despite the team's turmoil on the field, despite the pressure than comes with being the team's captain and best batsman, Clarke says he has no plans to step aside.

"I'm not retiring in the near future," Clarke said. "I'm like every other player; you get frustrated that you don't make as many runs as you would like and get frustrated that the team's not having success but that only makes the challenge more exciting. I want to help this team have success, I want to make sure I'm leading the way and scoring runs, and I'm 32 and not 36 so luckily I've got a few years before I have that discussion."

In fairness to Clarke, while he looked sore at Old Trafford, he had been spry during the tour match against Sussex in Hove over the past week; he ran drinks, bowled a few overs on the field before play, tried to help energise the side. But back injuries are unpredictable; sleep on an awkward angle, twist the wrong way batting in the nets and that can be that.

Clarke has had the back problem since he was a teenager, but has missed only one Test because of it. Notably though, it was this year when he sat out in Delhi; he was also unfit for the Champions Trophy. That was an unsuccessful tournament for Australia, but ultimately one that is of no consequence. The same cannot be said of this Ashes tour, especially with a return series in Australia so close.

Clarke was part of the Australian outfit that swept England 5-0 in 2006-07, part of a record run of 16 consecutive Test victories under Ricky Ponting's leadership. Nobody really expected that within seven years, an Australian record of seven consecutive Test defeats would be on the cards. Clarke said the desire to lead his team out of that mire was another reason not to consider retirement.

"It's extra drive," he said. "It certainly gets you out of the bed in the morning. Generally around five o'clock. I want us to have success and I think we've seen so far on this tour that our batters have got to make sure we're leading from the front. There's a lot of experience in our top seven we need to make sure we're performing.

"We haven't performed as well as we'd like on this tour and neither in India so as captain, as a player, you want to do the best you possibly can. As a captain you probably take it more personally when the team doesn't have as much success as you would like, which probably just makes me work harder.

"Losing six Test matches in a row is something we're not proud of ... I'm confident that we can win these next three Test matches and win the series. I know it seems a long way away to a lot of people, but as a player, seeing how close we got in the first Test reminds us that we were really not that far away from winning that first Test match, 15 runs away. If we can play our best cricket, which we haven't done so far on this tour, the whole 11 players who take the field, we'll give it a good shake."

The 14-run defeat at Trent Bridge was somewhat deceptive, though, for the Australians came that close mostly because of tail-end runs. The lack of big scores from the specialist batsmen is Australia's major on-going concern. The first day of the Test series in India in February seems a lifetime ago, given all that has changed in the Australian camp since then, but it was that day in Chennai that Clarke himself scored the last Test hundred made by an Australian player.

"We're all looking for answers, aren't we?" Clarke said. "To make big runs you've got to bat plenty of time. You've got to find a way to get through the tough periods and that's what we haven't been able to do. When England have bowled well, they've managed to get not just the one wicket but they've got two or three quite quickly and that has put us under the pump.

"I've always said, in India and England especially, but all around the world, it's hard to start your innings against good attacks. Starting your first 20 balls is very tough. You can always get a good ball or be a little bit hesitant at the start of your innings. I'm not as disappointed if blokes get out like that. It's more when we get in we've got to go on and cash in and make big scores. We haven't done that for a while now."

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • John on August 1, 2013, 9:13 GMT

    The captain is only as good as his team. Clarke has a mix of average to below average cricketers and one over rated all rounder. Even with this team, Aus can beat England if they all put their best efforts on the table. Clarke is right in feeling that they could still win the remaining 3 matches, but for that to happen, the trundling lot, that is his team, has to find some inspiration and hopefully Clarke can give that by scoring a blazing double hundred today. :)

  • hari on August 1, 2013, 8:04 GMT

    Clarke would consider himself unlucky to have seen all this. Being part of an almost invincible side, having to face 6 straight defeats as captain pains anyone. Yet I feel Clarke is a party to this mess. He as captain had the privilege to be a selector too. He worked under three coaches and had a big say in the composition of the team. He was at the helm when Ponting had to retire, Hussey hurried out and Watson snubbed. The three best players he had were un-utilised and the rest did not fall in place. Then injuries cropped up and mindless chopping and churning destroyed the nucleus of the team. Hussey should not have been allowed to retire, especially when they were due to play India and England overseas. Watson should have been given the confidence and position after returning from injuries. Spin selection should have been more meaningful. The overall attitude towards the team should have been more inclusive. It is a combination of causes for this rut. Only Clarke can clean it up now

  • richard on August 1, 2013, 7:01 GMT

    Agree with dunger.bob comparing Clarke with Kim Hughes. Both (and Alan Border who took over from Hughes ) had to carry the batting in the last dark period of Australian cricket. But Hughes also had to contend with being undermined by the Marsh/Lillee/G. Chappell gang with brother Ian sniping away from the commentary box on high. Enough to make anyone cry.

  • rob on August 1, 2013, 1:03 GMT

    I've always believed there are quite a few parallels between Clarke and another flashy right hander, Kim Hughes. .. Both had poor teams under them, particularly the batting, and both were under constant pressure to score the bulk of the runs. .. It's a matter of public record that Hughes ended up resigning in a shower of tears at a press conference. ... let's hope the parallels stop before we get to that point. .. that was just too damned embarrassing for words.

    Unlike a lot of people around here, I think Clarke is an excellent tactical captain. He has a genuine feel for the pace and state of the game and knows when to attack and when to pull back. .. It's not his fault he has been given a broken down bunch of rat-bags to work with. No captain, not even Cook, can possibly look good under the conditions Pup finds himself in.

    If I were him, I'd just concentrate on my batting as much as possible. .. If he could just get some runs, who knows what might happen.

  • Dummy4 on July 31, 2013, 20:21 GMT

    OMG ..... all of a sudden people are talking about Clarke's lack of runs?? His average for innings played recently before him becoming Captain was just over 20.

    All of a sudden Australia are not playing the bunnies of the cricket world and they are in trouble?? As pointed out frequently, Australia has been in trouble for a long time .... but the divisiveness around the team has been blatantly appalling.

    Just look at the Indian Tour -

    1st Test : Australia scores 380 on the back of a fortunate Clarke century, then Pattinson with figures of 2/4 he is taken out of the attack.

    2nd Test : Selectors gut the team and they lose by an innings (Blaming Lyon for Wade not being able to keep for spin.

    3rd Test : Homework Affair

    4th Test : Australia is 10-runs behind India on the morning of the 3rd Day after the 1st Innings, and someone decides to split the Australian Openers. The Test is lost before the end of the 3rd Day.

    I cannot believe how blind people are.

  • Siddharth on July 31, 2013, 17:24 GMT

    It's very surprising to hear people talking about Clarke's retirement. They did the same with Ponting and pushed Hussey into an early retirement feeling insecure about his place in the team. The team needed those legends to play with them in the middle not ask them to visit the dressing room and net sessions every now and then. They are treading a dangerous line if they bring up Clarke's retirement more often for he seems to be a sort of a guy who just might give it all up if pushed. If that happens, then surely Australia have one hell of a rebuilding phase in front of them.

  • Tom on July 31, 2013, 16:08 GMT

    Next year Clarke will be the same age that Atherton was when he retired after enduring a long term back condition for so many years. The most obvious thing Atherton lost was the ability to play horizontal bat shots to the short stuff. Broad may well have him in his sights after Lord's where he had Clarke fending off and even sconed him in the second innings. There will be more bounce at OT and probably more pace too so he can probably expect a working over.

  • Dummy4 on July 31, 2013, 15:52 GMT

    The only way Clarke will take his teeth out of this team is if his back gives out, or he is forced to resign, I really hope he steps aside, I don't wish injury on anyone but he really has to go.

  • Charles on July 31, 2013, 15:52 GMT

    I can see Clarke stepping down from the captaincy if they were to lose 5 nil in England . I do not see that result happening ( unfortunately ) so he will continue in the job. Not sure who would replace him if he were to go - Watson equally devisive and not sure of his place - Warner enough said - Haddin not playing well enough - Rogers too old - no one really stands out from the rest of the squad . Perhaps the selectors will eat a huge slice of humble pie and Simon Katich to come back and captain !!!