Captain cautious

Michael Clarke's Ashes diary is guarded - as is to be expected from a book written at this stage of his career

Brydon Coverdale
Brydon Coverdale
Cover of <i>The Ashes Diary</i> by Michael Clarke, 2013

Pan Macmillan

Martin Crowe wrote this week of the masks international cricketers wear. Michael Clarke, he observed, had "up until five minutes to go in the Brisbane Test, displayed a real face and spirit to the challenge in front of him. Then, on the stroke of the kill, his face changed and the mask was there for all to see, ugly and not authentic. The finger-pointing rant was a performance to lead into the next battle in Adelaide."
Crowe is better placed than most to make such assessments. Indeed, it is likely that Clarke was putting on a show for the benefit of his players. C'mon boys, let's show these Poms how tough we are. But for the viewers watching Channel Nine's coverage and listening to the audio from the stump microphone, the impression was not that of a façade, but of Clarke's mask slipping to reveal something new, something beyond the public-relations image he typically presents.
After 98 Tests, 25 hundreds and more than ten years as an international cricketer, Clarke remains elusive to the Australian public. That is not surprising, for unlike his predecessors he entered the captaincy at the height of the 24-hour news cycle. It is the era of "quotes pieces" and media managers, news articles built around anything a sportsman says, and image-makers who prevent those words from being too scandalous. Anything a Test captain says is considered twice as worthy - or twice as controversial.
In this environment, a captain's tour diary can never be a truly warts-and-all account - for that, a player naturally waits until his career is over. It is an inherently limited genre, and The Ashes Diary cannot help but be an inherently limited account of the 2013 tour of England, for Clarke wants to offer the minimum of ammunition to his opponents and the media.
That caveat acknowledged, there are still enough thought-provoking snippets to make Clarke's review of the tour a moderately diverting summer read. At times, it is what Clarke doesn't reveal that piques the interest. This is particularly the case when he describes his relationship with Shane Watson. During the Champions Trophy, all parties were at pains to deny that Watson was responsible for tipping off the coach Mickey Arthur about David Warner's punch at Joe Root.
Arthur's leaked legal documents later allegedly suggested that in fact Watson had been the one who had told him, and Clarke skirts the edges of that detail in the early pages of his diary. "Mickey Arthur was advised that something had happened on the Saturday night," Clarke wrote of a time at which he was in London for treatment on his back while the rest of the team was in Birmingham. A few pages later, after discussing Warner's punishment, Clarke writes of a discussion with Watson.
"Another priority was to catch up with Shane Watson. In the last few days I've received phone calls from guys in the one-day squad and from staff referring to Shane's attitude around the group," Clarke writes. "Shane has strong opinions, which is his right as a senior member of the team, but sometimes there's a right way and a wrong way to put them... I didn't want people talking about anybody in the team behind their back. Whatever I heard, I wanted to hear from Shane himself, so that I could help."
Clarke does not elaborate on what it was that he heard from Watson, which only serves to deepen the mystery of their relationship. It is a delicately worded passage that comes across as a little dig at Watson, regardless of whether that is what Clarke intended. It is an episode that could have been left out without the reader being any the wiser, yet Clarke chose not only to include it but to withhold the full detail, leaving the reader to form an opinion without all the pertinent facts.
He also mentions having previously had "honest conversations" with Watson, "which is fantastic". Clarke refers to a 90-minute session in his hotel room before the first Test in Chennai in February, in which "we got a lot of things off our chests and thrashed it out and I think that from that point our relationship has been extremely good". He does not allude to the fact that three weeks later, he was part of the management team that suspended Watson and three other players for failing to complete an off-field task.
Arthur was the man who took the fall for that decision, but Clarke was party to it. His diary entry for July 16, two days before the Lord's Test, details the leaking of Arthur's legal documents, which alleged that Clarke had called Watson a "cancer" on the team and that Arthur felt like the "meat in the sandwich" between them. Notably, Clarke does not deny the comment, but calls it "old news" and says his relationship with Watson "has improved out of sight".
"In private, though, I'm filthy," he writes. "I had a long talk with [wife] Kyly about it tonight, pouring out my frustrations. I've supported Mickey through thick and thin, and it pisses me off that this has come up now. I sent him a text to tell him as much. He'd said that he didn't want it to come out publicly, but somehow it leaked out anyway. If Mickey didn't know this was going to happen, he's been naïve."
On Arthur's sacking, earlier in the tour, Clarke describes being "in complete turmoil" after James Sutherland and Pat Howard sprang the news on him. They also told Clarke they would finally accept his resignation as a selector, although why they chose that time, considering Clarke had offered to step down after the India tour, remains a mystery.
The cricket itself is related in detail, although again the reader is left with questions. Just as notable as Australia's dearth of runs on the Ashes tour was the lack of stability in the batting line-up, for the top six changed personnel and/or order every Test. Clarke explains early in the book that the captain chooses the batting order, yet apart from a couple of instances - such as aiming to negate Graeme Swann by having the left-handers at the top in the third Test - glosses over the reasons for such changes.
"It's all about what is best for the team in the specific circumstances, and taking into account the wicket itself," Clarke writes, when discussing his move from No. 4 down to No. 5 after the first Test. There are things a captain cannot reveal, but surely decisions on batting order should be pretty safe territory.
To Clarke's credit, he occasionally offers forthright opinions, such as his belief that Hot Spot should be cut from the DRS until it can be proven to be more reliable. For the most part, though, The Ashes Diary tells us who, what, when and how, without always getting to the why. For that, readers might have to wait until Clarke's career is over. Until then, as in this book, he cannot be expected to divulge everything.
The Ashes Diary
By Michael Clarke
Pan Macmillan Australia
304 pages; A$34.99

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