Australia’s triumph is Michael Clarke’s triumph
Winemakers will tell you that the key to getting a really good harvest of prime grapes is to trick the vines into thinking they’re dying. Give them just enough water, but only just enough, and the vines will divert every last precious drop of moisture into the fruit and produce a bumper crop.
Overnight, the Test careers of several leading Australian players were in danger of withering, as runs and wickets had dried up. But like the vines, the likes of Mitchell Johnson, Brad Haddin, Mike Hussey and Ricky Ponting extracted just enough to help their team deliver the sweetest of victories.
Last night’s thrilling two wicket win over South Africa was rightly hailed as a victory for the future of Australian cricket, as 18 year old tyro Patrick Cummins backed up his six wicket second innings haul with a nerveless knock which included his hitting the winning runs.
But above all, this was a victory for Michael Clarke, the much-maligned skipper whose only real crime down the years has been to be a Gen Y who acts like a Gen Y in a team which, any day now, will be entirely comprised of Gen Ys.
There is a certain crustiness we expect from our cricket captains. Even decidedly uncrusty 20-something and 30-something sideline onlookers demand it. Captains must be grizzled and impossible to please like Border, or statesmanlike like Waugh, or have a paunchy old school body like Mark Taylor. Then they’re real men. Real captaincy material.
Tats, apparently, are un-captainlike. So are hot girlfriends. So are fast cars. What a ridiculously sepia-tinged way of looking at things. The way some people think, you might as well telecast the cricket in black and white.
Michael Clarke has been anything but ignorant of the public mood, so he has changed. He moved from trendy Bondi to the family-orientated Sutherland Shire in Sydney’s south. Admittedly, his lifestyle changes were PR-managed to the max. He even went on telly to say he’d been keeping a lower profile over winter in the downtime before the October Sri Lanka tour.
But so much of modern life is stage managed. Clarke has more minders than Barack Obama, but that’s how it is. What matters is not whether he drives a Ferrari or a Toyota Corolla, and whether he has a diamond stud or not. What matters is how he captains the national cricket team. And on that score, he is proving himself more than worthy.
Clarke’s first Test as captain was in the final Test of last summer’s Ashes, when Ricky Ponting was injured. With the urn gone and little to play for, Australia’s demoralised, outclassed squad was walloped by an innings and then some. Scratch that one from the record.
His next assignment was in Sri Lanka. In 2004, Ponting played his first full series as captain there, and achieved the remarkable feat of winning 3-0 after being behind on the first innings of each Test. Ah, but he had a team full of champions. Just as there are 11 Tim Tams in a pack, Ponting wouldn’t have swapped one of his 11 for anything.
Clarke had it way harder. He trekked over with an untried spinner in a spinner’s paradise, an untried paceman, an out of form opener, an ageing champion and enough assorted burdens to bog down one of the local elephants. But somehow, his team not only won but dominated the series.
Two moments stood out. One was his decision to give that noted trundler Mike Hussey the ball in the second Test. Hussey duly removed Sri Lankan dangerman Kumar Sangakkara. Then in the decisive third Test, leading 1-0, his priceless 112 on the back of opener Phil Hughes’ 126 sealed the series. It was the consummate captain’s knock.
Clarke at his best has the steel of Waugh, the grit of Border and the tactical nous of Taylor. But above all, he relates to his players and they to him.
Two years ago in South Africa, on Phil Hughes’ breakthrough tour, it appeared that Ricky Ponting was benefiting from at last being in charge of young players, and not having guys like Warne around to destroy the power balance. That theory fizzled, as Ponting’s own form struggles took precedence over everything else.
Clarke is back in form, so he doesn’t have that to worry about. And he, too, is thriving as the leader of a young bunch – especially as he knows the oldies won’t be around much longer. At 30, Clarke is both old enough and senior enough to lead, but young enough to be one of the gang.
Of course, all of this would have been a much harder sell if Dale Steyn had held a regulation caught-and-bowled overnight and Australia had narrowly fallen short of victory. But we won. We squared a series 1-1 against the world’s best team (no matter what the rankings say) on their own patch. That’s a huge thing.
Forget about that historically woeful innings of 47 in the first Test. That was an aberration. And remember, we dismissed South Africa for 96 the same day. The pitch was clearly wonky. The thing to take out of that first Test loss was Clarke’s incredible first innings century.
Sizing up the pitch like a true captain, he scored quickly and dashingly, as he knew that every minute at the wicket was a minute closer to dismissal. In the end he made 151 off 176 balls, more than half his team’s total. It was brilliant, and it proved beyond doubt that Clarke the batsman is a man for all occasions.
He’s a man for all occasions as skipper too. As the oldies inevitably fade away, just watch as more youngsters like Patrick Cummins bust their guts to be part of the Michael Clarke regime. We’re lucky to have a skipper like him.
Read all about it
Up to the minute Twitter chatter
The latest and greatest
Good morning Punchers. After four years of excellent fun and great conversation, this is the final post…
I have had some close calls, one that involved what looked to me like an AK47 pointed my way, followed…
In a world in which there are still people who subscribe to the vile notion that certain victims of sexual…