Clarke’s biggest challenge since ditching Bingle
Kiwi captain Ross Taylor gave Australian selectors a choice piece of advice over the weekend, urging them to continue to select stuttering opener Phil Hughes.
It was an admirable bit of cheek, but Taylor can hardly talk. His side’s entire batting lineup, himself included, knows more about who’s bonking who on Days of our Lives than they do about the action in the middle of a cricket ground. Just one of the Kiwi top six passed 50 in the Brisbane Test.
As tempting as it must have been for Clarke to counter with a quip to the effect that he hopes New Zealand pick the entire New Zealand team again, Taylor actually had a point. Hughes is snicko’s best friend. He is a one man fielding drill for the entire Kiwi cordon. And he has dished up a doozy of a dilemma for his friend and skipper Michael Clarke.
Clarke and Hughes are bonded not just by the baggy green of Australia but by loyalty to their early career batting coach, Neil D’Costa, who today lives and runs a successful cricket academy in India.
D’Costa has had an ongoing association with Clarke stretching way back to when the current Australian skipper was just seven, while he has been both coach and mentor to Hughes since the latter was in his mid teens – give or take the occasional spat.
Indeed, it was D’Costa that brought Hughes down to Sydney from the NSW mid north coast town of Macksville, arranging accommodation, work and a grade cricket spot for the young tyro in the Big Smoke.
Clarke and Hughes have known each other since that time, and are close. Certainly, Hughes is closer to Clarke than anyone else in the Australian set-up. That’s what makes the looming selection decision so tough for Clarke.
As one of five selectors alongside the chairman (John Inverarity), two fulltime selectors (Andy Bichel and Rod Marsh) and coach (Mickey Arthur), Clarke is now responsible for his little mate’s immediate cricketing future.
Clarke knows better than anyone what Hughes can do. They are both graduates of a tough school. You don’t get through years of Neil D’Costa unless you’ve got talent, and unless you can cop criticism. D’Costa isn’t in the habit of telling young guys what they want to hear.
But Clarke would also know well that just about every batsman worth his salt in the last 20 years of Australian cricket has been dropped, and often several times, before fully ripening. Hayden, Martyn, Steve Waugh, Langer… the list goes on.
South Australian all-rounder Dan Christian has been brought into the squad for the second Test in Hobart. That gives Clarke the luxury of acting like he’s prevaricating over choosing an extra bowler.
Pffft. Which bowler would you drop from Brisbane? Christian is topping this year’s Sheffield Shield batting averages. If he plays, which he almost certainly will, it will be as a number six bat, with Usman Khawaja padding up at the start of the innings.
It’s a bit of a Catch 22 for Clarke. Loyalty versus the success of the team he now captains. He could get away with picking Hughes, because it is only new Zealand after all, but in all likelihood, he’ll make the hardest decision he’s made since his very public ditching of Lara Bingle.
He raced back across the Tasman to New Zealand and made a ton after that little episode. The difference this time is he’s already made the ton. That should make the inevitable break-up a little less stressful.
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