Hey Pup, keep your bat clean and your image squeaky
When Australian skipper Michael Clarke raised his bat to celebrate his historic triple century at the SCG it showed a man becoming aware of his stature in the game.
Instead of pointing to a bat sponsor - a deal which can be valued at hundreds of thousands of dollars - he gestured towards the McGrath Foundation sticker placed there earlier that day.
Clarke’s manager James Erskine later explained the skipper had split with Slazenger and he is still mid-negotiation with two or three companies to finalise a deal.
I’d imagine his classic innings has given him invaluable leverage in striking a favourable new deal. But to me there would be a greater value in abandoning sponsorship altogether.
Clarke is already a wealthy man. For him to state “I’m not going for the dollars” would speak volumes.
Don’t get me wrong. If I was a struggling bloke in the Queensland seconds on the fringe of the T20 team, I would get my bat sponsored and get what I can.
But Michael Clarke is the captain of Australia and he is subtly engaged in changing what he is all about. His brand is now about getting away from selling underpants and all that Lara Bingle stuff and sending out a message of “I am a serious guy”.
He has already gone taken steps in that direction. Take his decision to declare despite having the record books at his mercy. If he had decided “bugger it, I’m going to knock off Bradman and Taylor’s scores and then go after Hayden’s and maybe get 400’‘, we would have thought differently.
But he declared at 329 – short of the records as he wanted to put Australia in the best position possible to win. Putting the team first is another sign of a maturity.
There was also something else about his call. I was watching the game at the SCG and the sentiment around the ground was that “he is showing respect for the game” (instead of personal glory).
Passing prime sport real estate to charity is not unprecedented. The prime example is Barcelona FC, one of the world’s wealthiest soccer clubs, which puts UNICEF across their shirts. Barcelona is a club aware of its larger role in the world.
Under the heel of the dictator Franco from the 1930s until the late 1970s, Barca was the Catalonian republican team while Real Madrid were Franco’s team.
Barca has always wanted to say “We are republicans. We want to distance ourselves from Franco. We care about the world and we care about the world’s poor.” They are carrying on that traditions with their UNICEF sponsorship.
For Barcelona - and for Clarke - it is all about a traditional long term-short term trade off. Clarke would be eschewing short term gain but building his brand so well it would be worth it. Former skipper Steve Waugh, through his work helping orphanages in India, is another example.
There was once a time when senior Australian players were afraid to tour India and would talk of keeping their mouth shut in the shower avoid getting sick. We used to ask them “where the Bolly hell are you”.
But the Generation X players - Waugh, Gilchrist and Hayden - came on the scene and realised what an amazing place the sub-continent is. When I interviewed Gilly in Mumbai he said going to India “wasn’t just a tour, it was a life changing experience”. Steve Waugh famously said “Its gets in your pores, it makes you use all your senses.”
As a result, these players are now worshipped in India not only for their prowess as players about also for how they have engaged the country. The world knows one thing about we Aussies - that we take our sport very, very seriously. But to show that we can engage the world in a mature way is invaluable.
Which is why when the captain walks out on Adelaide Oval I would love to see that same old clean skinned bat, perhaps with a nod to his charity of choice.
The man they called “Pup” is becoming wise and worthy of being Australian captain – often described by Prime Ministers as “the most important job in Australia”.
*Tim Harcourt is the JW Nevile Fellow in Economics at the Australian School of Business, UNSW and the author of THE AIRPORT ECONOMIST: www.timharcourt.com
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