The good guy trying to bust out of the wanker suit
If surveys are to be believed, the vast majority of Australians believe that new Australian captain Michael Clarke is an incurable wanker. On the evidence of the last couple of years, it’s hard to argue. Yet beneath the Sunday social pages facade, I’m convinced there’s a good guy waiting to bust out. And an even better captain waiting to take over.
About a year ago, I interviewed Clarke at a photo shoot for Alpha magazine. In a down moment between shots, two Alpha staff members swear they heard him say under his breath “what am I doing here?”
Understandably, my colleagues were pretty taken aback by that unexpected comment.
Until that moment, Clarke had seemed a perfectly willing participant in the shoot, which took place in a typical suburban backyard complete with Hills Hoist and wheelie bin for wickets – all of which was designed to portray Clarke as antithesis of a Sunday social pages wanker. It was Clarke as average citizen. The western suburbs boy who is still, at heart, one of us.
So what on earth did he mean when he said “what am I doing here?”
At the time, we all assumed the worst. We thought that Alpha, which is staunchly and unapologetically a mid-market mag, was simply not good enough for the man who had recently done a Ben Cousins and graced the cover of GQ.
But looking back, I think we got it wrong. Straight after our shoot, Clarke had NSW state cricket training. Indeed, he was so pressed for time that day that he spent the breaks between various shots stretching on the ground, so he’d be raring to go when he arrived at the SCG nets for training.
So when he said “what am I doing here?”, what I think he actually meant was “why am I doing yet another piece of PR fluff when cricket is the only thing that really matters to me, not to mention the only vehicle through which I’ll ever earn anyone’s respect?”
Bottom line: Clarke is not stupid. He knows he is perceived as a wanker, and he’d like to change that.
But he also likes the trimmings of fame and fortune – the flash Bondi pad, the bling, the ladies – and he’s stuffed if he’s going to waste his time trying to portray himself as a you beaut, true blue cobber like virtually every other retired or present day cricketer just to satisfy public expectation.
He is Michael Clarke. He likes shiny ear jewellery and tasteless underwear ads that bring him a huge amount of money. In America or England, he would be celebrated for these things. Here, he’s derided. But you know what? That’s our problem, not his.
The irony is that Clarke, for all his propensity for poncing about, is in fact a natural people person. He’s certainly 10 times more warm and engaging than Ricky Ponting, who he may or may not have permanently replaced as Australian skipper (I, for one, hope he has).
Two quick examples of Clarke’s natural exuberance and sparkle:
In mid 2010, I attended a Slazenger media day – one of those tedious days when magazine journalists write lovely things about the sponsor’s product in exchange for a few choice quotes from the star.
The day took place at the SCG, and Clarke was on fire as he showed us his favourite bits of the ground, including the hallowed dressing rooms.
He could’ve been flat and perfunctory. Many stars play it that way at these days, not least a certain Slazenger-sponsored dual Brownlow medallist who was cold as ice at a recent event of this type in Melbourne.
But Clarke was genuinely enthusiastic, outgoing, and full of secrets about the inner sanctum, He made you feel like your best mate, and in that moment, you realised that he probably has that effect on his team-mates too.
The other example dates back to the famous SCG dressing rooms stoush with Simon Katich, after the unlikely victory over South Africa a couple of seasons back.
The story was always that Clarke wanted the official team songmeister Mike Hussey to hurry up and sing the team song so he could go out with his then girlfriend Lara Bingle.
Simon Katich took offence, arguing Hussey could sing the song whenever he damn well wanted, as tradition dictated, and stuff Clarke and his bloody social plans. Clarke and Katich then came to blows.
Well, the version I’ve heard from a good source is different. In the alternate version, the basic facts are the same, with Katich and Clarke fighting as Clarke urged Hussey to get on with the song (and it was getting on for 11 pm).
But the real reason Clarke wanted to get going was that he wanted to take the Test debutants Peter Siddle and Andrew McDonald (both Victorians) for a night out in his home town of Sydney. Pretty good motive, that.
I think we should all give our first Gen Y Test captain the benefit of the doubt. My guess is that he’s nothing like the wanker he’s so often made out to be. Though having said all that, it certainly wouldn’t hurt if he made a few runs for a change too.
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