While the jury is still out there if he is or isn’t a legend of the game, Michael Clarke won everything there is to win on a cricket field and also won a lot of awards for his individual brilliance. Clarke who showed his mettle right from his debut for Australia in which he slammed a superb century against India in Bangalore in 2004.
Many remember him for his 161 not out against South Africa at Cape Town in 2014, where he faced a barrage of bouncers from Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, took many blows to his body, but yet came out on top or for the way he shrugged off the death of his best friend Phillip Hughes to score an emotional hundred at Adelaide. But Clarke has been a fighter even before his cricket career took off as he was diagnosed with skin cancer in 2005-06 and even before that – at the age of 17 – the doctors had discovered that he had a chronic back pain, which is something he had to deal with for the rest of his career.
In the years to come, Clarke would go on to become one of the mainstays in the Australian middle-order and more so after Ricky Ponting retired, not just as a batsman, but needed him to lead Australia to their next era. After Australia’s exit in the 2011 World Cup, Clarke was handed the ODI captaincy as well and had ample time to build a team to help Australia their fifth World Cup title. Not only did he do that, under him, the team also groomed the next set of leaders in Steven Smith and David Warner.
Clarke was a selfless cricketer – shown by his decision to declare when he was on 329 against India when he had a chance to break Brian Lara’s record – but at the same time was perhaps the last captain with an ‘in your face’ attitude. He never backed away from a verbal battle on-field, neither did he stop his teammates from engaging.
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The triple century came at a time when Australia were going through a rough patch having won just four of their previous 16 Tests and had one just one series in their previous six attempts. While Australia’s fortunes turned after that, Clarke went on to score 1595 runs that calendar year, which is the most by an Australian.
With the team going through a transition after the sandpaper episode, the Australians under coach Justin Langer have not resorted to foul-mouthing the opposition, but believe in healthy banters, which is something the docu series ‘The Test’ focussed on. The ruthless Australian captains right from Steve Waugh to Ponting to Clarke did everything possible to get into the head of the opposition. At the same time, they were backed with cricketing skills to make them among the best teams to have played. Clarke is perhaps the sort of character Australia are missing at the moment.
Clarke’s batting never really took a major dip, except in the last two to three years of his career, where he would often miss matches due to back issues. The fact that he has won the Allan Border Medal on four occasions – in 2005, 2009, 2012 and 2013 – shows what a key figure he had been for the team. Three of those years, i.e, 2009, 2012, 2013, he won the Cricket Australia Test player of the year too. The last time he won the award was in 2014 – just a year before he retired.
His captaincy too does not get enough credit. In Tests, he has won over 51% of the matches he has captained, but in the ODIs, he is one of the five captains who has a win% of more than 70, placing him right up there among the world’s best.
The former skipper was also a very handy bowler and has produced some memorable spells. 6 for 9 against India in Mumbai in 2004 was one of the best bowling performances ever. He was tossed the ball when India were 182 for 4 and 83 runs ahead as they looked to set a huge target.
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However, Ponting’s decision to switch to Clarke turned out to be inspirational and he managed to bowl India out, picking up the remaining six wickets and let them add just 23 runs more. He scored a century, picked up a five-wicket haul and played a pivotal part in ensuring Australia winning a series in India in three decades. A dream start to any player’s Test career!
While the Mumbai match ended in a loss, Clarke would have the final say – yet again against India – four years later in the controversial Test at SCG. With just minutes to bat out, Ponting once again tossed the ball to Clarke, who in one over removed the last three batsmen to hand his side their 16th consecutive win in Tests.
While Clarke’s name has never been taken in the same breath as a few all-time greats, there are certain records that he has set, which will be difficult to emulate or overtake.
When it comes to The Ashes, after surrendering meekly in the 2013 edition in England, Clarke led Australia to a 5-0 whitewash in 2013-14, which ensured that they get the urn Down Under for the first time in in seven years. A further feather in his cap followed when he led Australia to their fifth World Cup title in 2015 in his final ODI in which he scored a crucial fifty in the final.
2015 would go onto become his final year in international cricket as he would go on to lose The Ashes but managed a consolation win in his final Test at The Oval, bringing curtains to a career in which he scored 17,112 runs, 36 centuries and picked up 94 wickets. It was certainly an end of an era, but Clarke had taken Australia to a better position than they were when he took over the reins and will go down as one of the under-rated cricketers/captains Australia has produced.