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During the final months of Ricky Ponting’s Captaincy I was one of the many people not entirely convinced Michael Clarke was the right choice to lead the Baggy Greens.
Like most people, this slightly distorted view point was due to the constant drama and media spotlight around his personal life, the incidents that were on display to the public. At the same time, like many, this view of mine has since changed drastically.
I am not at all inspired nor fascinated by celebrity lifestyle. I don’t find it to be that appealing. Maybe this was the reason it did create a negative perception as to me with the prospect of Michael leading the Baggy Greens?
With the stigma attached to Michael’s high-profile relationship with Lara Bingle and all the prima donna glitz and glamour that went with it, it naturally made many other genuine cricket followers concerned. Admittedly there were a few incidents where even I was frustrated with hype and what appeared to be an open distraction.
Despite all of this it never made me doubt Michael’s understanding of the game.
His personal affairs did cast a dark cloud over whether he'd handle the intensity as Skipper and have the mental toughness, in the eyes of the casual onlooker, which is understandable. I am damn sure this is the reason he seemed unpopular with the general public. It wasn't about his game, it was because of the perceived lifestyle, nothing more, nothing less.
One Baggy Green fanatic I chat to sometimes, Joel Chaos, was very vocal in seeing the true aspects that were evident in Michael's cricket to grab the opportunity and take on the leadership. Despite the apparent drama he kept backing Michael.
It was a tough time for Michael and he was subjected to loads of criticism and attacks regarding his personal life, in many ways his actual character.
If you have followed the blog for many years you will notice I rarely write about a player’s personal life or situations.
The reason being I don’t personally know the players and, secondly, I believe if I couldn’t say the things I write to that player’s face, it just isn’t worth going down that road.
Yes, it was frustrating to see a cricketer thrown into the paparazzi spotlight, like Shane Warne, but I actually empathised with Michael, especially come the break-up with his fiancé.
During the time of his emergence as a senior player, the rollercoaster ride in his personal life seemed to be travelling at the speed of a Brett Lee bouncer as opposed to the steady pace of Glenn McGrath.
It seemed to just spiral out of control and after some serious emotional problems during this time and family difficulties, it was a testing situation for Michael as a man coming of age in both his personal and professional life.
The fact he needed some time out of the side to get his affairs in order, including a bunch of journo’s hanging outside his apartment during his relationship breakup, showed nothing more than his human side. I respected that.
What I cared about was Michael rising above this and returning to the cricket field. It was important for the supporters that he’d get his career back on track and that he remind everyone of the value he had to offer and what was the vital ingredient to the talk behind his possible promotion as Australian Crickets Skipper for so many years.
It came with a century against the Black Caps at the Basin Reserve in 2010 and even though it would be a difficult Ashes series that followed, his full-time ODI promotion was just around the corner.
Michael had already impressed me by this stage with the leadership shown when he’d taken on the ODI Captaincy in Punter’s absence.
He’s a sharp tactician, flexible with his methods, smart when executing his bowlers and he can be as aggressive and ruthless in many regards as his predecessors.
Having been given the full-time job after taking it on following Punter’s step down, these elements of his own leadership scope have been well on display for all too see.
He also leads from the front, is highly positive with his statements, backs his team 100% and the value I see as his strongest is the way he takes accountability and responsibility very seriously.
He’s quick to address poor performances and will painfully write off his own performances if the team falls short. This was evident when he laughed off one of his best centuries I have seen from him. This was his 151 against the Proteas. Having watched his batting live, it was a tough contest against the ball and it was a serious testament to his arrival as the Skipper. It highlighted his ability to lead from the front and it was a Captain’s knock.
After losing the Test match he dismissed his century as a worthless effort and wanted to forget it. Quite upsetting after witnessing a great spectacle of Test batting, but under the circumstances I respected that a hell of a lot. Not easy to do and you could hear in his voice and see in his body language he was livid and had taken responsibility. That is something I won’t forget.
Within a few days of the loss I was able to have a very brief chat with Michael at a net session where he was upbeat, positive and very enthusiastic to talk about moving forward and assured the few of us Baggy Green supporters who were there that, “things are on track, mate”.
The series didn’t end of a personal high with Michael’s batting but he was leading the side on the back of a Sri Lankan series win (where he scored a century and also grafted hard for a half-century in the 1st innings on a very difficult batting track).
This slight momentum, despite the freak match at Newlands, would have helped the team’s confidence in the 2nd Test where victory was achieved in nail-biting circumstances.
Granted it was a game both teams let slip on a number of passages of play but Michael had seen his team achieve victory and come back from a daunting situation.
That killer instinct, the ability of backing yourselves and never giving in was present!
Self-belief is a key aspect of Michael’s character and this seemed to flow amongst each and every player of the side, including Ricky Ponting who may be in doubt for another 10 Tests plus. I will really miss the day Punter goes and when the man performs the positivity is contagious amongst the team and the supporters, in my opinion!
Michael saw his team learn an important lesson in how to win a game with mental challenges present from Day 1 of the series.
This ability to come back from the dead can only be learnt with a group of players experiencing this, gaining the knowledge how to comeback collectively and Michael was a member of that original side that had the knack to make it look so easy.
He has the chance to ensure this present side uses the 2nd Test as a turning point for Australian cricket and a special game for his own leadership timeline.
I want to see this team become a core group where Michael will know his players, where we will know the players to see how he rotates them and how they will feed off each other’s abilities. This was what we understood very well when watching the Waugh/Ponting teams.
I want to see Michael be his own Captain but embrace that die-hard attitude Steve Waugh and Allan Border drummed into the team’s intimidating spirit.
Having said this I know Michael Clarke has the leadership qualities to do it, to follow through with his own game plan and ensure that it is done in the most tactical way possible.
He may appear to be a soft sort of bloke on the outside, but to blend into one of the greatest sides cricket has ever known, to overcome his personal struggles and shrug of media haters, to lead a mixed side with his own demonstrative input and to have lead from the front in numerous games already to gain the respect of his team is the sign of a tough bloke, mentally tough! This is what I want to see from the Captain.
All he needs is to get a good summer with the bat in hand which will indicate he can handle his own game with the responsibility in front of the Australian cricket supporting masses.
The side is now a very intense blend of experience and inexperience but the stocks look to be setting into place with the emerging talent starting to be evidently present.
The results we desire may take a while to come around with the consistency we so badly want to see return. It starts with each and every player who is selected contributing, especially on the batting front!
If Michael can stay true to himself, continue to move forward with his attitude of “win every game and improve all the time”, while scoring plenty of runs (which he is more than capable of doing) he should gain the respect and confidence of Australian Cricket Supporters.
It’s a big summer for him and if there was a time to let his game to the talking and really show a tougher dynamic, this is it!
I have gained a lot of respect for Michael Clarke over the recent months and I have been very impressed by his tactical and strategic execution in the middle.
While Michael is still new to the Test duties, his ODI Captaincy stats are impressive where he has contributed as well:
MJ CLARKE Captaincy:Tests:
Played 6, Won 2, Lost 2, Drawn 2 = 33.3% victory rate.
Played 37, Won 26, Lost 9, No result 2 = 70% victory rate.
With 6 Tests to come his way this summer, it will show the shape of things to come.
The 1st Test of the New Zealand Tests begins on Thursday.
It’s an intense series where we may see three or four debuts occur in a time where senior players are handling injuries and the new selection panel have boldly called some young guns to order!
Mickey Arthur begins his Australian Coaching duties while this is Michael’s opportunity to begin his own era.
If he gets the stable support from the new selectors, the consistency is discovered with this team and supporters get behind the side, he can dig into his own skill set to dominate.
It could be a great summer for the Baggy Greens.
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