Matt Lygoe

Michael Clarke: The Captain calling

Michael Clarke

Tipping his cap to Michael Clarke, Matt Lygoe acknowledges that Pup’s dedication to the game, even through injury, affirms his place as Aussie Cricket Captain.

 

Some say the position of “Captain of the Australian cricket team” occupies the second highest office in the country, after that of the Prime Minister.

Why?

Because Australians take sport more seriously than politics, academia, charity and discovery combined…because sport.

That’s why.

Maybe Sir Don Bradman led on the grassy field in a composed manner akin to the way Sir John Monash led on the battle field?

Perhaps Alan Border weathered West Indian fast bowling onslaughts in a way that would’ve drawn admiration from Sir Dougie Mawson?

(NB: The Australian Captain should in no way be confused for, or even likened to “Captain Australia,” who wears budgie smugglers, fights people smugglers and regularly smuggles his own foot into his mouth.)

We expect the leader of our only true national sport to not only be able to play, but to win, with humility; and handle a loss with the right mix of disappointed “we’ll get the bastards next time” and grace.

The kind of diplomat that Canberra couldn’t match at the moment.

Once upon a time, an Australian cricket captain’s position would only come under scrutiny if the team wasn’t winning. The next criteria for him to be judged would be his own form. Scant runs can be accepted if a team is winning, but even then, only to a point.

Well before being named captain in 2011, Michael Clarke was intensely critiqued on everything from his hairstyle, motor car, girlfriend/wife, lip gloss, tattoos and toothpaste.

Clarke has never been everyone’s cup of tea. A polarising figure. Enigmatic.

Many struggle to fully adopt a man who, on one hand seems to be the quintessential modern metrosexual, yet on the other hand, displays rare toughness and grit.

Those who knock Michael Clarke cite the time he and Simon Katich got into a stink because Clarke didn’t hang around to sing the victory song after a test match win because he wanted to POQ to a trendy social engagement. The Katich drama still rankles those who see the skipping of a hearty rendition of Under the Southern Cross I Stand as tantamount to some kind of unpatriotic treason.

The panacea to that unhealthy view has been acts such as Michael Clarke’s absorption of searing leather missiles from Steyn, Morkel, etc in Cape Town, only for him to post 161 not out…with a broken shoulder.

Clarke’s statesman-like handling of Philip Hughes’ tragic death and his subsequent registering 128 as he battled high emotions, back and hamstring issues – this reaffirmed his aptness to hold the second-highest office in the country in the best way possible.

If Michael Clarke is going to bat and conduct himself like that, I don’t care if he wants go full-hipster and demand Goji Berry Gatorade at drinks, “the Paleo way” at lunch and hot yoga at stumps.

I’ll shout the kale and chia seed smoothies.

Those back and hammy issues led to Clarke breaking down badly whilst fielding in the previously mentioned same match, and left Brad Haddin to do a sterling job and close out a magnificent “win for #Hughesy408″…but this is where things got sticky.

Clarke’s injury stemmed from a chronic condition, and there were rumblings this episode would require surgery and could prematurely end his career, which seemed to clarify the naming of the prodigious Steve Smith to assume the captaincy reins, and not Haddin, in a caretaker role while Clarke mended.

Smith blossomed with sublime batting performances whilst having the big © next to his name.

Captaincy and Steve Smith, it seemed, were made for one another. He scored runs at will and even in tense situations. He batted us into winning positions with Border-like resolve, and some nonchalant Dougie Walters style, dash and larrikinism. Opposition teams must hate it when Steve Smith is grinning, as it lends itself more to a smiling assassin than merely someone enjoying their job.

Smith enjoyed the most golden of summers, then came the announcement of the World Cup squad while Clarke was still flat out on the operating table having his hammy reattached to his backside.

(OK, so maybe the announcement and surgery didn’t coincide, but in the scheme of things it was bloody well close enough for me to go there.)

Many were surprised at Michael Clarke being named, and it wasn’t just because of whether he would ever play again, but because it’s an express-paced, hammy-unfriendly form of the game he could easily give a miss/miss out to someone better.

It’s not worth the risk, surely?

There was also a rumour Clarke was on the outer with teammates, and not being invited to a gathering of “the boys,” which added intrigue. Then Clarke was offended when the selectors hit him up with a fitness deadline.

I freely admit I didn’t agree with the fitness deadline either, but because I didn’t think he should be playing one day cricket at all – let alone racing the post-surgery clock. He should be concentrating on getting himself right for Test cricket, IMO.

Michael Clarke is a steady performer, but has never been a one-day wrecking ball. Sure, he can hit the occasional six, but it will limp over the rope, as opposed to the power games of many others that send the ball “rows back” with ever increasing frequency.

But here he is, Michael Clarke. A couple of practice matches in and poised to possibly put egg all over my face by scoring a stack of stoic World Cup runs and saving our bacon.

(Why do I want a big breakfast all of a sudden?)

Steve Smith will have to wait to reassume the captaincy, and I now accept that as a “high-class problem.”

Hipsters, Republicans and assorted other non-sporting folks would’ve condemned it no doubt, but you can be very sure: If Tony Abbott had anointed Sir Alan Border on Australia Day, he would not have sent his approval ranking to “minnow,” and he’d be off the duck and would have registered his first ever, successful “Captain’s call.”

 

Matt Lygoe

Raised somewhere between Dubbo and Bourke NSW, somewhere between low and middle-class household. A butcher by trade (it was that or sheep shearing at Year 10’s end), before turning my hand to commercial radio (as butchers so often do). In 22 years, I have been kicked off the air, reported on stranded whales and written comedy skits, in between producing roughly 50,000 radio ads, a tally to which I’m still adding. One cute child, one partner (hoping for more) who has two bigger, much uglier, but lovely, teenage offspring.

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  • D.O.W.N

    What a bloody champ!

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