Michael Clarke: $hit bloke?
So, farewell, then, Michael Clarke. You may have retired from international cricket but you've left a whole lot of soul-searching behind you. As I stood to applaud Pup on his final day of cricket at the Oval last weekend I couldn't help but wonder what I was doing. I mean, I'd done the same for Warne and McGrath ten years ago, and for other heavyweights of the game, but don't we hate Michael Clarke? Most Shackle-Draggers certainly seem to, and who are we to question the logic of a nation of immigrants with the harshest border controls in the world?
So it's time for a retrospective: Pup's career highs (maybe) and lows (definitely) examined to determine whether he deserves the affection lavished on him in recent weeks.
Test debut: India vs Australia, Bangalore, 6-10 October 2004: Clarke scores 151 in an Australian victory and announces himself as a classy batsman and clever player of spin. He goes on to build a reputation as one of the world's best batsman against the spinning ball. Tractor Verdict: 9/10
2005 Ashes series: England see Clarke as a major threat batting at 5. His 91 off 106 balls in the heavy Lord's defeat enhanced this reputation, but he failed to impress in the rest of the series and his most famous moment was as the victim of Steve Harmison's slower ball at Edgbaston. In addition, his dodgy back was already becoming a limiting factor. Tractor Verdict: 6/10
The Walk of Life: With all the brouhaha about Broad's not walking in 2013 you'd be forgiven for thinking that while the rest of us exhale condensed air on a chilly morning, Pup exhales the Spirit of Cricket. Not so visible in 2008 when he refused to walk after a clear edge to slip off Anil Kumble's bowling. Luckily the umpires finally gave him the finger, but the damage was done. Tractor Verdict: 1/10
Katich Spat, 2009: Clarke tried to hurry up the team song so he could ditch his team mates (and join the girlfriend he would go on to ditch a New Zealand tour for) so Katich apparently turned things physical in reply. Clarke should have known he was making waves and kept his trap shut. Tractor Verdict: 4/10
Homework-gate, 2013: as a teacher, I'm with Clarke on the principle here, though his methodology was clearly idiotic. Watson, Pattinson, Khawaja and Johnson failed to submit their ideas on how the Baggy Greens could improve during their 4-0 series defeat to India; Clarke and Micky Arthur dropped the quartet for the third test as a show of discipline but the man-management was utterly cringeworthy. Tractor Verdict: 3/10
He said what?! Brisbane, 2013: No one considers Jimmy Anderson a softie, but Clarke's desperate attempt to paint himself as a powerful personality in the first Ashes test ended with his telling Jimmy to 'get ready for a f***ing broken arm'. Unnecessary. Uncouth. Enough said. Tractor Verdict: 3/10
Philip Hughes grief: the cricket world was truly shocked and saddened by Philip Hughes' untimely death. Many of us put out our bats and cried genuine tears, as did Michael Clarke. He became seen as a statesman, a protector of the game as he eulogised as much about the spirit of cricket as about his close friend. He handled himself and his grief exceptionally well in public, even though the cynic in me isn't sure this actually made him a decent guy. I'd better stop here for fear of causing unintended offence. Tractor Verdict: 8/10
Retirement, 2015: Ricky Ponting complained that the Barmy Army booed him. Michael Clarke used to get that treatment, too. But this year he was welcomed and applauded: the announcement of his retirement at the Trent Bridge presentations was met with warmth and generosity as Athers gently asked if he was able to continue the interview through his tears. Cook welled up in response. Tears were everywhere and everywhere were tears. This was a man who knew his time had come and who was willingly passing the baton to Steve Smith (the least likely-looking captain test cricket has ever seen?). Tractor Verdict: 8/10
So my arbitrary selection of moments and scores rates Pup pretty low any way you look at it. So why did I stand and applaud this man to the field, and why had England apparently forgiven all his pettiness and silly aggression over the years?
My theory is that, actually, they sympathised with the man Alastair Cook could have been. No, no, Cook would never be as moronically hostile as Clarke, or as quick to spit out his dummy. But Cook has been in captaincy trouble over 18 months and every single member of the England setup has backed him, has stood shoulder to shoulder with him, despite whatever personal opinions they may hold about his suitability as captain. That's the beauty, isn't it? We don't even know who in that dressing room can't wait for his departure, because they're doing the good team thing and keeping schtum. We all know that's why He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named had to go - he made everything public.
I think we see in Clarke a man who tried to be principled and upstanding but who was undermined at every opportunity by former teammates, selectors, management and even his current teammates. A man who could not possibly succeed so that everything he tried looked contrived and gauche.
I don't condone many of his actions but I feel that Cook and his team empathised with a man let down by Cricket Australia, which seemed happy to let all the accusations and in-fighting air in public. Shame on them.
Clarke, you may well be a pretty $hit bloke, but you had your own weird integrity so for that, at least, I applaud you.