By Boria Majumdar
Michael Clarke doesn’t believe in sporting fairytales. But he too has agreed that his ODI farewell was no less than one. Captaining Australia to World Cup glory in front of a record 93,000 people at the MCG against arch rivals New Zealand and going on to be the highest scorer for his team, Clarke could not have asked for anything better. ‘Pup’, as he is known to his close mates, does leave as ‘Top Dog’ and that’s something every sportsman craves. Retirement is the hardest decision to make, and to get the timing spot on is one of the toughest things in sport. Michael Clarke, to his credit, timed it immaculately.
Anyone who knows Clarke well will vouch for one simple fact – that he works hard. Really hard! He pushes himself to the limits when it comes to playing for Australia and his passion for the baggy green is less to none. Clarke agrees that playing for his country is the best thing to happen to him, and suggests that he is the one who owes everything to cricket while cricket owes him nothing. His humility and honesty has endeared Clarke to many, while some have taken offence at his forthrightness. But that’s Clarke – a leader unrivalled (best evident during the Phil Hughes tragedy) and now a World Cup winning skipper.
Clarke played the tournament against all odds. With a hamstring surgery just two months before the competition, many had written off his chances of playing the Cup on home soil. Not Clarke. Devastated when injured in the first Test against India at Adelaide, Clarke had pondered if it was indeed the end of his cricket career. In a phone conversation, he had even broken down. But not one to give up, he went ahead with the surgery and then the rehabilitation. Clarke followed medical instructions to the fullest, and did more. He wanted to play the World Cup and there was nothing that could stop him from doing so. Within weeks of the surgery, he had started to run. And then train. He trained really hard to get back in rhythm and was back in his stride in time for the warm up match against Afghanistan. It is a story of dedication and what zeal and determination can do amidst all adversity.
And the retirement call was taken to perfection. In the aftermath of the Sydney semi-final, Clarke asked himself one simple question – will he be around for the CWC 2019? With the answer being in the negative, his decision was a no-brainer. It was time to pass on the baton, leave when no one was expecting him to do so. But there was the final to be played against a New Zealand team that was still unbeaten. Clarke, who had a mediocre World Cup by his own standards, had reserved his best for the last. A superb batting effort to lead his team to victory, he has left one day international cricket a satisfied man.
Why is Clarke a true legend of the modern game? Why does Sachin Tendulkar rate him as the best Australian captain he has played against? It is because Clarke did not inherit a team of match winners like Steve Waugh or Ricky Ponting. There was no McGrath or Warne to throw the ball to and enjoy their heroics thereafter. It was an Australian team in transition and to make a fledgling team into a champion one, is one of the most difficult things to accomplish. That’s what Clarke has managed to do. He has ticked boxes – beat South Africa in South Africa, win the World Cup, beat India at home and make Australia the number one ODI team in the world.
However, two things still remain for Clarke to accomplish – beat England in England and retain the Ashes, and beat India in India, one of the hardest things to do in international cricket. For the first, Clarke gets an opportunity in July-August 2015 when he will lead a resurgent Australian side against Alastair Cook’s men in what promises to be an enthralling contest. It is a different Australia to the one England beat at home in July 2013, and many will say Clarke does have a chance to win an away Ashes series.
With a few years of Test cricket still left in him, he will surely get one final opportunity of touring India.
For the moment though, Clarke can rest on his ODI laurels for a few days before getting head on into the format he loves the most – Test match cricket. Australia will be on tour soon and Clarke will want to refocus as soon as possible to lead Australia in becoming the number one Test team in the world as well. If he can take Australia to the pole position in Test cricket, he will have achieved the distinction of being number one in both formats as leaderm and only then will his job be fully done. A hard taskmaster, Clarke, it can be surmised, will settle for nothing less.