London - Australia's Michael Clarke will retire from international cricket
after the fifth Ashes Test against England, starting on Thursday, with a
brilliant record but strangely lacking the universal praise his figures might
Only three Australia have scored more runs than Clarke - who has battled a
chronic back condition throughout his career - and the outgoing captain is also
the only Australian to score a hundred on both his home and away Test debuts.
Yet Clarke won't bow out with the kind of unstinting admiration his career
would appear to deserve.
Clarke, nicknamed "Pup", burst on the scene with a diamond studded
ear-ring and highlights in his hair.
He soon became something of a lightning rod for Australians unhappy with
aspects of modern Australia - and they were soon able to express their
displeasure in that most modern of ways on social media, where Clarke's
relationships with former girlfriend Lara Bingle and now wife Kyly, both
one-time models, were laid bare - often by Clarke himself.
"Michael was more your 21st century captain, he was single, he was
flashier, lived a different life to some of us in the past, but that doesn't
make him a bad person, nor a bad captain," former Australia skipper Mark
Taylor told ESPNCricinfo when asked about Clarke.
But former Australia coach John Buchanan, in charge of the side for the
first four years of Clarke's international career, said the "baggy green
culture" so highly prized when he was making his way in the side had
"disappeared a bit" under the now 34-year-old's captaincy.
Clarke confirmed he would retire immediately after England's innings and
78-run win in the fourth Test at Trent Bridge earlier this month gave them an
unbeatable 3-1 lead in the five-match Ashes series.
The timing of Clarke's announcement led to accusations that he had tried to
make what should have been England's day "all about him", a criticism
that was aired when he confirmed he would be quitting one-day internationals on
the eve of Australia's World Cup final triumph against New Zealand earlier this
Meanwhile, the fact that some people in and around the Australia team are
vitriolic when talking about Clarke can't be ascribed solely to jealousy.
After his debut hundred in Bangalore in 2004, which he completed wearing his
baggy green Australia cap rather than his helmet, Clarke like many a young
player before him saw his form dip.
He was soon facing the charge that he didn't make "tough runs" and
was also a "pet" of his friend, colourful spin-bowling great Shane
But starting with a superb innings of 329 not out against India in his
native Sydney, the year 2012 marked a golden time for Clarke - who found
himself in charge of an Australia side shorn of several great players including
Glenn McGrath and Warne.
It eventually led the Sydney Morning Herald to say sorry to Clarke for
comments about his lifestyle but, as cricket writer Jarrod Kimber observed:
"To get a public apology all Michael Clarke had to do was score 329 not
out, 210, 259 not out and 230 in one year".
But a 4-0 series loss in India led to charges that Clarke had been complicit
in players being dropped for failing to write written reports about their
performance -- although the blame for "homework-gate" fell mainly on
the then coach Mickey Arthur.
Clarke's popularity was boosted by Australia's 5-0 Ashes thrashing of
England in 2013/14, while his magnificent 161 at Cape Town in a
series-clinching win away to South Africa in March last year, after suffering a
broken arm, was a superb example of making "tough runs".
Off the field, he would win plaudits later in 2014 for the way he conducted
himself after Australia batsman Phillip Hughes died after being hit on the head
by a bouncer in a state match and for the moving eulogy he gave at his friend's
The hundred he made against India in Adelaide after Hughes's funeral was a
memorable innings in the circumstances.
But with runs slipping away from Clarke, who has reached 25 just six times
in his last 30 Test innings, the old charges against him soon resurfaced.