The Making of Michael?

Any boy who has ever played a backyard test match has likely imagined himself captain of Australia, but only a rare few are able to convert those boyhood dreams into reality. When it happens, the anointed one is expected to cherish the honour with the utmost reverence. More people dream of captaining Australia than ever imagine themselves Prime Minister,  including some actual PM’s, so it’s no surprise the position generates opinion.

The 43rd man appointed to the post could be excused if he was a little bemused at the circumstances of his elevation; it’s not usual for a new captain’s appointment to prompt such open hostility amongst so many fans, and such exhaustive media scrutiny of his perceived shortfalls. And all before he’s tossed a coin!

As we approach the end of a test summer of discontent for Australian cricket, with the Ashes now out of reach, it seems opportune to consider what may be gained, and what is to be lost during the final five days in Sydney.

Ricky Ponting’s injured finger seems a blessing in disguise, for it enables the difficult decision regarding his future to be left for more sober reflection than the Melbourne debacle may have allowed. It also provides Michael Clarke with the perfect opportunity to answer his growing body of critics in the most meaningful way. Personally out of form, and with the team struggling, if Clarke could salvage some positives out of the match he should at least give pause for the critical to reserve final judgement. The claim will be his to stake.

It certainly seems the perfect moment for a fresh approach, though Australia’s increasingly besieged selectors don’t entirely seem to agree, having adopted a minimalist approach in only replacing the injured. Perhaps they’re wary of encouraging too much discussion of new brooms. In any case, selecting more New South Welshmen seems to have become the default position in recent years.

This caution aside, the inclusion of Khawaja and (finally)Beer means Clarke will have a different looking side to helm. With team renewal long overdue, the presence of so many young men seeking to establish themselves is to be welcomed, even if it proves to be a recipe for fragility in this particular game. I remain unconvinced that we have the best eleven available cricketers selected, but at least we may hope some of the young brigade respond to the presence of a skipper more of their generation.

For the braver optimist, there is a case to be made for an Australian victory in Sydney. The wild form fluctuations of both sides are now well known, and England did appear to get ahead of themselves somewhat after Adelaide. And we know Australia often lost dead rubbers in their prime, although only after series were secured. A side that hasn’t handled the Ashes pressure may benefit from having that pressure removed.

But now for the more likely reality. That remarkable Perth form reversal looked more the product of WACA bounce and breezes as every day in Melbourne passed. On flatter tracks, England have had a decisive edge this summer with both bat and ball. They have also held a significant edge in tactics and campaign planning. You suspect Strauss and Flower are to be taken at their word, and that there’ll be no let up from an organised team with ambitions beyond this series. Sydney would be expected to produce a wicket that suits the visitors. At the very least, on a pitch guaranteed to turn at some point, Swann looks a much safer bet than the unknown abilities of Beer, or the fledgling spin of Smith. Australia will do well to stem the tide.

Though Australia will be desperate to draw the series, part of me is entertaining the heretical thought that it may be in our longer term interests if we didn’t. Australian cricket has shown a fair capacity deny reality in recent times, and live off the recently golden past. The worry is that a victory here might provide another fig leaf of cover for those (mostly off field) who should be held to account for the failings of this summer.

But you will never persuade eager young cricketers to think in such terms, nor should they. Clarke’s men will begin the game striving to win, and they deserve our best wishes. The time for post-mortems can wait. Clarke’s tactics should be his own, on his own terms, for what has gone before has been insufficient. How he manages that with Ponting sitting in the dressing room remains an open question. Here’s hoping that some of the young bucks leave us with hope for the future, and that we can have a test match that can sustain tension beyond the first day.

About John Butler

John Butler has fled the World's Most Liveable Car Park and now breathes the rarefied air of the Ballarat Plateau. For his sins, he has passed his 40th year as a Carlton member.


  1. I am re-reading Gideon Haigh’s excellent piece in the Weekend Australian. He seems to have seen it like ‘ít had already happened’. Clarke has his problems and clearly is a goose, but, not even I would blame him for what happened on day one. When Matt Hayden was dropped from the Australian team the general consensus was that he had “problems” with his technique. To his credit he went back to the Pura cup and worked on his technical flaws and when recalled was a plainly an improved opening batsman. What part of Philip Hughes’s dismissal shows that he has addressed or even conceives that he has technical defects? Three balls before the lunch break Australia had a chance to consolidate. Watson cannot be bklamed for getting Hughes out. His technique is all his own.

  2. John Butler says

    Mulcaster, I doubt Hughes would argue that it wasn’t a poor, and ill-timed, shot.

    It was a shame, because he’d played well to that point. But if he wants to be a test opener he can’t afford those types of mental lapses.

    I don’t think Clarke is a goose. But he has to demonstrate the type of resolve Australia needs at the moment. We’re still waiting.

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