The year was 2004. The 1st test in the India-Australia Test series was on at the M. Chinnaswamy stadium in Bangalore. A 23-year-old Australian named Michael Clarke was making his test debut. Australia had not won a test series in India for 35 years, and their captain Ricky Ponting was missing from action due to injury. He was replaced by the blonde haired baby faced Clarke.
Clarke walked to the crease with Australia struggling at 149-4. Anil Kumble had dismissed the experienced duo of Damien Martyn and Darren Lehmann for 20 runs between them. Clarke stroked a sublime 151 and kissed the baggy green upon reaching 100. The twinkling footwork he displayed while handling the experienced spin duo of Kumble and Harbhajan Singh was the most impressive feature of his batting. The rookie did something that the Australian legends before him had never really been able to do.
It was clear that he had abundant potential. With a century on debut, he hastened the retirement of Darren Lehmann, the current Australia coach, and fixed a spot for himself in the team. The 2005 Ashes series was a sharp test of Clarke’s skill, and his dismissal on the verge of close of play in the second innings at Edgbaston came in for sharp criticism.
The media always found him to be an easy target due to his celebrity lifestyle and his high profile relationship with Lara Bingle. In fact, when Clarke showed impressive focus to score a century on a tour of New Zealand immediately after breaking up with Bingle, he was panned in the media for skipping the previous test due to personal issues. His infamous dressing room bust-up with Simon Katich further fuelled speculation that he was not liked within his own team.
When Ricky Ponting stepped down as captain after the 2011 World Cup, there were plenty who were sceptical of Clarke’s ascension to the captaincy, with his former teammate Matthew Hayden among the more vocal critics. However, Clarke’s game only improved once he took on the mantle of leadership, and his proactive and instinctive captaincy won a lot of admirers. His average of 52.41 as captain compares favourably to his average of 46.97 as a player.
Clarke fell slightly short of being called a true great as his numbers away from home did not match up to his stellar numbers at home. While he scored 17 centuries at home at an average of 62.05, he scored 11 centuries in 57 tests away from home at an average of 41.06. His average in 61 innings at the crucial number 4 spot is a paltry 30.89. His averages from numbers 5 and 6 are 60.80 and 48.76 respectively.
Circa 2015; Michael Clarke has now been captain of Australia for four years and has led them to a World Cup victory. He announced his One Day International retirement immediately after the tournament ended.
Now, the 34-year-old has seen his team surrender the Ashes to England. The loss means that he is the first Australian player to lose 4 Ashes series in England. He has now led the Australian team to losses in 7 Ashes tests; the most for any Australian captain. The Aussies collapsed for a paltry total of 60 in the first innings at Trent Bridge, making it the 10th lowest total in Ashes history. He announced his retirement from Test Cricket on Friday, August 7.
After his test debut, Clarke has played 114 matches, scoring 8,628 runs at an average of 49.30. He took over the captaincy of the Australian cricket team from Ricky Ponting in March 2011 and has led the team in 46 matches, winning 23 and losing 16.
When Clarke first scored centuries on debut in test cricket at home and away, he was called the next big batting hope for Australia. Clarke became Australia’s leading batsman in 2010. However, he was hampered by a chronic back problem in the later stages of his career, which made him susceptible to the short ball. The sight of Clarke falling to the short ball became a recurring theme and the end was nigh for a player who may have felt he could not achieve his full potential due to injuries.