From the grandstand: How Clarke can win Australia’s heart

5 April 2011

Written by: Ben Waterworth

Australian cricket fans have grown accustomed to the gritty, determined captain.

For years, supporters marvelled at the likes of Allan Border, Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh — no-nonsense leaders who were prepared to get their hands dirty for the team at any cost. They were well-behaved, disciplined men who preferred to avoid the limelight, rather than bask in it.

Enter Michael Clarke, the 43rd and newest Australian test skipper — and perhaps the most detested.

Clarke is obviously well-respected amongst the Australian players. Whenever a teammate has been publicly questioned about him or his leadership credentials, they have answered with emphatic positivity.

But his unpopularity within the Australian public is no secret. Numerous News Limited polls over recent weeks indicate they do not want him captaining Australia in the immediate future.

Apparently, he doesn’t suit the skipper mould. The tattoo, the earring, the Bonds sponsorship, the Lamborghini purchase, the high-rise Bondi apartment — he certainly doesn’t typify the workmanlike, blue-collar Aussie captains of the past.

So how can Clarke win the support of the Australian public?

Simple — make runs and win games.

It’s been an ordinary past few months for Clarke and the Australian team. A humiliating 3-1 Ashes series loss to England was followed by a quarter-final World Cup exit to eventual champions India.

But the 30-year-old has a golden opportunity to lead Australian cricket into a successful new era. And the best way to prove those persistent critics wrong is to produce results on the field.

To captain Australia in a Test match is a massive honour. Some optimists believe it is the second highest title in the country behind Prime Minister — often it feels like it’s the highest.

Clarke has already proved he is more than capable of handling the massive responsibility during his four-year tenure as Australian vice-captain. Out of the 24 ODI games he has captained, the Aussies have won 18. He also captained the Twenty20 side, walking away victorious on 12 of the 18 occasions.

Clarke’s first Test as captain – an innings and 83-run Ashes hiding by a celebratory England at the SCG in January – also emphasised his willingness to learn and improve as a leader. At the end of the match, he announced his immediate retirement from Twenty20 cricket, a format of the game he struggled to adapt to. It was a selfless move, yet a move that would benefit both him and the team in the future.

The boy from Liverpool in New South Wales won’t follow in the footsteps of Border, Taylor, Waugh and Ponting. Rather he will create his own reputation.

Expect plenty of aggression from a tactics viewpoint. Expect early declarations during Tests and attacking fields during one-day matches. Expect him to be always thinking about the team’s best interests. Expect him to bring a renewed energy to a team currently enduring a lengthy transition period.

Off the field, Clarke is equally as impressive. He speaks with great articulation and with supreme confidence.

His first press conference as the official Australian captain was outstanding. He answered all questions with poise and spoke strongly about the need to go back to ‘old-fashioned basics and hard work in the nets’.

As the new skipper, Clarke also has to lift and become more consistent with the bat.

At his best, he is one of the most attractive batsmen to watch in the world. His professionalism at the crease is admirable and his ability to get his team out of a sticky situation is inspiring.

From a technique viewpoint, Clarke is aesthetically perfect. His head remains still, his knees are bent, his back lift is short and straight and his feet move quickly to the pitch of the ball.

However the middle-order batsman’s technique did him no favours in the recent Ashes. He averaged a woeful 21 runs per innings during Australia’s unsuccessful campaign.

Will Clarke thrive with the added responsibility of being the full-time captain? Or will it take him time to adapt? Only time will tell.

There is no one better to lead Australian cricket right now than Clarke. He has the credentials, as well as the full support of the Cricket Australia board and playing group.

If he experiences immediate on-field success, the public will warm to him too.

Ben Waterworth is a third year Bachelor of Journalism student at La Trobe University and is upstart’s sports editor. You can also follow him on twitter @bjwaterworth.