It’s highly unlikely that there is another name in sport which divides the Australian public as much as that of Michael Clarke and this was once again highlighted earlier this week, when as expected, Michael Clarke was named as Ricky Ponting’s replacement as the captain of the Australian Cricket Team.
Clarke, who celebrated his 30th birthday this weekend, is far from your traditional Australian cricket captain and because of this, many within the Australian public disapprove of the decision for his elevation. Afterall, cricket, more so than any other sport is surrounded by century-old traditions and captaining the Australian cricket team is arguably the most prestigious position in Australian sport. Clarke follows a list of recent captains which includes the likes of Ponting, Waugh, Taylor and Border, whilst further exploration through the years produces names like Chappell, Simpson, Benaud and of course Sir Donald Bradman.
Clarke, who made his much-awaited Test Match debut against India at Bangalore in October 2004, was originally seen as the golden child of Australian cricket and someone who was adored by both fans and the media. A sparkling century on debut further enhanced his reputation as the next big thing in Australian cricket and from that moment on, his fame and supply of money rapidly began to rise.
Seven and a half years on and the public’s opinion has changed significantly, something of which Clarke is well aware of and quickly hopes to reverse. This is all despite his outstanding achievements as both a player and stand-in captain over recent years. A look back through the record books highlights just how impressive Clarke’s career has been, something which is often forgotten when discussion of Michael Clarke surfaces.
A veteran of 69 Tests, Clarke has scored almost 5,000 runs at an average of 46.49, including 14 centuries, whilst in the shorter version of the game, he has played 195 One-Day Internationals and scored just over 6,000 runs at an average of 44.32. These figures are healthy by anyone’s standards and place him well above the likes of Justin Langer and Mark Waugh, batsmen of recent years who were both loved and respected by the Australian public.
His captaincy record is also impressive, despite in its infancy, with 18 wins coming from the 24 One-Day Internationals he’s been captain, however he suffered a loss in his only Test Match in charge. Furthermore, his own performances have improved whilst captain, having scored 925 runs at an average of 46.25 whilst in charge. This suggests that he isn’t daunted by the extra responsibility and that his own game doesn’t suffer, a key element to being a successful captain.
Keeping his record and achievements in mind, the question remains as to why public opinion is so negative towards Clarke, as opposed to some of his less-successful teammates? The answer is simple.
Clarke’s divided opinion amongst the Australian public is largely due to the negative press he continually receives from numerous media outlets… Media outlets which are starved of positive news items and instead focus on trivial, bull shit stories which do nothing more than ruining a champions reputation.
The media circus which followed Clarke’s high-profile split with celebrity ex-girlfriend Lara Bingle was nothing short of disgraceful and showed a blatant lack of professionalism, privacy and respect to a couple going through a separation. When a relationship ends, regardless of the people or the circumstances, the following weeks present a tough time for all parties and when the saga is continually displayed in every newspaper and on every television station, the grieving period becomes even more intensified.
In addition to this, Clarke is unlike many past and present Australian cricketers in that his interests away from the game are viewed as being ‘trendy’ and those which are shared by the younger generations amongst Australian society.
Clarke has a love for tattoos, fast cars and fashion, interests which have seen him secure modelling roles for numerous brands, yet also capture the eyes of the hounding paparazzi over recent years. In addition to this, Clarke is often seen visiting some of Sydney’s hottest cafes, bars and nightspots whilst away from the game and he has been known to stay out ‘late’ on numerous occasions.
These interests, although more than accepted within today’s society, especially given Clarke’s relatively young age, are far less traditional than interests of captains in years gone by who would often prefer a hit of golf or a fishing trip whilst on a break from touring.
Even as recently as this morning, major newspapers around the country were reporting on Clarke’s adventures last night, whilst out celebrating his 30th birthday with close friends. The respective papers however focus on the trivial aspects of the night and report them in a falsified, negative light, such as an apparent drunken trip on a raised section of footpath and a ‘late’ finish of 1:00 AM.
Sadly for Clarke, his lifestyle away from the cricket field will always ensure that he won’t be loved by many of the traditionalist within Australian society. This is something that he will simply need to accept and deal with over the coming years. He can however gain the respect of these traditionalist should he produce a series of good results, both individually and collectively as a team.
A players record both as an individual and as a captain should be the main determining factors when analysing a captains performance and those in charge of Cricket within Australia are well aware of this. As a result, the right man for the job has been selected and knowing Clarke’s determination and hunger for success, he will ultimately prove the media and the public wrong over time.
It’s about time that both the media and public embrace the champion that is Michael Clarke and focus more on the enthusiasm, youthfulness and excitement he brings to the game and less on what he choses to do in his private life.