Bitter-sweet Test farewell for Michael Clarke

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By Kersi Meher-Homji

Michael Clarke started his Test career with a bang way back in 2004 in Bangalore but ended it with almost a whimper at The Oval in London this month.

His retirement was bitter sweet. He failed with the bat and lost the Ashes but won the final Test at The Oval.

Congratulations to England for regaining the Ashes convincingly after thrashing Australia in the first Test in Cardiff, the third Test in Birmingham and the Ashes-losing fourth Test in Nottingham.

They reached their lowest point in the fourth Test when dismissed for 60 runs in the first innings, England’s fast bowler Stuart Broad having marvellous figures of 8 for 15.

Australia fought back in the fifth and final Test at The Oval but it was too late. The Ashes were lost 2-3.

Most Australians blamed him for losing the Ashes although other Aussie batsmen had also contributed to their deplorable performances ”“ especially in the third and fourth Tests.

Steven Smith, Chris Rogers and David Warner were the only Australian batsmen to flourish but only in the two Tests Australia won.

I had hoped that Clarke would go out on a high note at The Oval and his Test swan song was as memorable as his Test debut. You may recall that he had scored a scintillating century in the Bangalore Test against India in October 2004 in his first Test.

The first Test in Bangalore in 2004 will be remembered as much for Clarke’s stunning debut as Australia’s convincing win by 217 runs. Australia totalled 474 with hundreds by Clarke and Adam Gilchrist who added 167 sparkling runs for the sixth wicket. “Pup” Clarke’s 151 came off 248 balls and he hit 18 fours and four sixes.

When he was on 98, the 23 year-old Clarke replaced his helmet with the baggy green which he kissed when reaching his ton.

The fourth Test in Mumbai was an intriguing cliff-hanger. Despite Clarke’s magical figures of 6 for 9 off 6.2 overs, Australia lost the Test but won the Border-Gavaskar Trophy 2-1.

An ambidextrous cricketer, Clarke batted right-handed and bowled his spinners left-handed. But he considered himself a batsman and hardly bowled later in his career due to several injuries.

Clarke went on to score a century in his first Test on Australian soil, 141 against New Zealand in the November 2004 Brisbane Test.

A star had arrived on the scene and for almost ten years he remained on top.

The 100th Test on the Sydney Cricket Ground in January 2012 was against India. It was highlighted by a marvellous and unbeaten triple century by skipper Clarke. Ricky Ponting and Mike Hussey also hit hundreds.

Clarke broke many records in this Test. His unbeaten 329 off 468 balls was the only Test triple hundred on the SCG and the third highest on the ground after Don Bradman’s 452 not out (NSW v. Queensland, 1929-30) and 340 not out (NSW v. Victoria, 1928-29).

Man of the Match Clarke hit 39 fours and a six in his master class which lasted 10 hours and nine minutes. He could have gone on to become the highest scorer for Australia in Tests (Matthew Hayden 380 v. Zimbabwe at Perth in 2003-04) and the highest ever (Brian Lara 400 not out, West Indies v. England, St John’s also in 2003-04) but he put the interest of his team over personal milestone by declaring at 4 for 659.

The fourth and final Test in Adelaide was a run bonanza with two double centuries by Australians as they amassed a huge score, 7 declared for 604; Ponting (221 in 516 minutes) and Clarke (210 in 380 minutes) adding a massive 386 for the fourth wicket. This was the highest partnership in an Adelaide Test.

Clarke became the third batsman to score a triple and a double hundred in the same series after Bradman in 1930 and 1934 against England in England and England’s Wally Hammond against New Zealand in 1932-33.

Let us remember Michael Clarke for his prolific batting from 2004-05 to 2013-14 and not for his slide in recent years.

In 115 Tests, he scored 8643 runs at 49.10 with 28 centuries (highest score 329 not out) and took 31 wickets at 38.19 and 134 catches.

Let us accentuate the positives. Critics point out that Clarke should have been dropped as player and captain in this Ashes series. They forget that only 19 months ago, Australia had whitewashed England 5-0 in Australia under his leadership.

Also five months ago, Australia had won the World Cup under his captaincy, top scoring with 74 in the Final against New Zealand in Melbourne.

These victories were at home and Australia’s record overseas has been poor.

However, his vitriolic critics have forgotten that Australia had defeated a full strength South Africa 2-1 overseas last February-March; winning the first Test at Centurion by 281 runs and the third Test at Cape Town by 245 runs. And this was against a team which included Graeme Smith, AB de Villiers, Dale Steyn, Hashim Amla and JP Duminy.

In that series Clarke had made 221 runs at 55.25. His unbeaten 161 was the highest score from both sides in the series.

Also under him Australia had defeated the West Indies 2-0 to retain the Frank Worrell Trophy overseas, winning by nine wickets in Dominica and by 277 runs at Kingston this June.

Thank you Pup, and happy retirement.

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