Ashes 2015: Former Australia coach Mickey Arthur says Michael Clarke 'was a great captain'

Clarke is a target for those who see him as a symptom of Australia's failures

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The Independent Online

Such has been the flak that Michael Clarke has taken since announcing his retirement during the last Ashes Test, it is easy to forget that the outgoing skipper will retire with a Test batting average of close to 50 and a scoring record surpassed by only three Australians – fellow former captains in Ricky Ponting, Allan Border and Steve Waugh.

And in that sense, the former Australia coach Mickey Arthur certainly believes that this week should be a celebration of everything that’s good about Clarke, rather than an excuse to use past events as a stick to beat him with.

Foremost among the Clarke critics was another former coach, John Buchanan, who even went as far as to claim that Clarke had failed to understand the culture of the fabled Baggy Green during his period at the helm.

Former players Matthew Hayden and Andrew Symonds also chimed in, taking aim at Clarke’s leadership style and attitude in his younger days in the Australia side.

Shane Warne, a close friend of Clarke, unsurprisingly sprung to his defence, while current coach Darren Lehmann took to Twitter in support of his captain. Now Arthur, Lehmann’s predecessor, feels the need to pay tribute ahead of Clarke’s final game at The Oval.

“Michael Clarke was a great captain, I enjoyed every minute of working with Michael, I really did,” he tells The Independent on Sunday. “I thought tactically he was very, very good. I feel really sorry for him because he doesn’t deserve what he has had to put up with this week.

“He has been an unbelievable cricketer and an excellent captain. I think the people that have jumped up and taken pot shots at him – I honestly think that’s very poor form. People have been talking about him travelling separately and not going on the team bus but that has always happened because of his back problems. To make an issue of it now is ridiculous.”

 

Arthur understands better than most the pressure that can be heaped on those at the top of the Australian game, having been unceremoniously dumped as coach just weeks before the 2013 Ashes began.

“I had my run-ins with some of the players in India [a series Australia lost 4-0 in early 2013],” he says. “That was a tough tour at the wrong time. That tour derailed the side. I came in with an approach that worked quite well with the younger players but not so well with the senior players. I certainly saw Michael Clarke being weighed down by the job because it was really the start of a rebuilding process.”

Now, two years on and with Australia again looking for answers, Clarke has once more become a target for those who see him as a symptom of the country’s failures on the pitch.

A team that arrived in England as a seemingly unified and hungry unit back in May is now, apparently, on the verge of tearing itself to pieces. However, another former Australia player, Stuart MacGill, says the side’s problems are not down to any loss of a team ethic under Clarke’s leadership, but the failure of certain individuals within the team.

“People are making quite a lot of the unified team stuff but cricket will never be a team sport the way that football is,” says the leg-spinner, who took 209 Test wickets in a 10-year career. “Individuals take care of their own game to make sure they’re performing at their very best. Only then can they earn the respect of their team-mates. You don’t need a united team, you just need to know that the bloke standing next to you is trying his hardest and doing his best.”

Such has been the speed of Australia’s descent into chaos that questions have inevitably been raised over the players’ desire to fight for the urn they earned so impressively last winter. That, in turn, begs the question of whether Clarke, as captain, could have done any more to arrest their breakneck slide.

His lack of runs – 117 at an average of just 16 in this series – has not helped but without being inside the Aussie dressing room it is difficult to know how else Clarke might have  effected change. However, Arthur is in no doubt how the skipper should be remembered as he prepares for his valedictory Test.

“He deserves the utmost respect,” he says. “He brought in a new brand of cricket and as a batsman he was undoubtedly world-class.”

For England cricket suppporters that is probably an accurate summation. In Australia, however, his legacy might be viewed somewhat differently.

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