Ashes 2015: The Michael Clarke I know is good company, unselfish, loyal and a great mate

Inside Edge: The late Phil Hughes was almost his understudy, whom Michael had taken under his wing

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The Independent Online

Michael Clarke’s retirement after next week’s final Test at The Oval marks the end of the last link with the golden era of Australian cricket. It is sad that there will be no one in that dressing room who we played with 10 years ago. But cricket, like life, moves on, and Michael can say goodbye with his head held high. He has been a great batsman and captain for Australia, and deserves to be celebrated.

I was there for Michael’s first Test, when he scored a brilliant 151 in Bangalore in 2004. He was 23 years old, a confident, talented guy who came through the system and fitted well into our environment.

And who can forget his 27th and 28th Test hundreds, 10 years on. In Cape Town in March last year, he scored 161 not out despite having his collarbone broken under an assault from Morne Morkel. Then, against India in Adelaide last December, he scored an emotional 128 in the first Test after the death of Phil Hughes.

Overall, Michael has had a tremendous career: 114 Test matches, 28 hundreds and an average of 49.30. You just can’t sneeze at it. When it comes to great Australian batsmen, Don Bradman is at the top, but after him we have some unbelievable players: Matthew Hayden, Justin Langer, Adam Gilchrist, Mark Waugh, Steve Waugh, Ricky Ponting. And Michael’s record stands up with all of those guys.

 

It is especially impressive because it is very hard to bat like that when you are captain as well. If you ask Mark Taylor, Steve Waugh or Ricky Ponting, they will all tell you that going from just being a batsman to being captain as well is difficult. Even the great Steve Waugh said he struggled when he first took over.

Because being Australia’s cricket captain – the national leader of our major code – is a huge role. There is so much outside stuff that goes with it, it is a real 24/7 job.

I was really close to Ricky Ponting when he was captain, and it was remarkable just seeing all the stuff that he had to face, with the phone always ringing: dealing with Cricket Australia, player issues, selection policy. Honestly, it made me happy to just be focusing on training and batting.

And the job was even harder for Michael than it was for Ricky. He took over in 2011 in difficult circumstances, with Australia still coming to terms with the passing of our golden era. Australia had been so good for so long under Taylor, Waugh and Ponting, but after that it was difficult.

Because you can be the best captain in the world, but without Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne – two bowlers among the 10 or even five greatest of all time – it is harder to bowl the opposition out twice. When Michael took over, they had retired. And you cannot hope to replicate the great players you have had before.

Michael had his ups and downs, as all captains do. It is not an easy job, especially because the Australian public expects the team to win all the time. I know that the media and the public like some guys more than others. Michael was not always popular at the MCG, but I found that in Victoria too, as I played for Western Australia.

It was difficult for Michael when the team lost 4-0 in India and then 3-0 in England in 2013. But after that he led an improvement in their fortunes which shows his class. He led Australia back to No 1 in Test and one-day formats, regained the Ashes with a 5-0 home whitewash and won the World Cup back too. These are huge achievements.

Amid this there was the tragic death of Phil Hughes, and the way Michael handled that was a credit to him. Phil was virtually his understudy, whom he had taken under his wing after his early emergence with New South Wales. Clarke and Hughes were almost like family. For the guys in that team to lose a mate like Phil, in those tragic circumstances, had to knock them mentally. But Michael stood up in those press conferences like a real leader.

That is the Clarke that I know, the real Clarke, not the one of recent rumours. I have always enjoyed his company and been a good mate of his. I catch up with him all the time here in Sydney, and he has always been there for me. He is unselfish and very loyal to his mates. He also works exceptionally hard off the field, on his batting, his fitness and his back, which is why he was able to come back and win the World Cup earlier this year.

But the game moves on. I’m confident that Steve Smith is a good replacement. He will be the youngest captain since Kim Hughes at 26, but he did very well when in charge last year. Australia tour Bangladesh before New Zealand come here, and they will have to regroup. But Steve is a great kid and a magnificent player.

Now there may be no one playing from our golden era, but it is time for the new guys to build their own era. There will always be an Australian cricket team, just with different players.

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