Australian angle: Clarke comes of age in a fading side

Peter Roebuck of the Sydney Morning Herald and Melbourne Age writes from Lord's

Michael Clarke did his utmost to hold the line but Andrew Flintoff and chums could not be stopped. Anything seemed possible as Brad Haddin and the Australian vice-captain laid about them on the fourth evening. A 59-year-old can finish equal top in the Open. A student can be found alive after spending 12 nights sleeping rough in the Blue Mountains. Could Australia chase 500? At first the pair seemed merely to be throwing pies at an advancing tank, making a last defiant gesture before bowing to the inevitable. As the afternoon wore on, though, they began to bat with increasing confidence until audacity itself could be detected in their mien.

It was not to be. Awakening England did not take long to crush Australia's ambitions. Within 10 minutes hopes of securing a famous victory had been dashed as Andrew Strauss's bowlers pitched the ball up. Inevitably Freddie Flintoff led the charge.

All the more reason to praise Clarke's adroit hand. Without him Australia might have suffered not a mere defeat but a devastating blow. At first sight Clarke seems a batsman of sunshine and mood, not one to grit his teeth. Here he confirmed that he has the stomach for the fight and the skill to deal with demanding bowling and intense pressure.

Not that he lacked style. His footwork is exceptionally quick and, alone among these Australians, he regularly steps down the pitch to attack spinners. If anything his use of his hands was even more charming as he used his wrists to glide the ball through the covers or tucked it off his pads. His lack of rigidity reminds us that, along with Phillip Hughes, he is coached by Neil D'Costa, an Indian who settled in Sydney.

Clarke's hundred at Lord's indicated that, after customary twists and turns, his career is on track. His debut hundred in Bangalore in October 2004 hinted at exceptional ability and emotional attachment. He batted with a spring in his step and a song in his heart. Hearing he was playing, his family flew across the oceans and tears were shed as he tapped Anil Kumble into a gap to collect his 100th run. A few minutes earlier Clarke had swapped his helmet for a green cap so that he could kiss its emblem when he reached three figures. Even then he did not lack confidence. Another hundred followed in his first home Test and for a time the artist resembled a machine.

It did not last. Clarke became distracted by the trumpets and trinkets that accompany talent on its journey. Before long his concentration was wavering and a careless cut in Hobart cost him his place. Although his head was hot, his technique was the main problem. His bat was crooked in defence and his shot selection awry. Here was another young man forced to confront his shadow.

Clarke went into the nets and corrected his mistakes. He did not want to stifle his batting or character, just score more runs. So he charted a path forwards as an independent young man, superb batsman and future captain. Attracted by the high life, he realised it was a question of striking a balance between instinct and duty. Clarke came to understand that batting was his calling, cricket his life, and that there was a time and place for the rest. Since his return to the team, Clarke, 28, has become a top-class batsmen. Whereas in 2005 England could tease him till be undid himself, now he is humble and alert.

Australia were not going to go down with a whimper on his watch. Always he has fought in his country's corner, rejecting Indian Premier League contracts to conserve energy, nursing a bad back. He has even captained the Twenty20 team, and with the vitality detected in his batting. He has always been frustrated by Ricky Ponting's intransigent leadership.

Despite his hundred, though, Australia did lose at Lord's. Suddenly the bowling looks thin and the future, his future, seems bleak. A captain without bowlers walks naked onto the field. Here is a cricketer at the height of his powers, who has just played the innings of his life, wondering whether the best is already behind him.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence