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
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent