“I would rather,” ventured Michael Clarke on the eve of leading Australia into this series with South Africa, “get a duck and win.”
Australia’s captain has scored one duck during his primacy. It was in a Test in Tasmania against New Zealand – Australia lost, giving the impression of a team going nowhere. A year on from that Hobart horror, Clarke’s Australia – for this is very much Clarke’s Australia – are one win from climbing to the top of the Test rankings, thanks in no small part to their captain’s runs.
A series victory against South Africa would make it probable that Australia will arrive in England next summer ranked No 1, a far cry from their last meeting. It is from the ashes of Australia’s dire performance against England that Clarke, appointed in succession to Ricky Ponting, has refashioned Australia into a competitive unit able to thrive in a Test world that no longer possesses an outstanding side.
Clarke has been at the heart of the revival, as batsman and leader. At 31 he is at his peak. His opening day double century against South Africa in Adelaide was his fourth of 2012 – including an unbeaten 329 against India. When he walked from the field in Adelaide, followed by a weary and depleted South Africa, he had passed 500 runs since his last dismissal, in the third Test in the Caribbean. This is Bradmanesque, although not even the man himself managed to score four doubles in a year. As of the end of day one of the second Test, Clarke had an average for 2012 of just over 140.
There is much to admire about how Clarke has refashioned the side since the Ashes and also since being skittled for 47 in South Africa last year – a match in which Clarke scored a dazzling 151 on a Cape Town green top. He leads the team with a sparky positivity – the main influence on his captaincy is said to be Shane Warne ahead of Ponting. He plays to win rather than avoid defeat.
Above all there have been his runs. “I remember playing England a couple of years ago and I couldn’t make a run,” he said yesterday. “When you grab momentum you’ve got to hang on to it for as long as possible. And that’s the hardest challenge in Test cricket.”
Clarke’s amazing year with the bat
* Michael Clarke’s 2012 Test scores.
Jan vs India (Sydney) 329*
Jan India (Perth) 18
Jan India (Adelaide) 210 & 37
Apr W Indies (Bridgetown) 73 & 6
Apr W Indies (Port of Spain) 45 & 15
Apr W Indies (Roseau) 24 & 25
Nov S Africa (Bridgetown) 259*
Nov S Africa (Adelaide) 224*