The Aussie Angle on the Ashes 2013-14: Exceptional Clarke has silenced his critics at last

 

Brisbane

If the mark of a true champion is their capacity to perform at their very best under the most intense scrutiny and pressure, then Michael Clarke belongs in the ranks of the truly exceptional.

His 25th Test century may not have had the sheer bulk and scale of his unbeaten triple in Sydney two years ago.

It may not have been as exhilarating as his debut 151 at Bangalore nearly a decade ago.

And it may not have been as ruthless as his 259 not out at the Gabba a year ago.

Yet Clarke will surely rate his 113 yesterday as the stylistic equal of any innings in his glittering career and perhaps the one with the greatest substance.

Exposed by Stuart Broad’s steepling bounce in the first innings, Clarke prepared to bat on the third day with the first whispers about his mortality starting to circulate through Australian cricket circles.

There have been whispers before, with some of them even published in the diaries of captains and teammates, about his painstaking brand manipulation and lack of appreciation of team values and inability to galvanise his men into performing near their best for most of their time.

The homework drama that saw four players suspended in India this year was sheeted home to then coach Mickey Arthur but it was Clarke who was the team leader and carried a fair portion of the responsibility for his team-mates’ failure to recognise the significance of their tasks.

Add the everpresent back problems and three consecutive losing Ashes campaigns and the level of patience amid the Australian public and powerbrokers alike has been wearing thin.

The awkward fend that saw him depart for one in the first innings renewed the chattering with the focus this time on his technical capacity against high-quality pace bowling.

Broad appeared to have his measure and with Chris Tremlett leading a pack of second-string giants whose primary target was the Australian captain, Clarke’s fortunes appeared to have taken a dip for the worse.

England should have known better.

When Clarke flew home from New Zealand in March 2010 to break up with his socialite girlfriend Lara Bingle amid a flurry of gossip page twittering and general high-profile heartache, it would have been understandable had he retreated to the darkness of his corner.

The reaction? His then highest score of 168.

Sent in on a Cape Town mine field a year later, Clarke produced 151 of the most exquisite runs of his career in a game when only one of his colleagues scored more than 20 in either innings.

Clarke was early in his captaincy career and keenly felt the responsibility to lead from the front.

He has done it again and again when his team has needed it most. The triple and double against India two years ago, consecutive doubles last year in the battle with South Africa for the No.1 ranking and 130 at Chennai and 187 at Old Trafford this year to raise the standard for a team stricken by infighting and chaos.

Australia had not won a Test match for 10 months when Clarke walked to the middle yesterday yesterday.

Four hours later, when he walked off with 113 beside his name after revealing the “fast feet”  that fellow centurion David Warner described as the key to Clarke’s batting, and England in tatters only a tenth of the way into the Ashes campaign, he had not only stopped the chattering but reinforced his standing as the most significant cricket figure in Australia.

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