The Last Word: Hang tough, Michael Clarke... that is why it is called Test cricket

Scribbling a few thoughts evidently proved beneath the dignity of some

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The Independent Online

Well, that worked out pretty well, didn’t it? Get the skipper to take a bit of responsibility, no more hiding from that new ball.

True, some people would look at 1,595 Test runs in 2012 at an average of 106 – ahead of Alastair Cook with 1,249 runs at 48 – as fairly convincing evidence that Michael Clarke had responded to the challenges of captaincy by crossing the threshold of greatness. Others, plainly, are not so easily fooled.

Poor old Pup. Promoting himself to No 3 in Mohali yesterday, he could hardly have hoped for a better platform. The openers had finally contrived a decent start, eking out 139 runs from 47 overs. Here was the moment to restore due drama to the arrival of Australia’s top gun at the fall of the first wicket. Since Ponting began to fade, the various incumbents at No 3 had exuded all the stability of a blancmange floating across the Bay of Biscay. Over the last three years their collective average is 27. Things reached a wretched nadir when Shaun Marsh set a clip of 2.83 through a home series against India. In his first four innings of the present tour, meanwhile, Phillip Hughes had scraped together 25 agonised runs.

Now here was Clarke, ready to restore not only dignity to this cornerstone role, but also his authority as captain. With the tour in chaos, his vice-captain back home and three others cooling their heels, this was a momentous crossroads. Those balletic feet duly skipped out to meet his first ball, floated up by Jadeja, seeking an instant aura of control. A split second later, Clarke heard the sound that stirs some atavistic dread in a batsman, barely less than the expectoration of a cobra: the wooden knell of a stumping.

So come on then – which of you boys came up with that plan? If this is the sort of masterstroke volunteered by those squad members who dutifully completed their “homework”, they’ll end up causing far more damage than the suspended refuseniks.

It’s a gripping situation, albeit any Englishman jealous of the prosperity of Test cricket will resist Schadenfreude. He should instead find it in his heart to hope that the Australians do not remain such a flaky, emasculated rabble when they reach our shores this summer.

The very use of the word “homework” as the hub of this debate – aside from lavishing material upon England’s sledgers – is cynically loaded against coach and captain. Influential agendas against each have been united in the malicious representation of the task set to each player after their humiliation in the second Test. Homework. Can you imagine? Treating grown men like kids etc.

Clarke has long been resented for metrosexual sins of omission – routinely depicted as some effete, vain spectre haunting a noble tradition of Blokery; as an affront to the captains’ legacy of Ponting, Waugh and Border. Yet Arthur is now reviled for old school inflexibility and insensitivity. In turn, equally, his request for individual feedback is ridiculed as form-filling – as another fig leaf, along with all the jargon and data, to help modern coaches conceal their inadequacies.

But what is truly puerile is to pretend the exercise was inherently preposterous, an insult to the unvarnished grit of past achievers. For it is precisely their cherished pioneer virtues – their courage and pride – that should prompt Australian cricketers to embrace a different kind of discomfort. Sitting down to scribble a few thoughts, or tap out a quick email, evidently proved beneath the dignity of some. Perhaps they deceived themselves that to “forget” the assignment, to make a stand against this tosh, itself required moral courage. Others, however, might wonder if they were selfish or petulant – cowardly, even – in declining to contribute.

No doubt the whole thing could have been handled better. Perhaps they should have dragged a crate of beers into the dressing room, locked the door, and thrashed out what had gone wrong and how things would be different in future. On the other hand, perhaps you can only be this provocative by design. Maybe the atmosphere had become so poisoned that it could only be cleansed by some dramatic, defining gesture.

It remains to be seen whether Arthur is the right man for the job. Yet Border himself, after meeting Clarke, predicts that the team could be galvanised by the shock of rupture. To see Shane Watson flying home, contemplating his Test future, not only instructs a young player that self-regard or insecurities will no longer be indulged. It should also alert him to the magnitude of his own opportunity.

The more dyspeptic the language, the more apocalyptic – and unrealistic – the proposed solutions. Loss of confidence is contagious. Clarke’s was one of three ducks on the day while Hughes, only reprieved because of Khawaja’s suspension, groped miserably for two runs off 31 balls. But while defeat will bring out the worst in some characters, there were also signs that adversity will bring out the best in others. After all, it’s called Test cricket for a reason. Hang tough. Hang together. Get back some self-respect, get a draw or two. Stake your claim.