Thumbs Up for Pup

Friday, August 21st, 2015

Let’s face it – I love the guy. As a cricketer, as a captain, as a bloke and as a friend, I don’t have a bad word to say about Michael Clarke.

I played with Pup in the Aussie team for a few years at the start of his Test career and the end of mine, and it didn’t take long – one innings of 151 in his first Test, against India in Bangalore, in fact – to convince me that someone very special had arrived on the scene.

He had a monster series against the Indians, even taking 6-9 in one innings with his left-arm tweakers. We won that series 2-1, the first time the Aussies had left India with the bikkies for 35-odd years, and for a young bloke of 23 in his first series to play such an important role against that opposition in those conditions was enormous.

It wasn’t just his figures, or even how he got them, that drew me to Michael.  It wasn’t even that he was, like me, a bloke from the ‘burbs who wouldn’t know what a silver spoon was, let alone carry one around in his mouth.

It was that his determination which matched his talent, and his will to learn, and to win, that was so obvious.

He was going to need it too. Aussie cricket is notoriously tough on young champs coming through the ranks, and only a year or so later he was out of the Test team after a run of outs. You have to remember that Greg Chappell spent a while in the wilderness after his huge start back in the day, and even the Immortal Don was dropped after his first Test.

(I recall a young leggie a few years back getting the flick from the Aussie team after taking one wicket for 228 in his first two Tests. He got back in and ended up doing okay, though!!)

Once he was back in the side and established, though, Pup’s career is a truly great one. I don’t need to regurgitate the figures, the centuries, the double and triple centuries, the awards and honours.

Neither do I have to make excuses for this tour when Pup’s output has been disappointing, because every top-grade cricketer knows there’s a Sword of Damocles hanging over his hand/eye co-ordination (or his shoulder, wrist and/or fingers if he’s a spinner), and if you stick around long enough, the string it’s hanging from is going to snap.

For Pup, though, the captaincy brought some real challenges; some of them have been happening since Test cricket began, but others have a particularly 21st century flavour.

We’ve had a long line of great, successful Aussie captains since Allan Border picked us up out of the doldrums 30 years back. AB himself, Mark Taylor, Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting’s records were all well in the positive, and they saw off all their challengers, the Poms and the Windies, India and South Africa, during their tenures.

Well I believe Pup is the best captain since Mark Taylor,  despite the last couple of Ashes Tests where things really fell apart around him and he just didn’t have enough left to dig his team out of the ditch.

I reckon, though, the cattle at his disposal this Ashes tour didn’t perform very well, and you have to say well played England. Of course there are some good players in the Australian side. They will learn a lot from this series.

Pup’s had some tough personal hands to play as well. He’s dealt with a really serious back condition since he was in his teens, and I don’t believe people appreciate how disciplined he’s been, or how much power he has shown, to get through. Sometimes when he’s pushed himself too far, he’s copped criticism for it; sometimes, when he’s laughed off the shape he has been in, he’s been criticized for that as well. You can’t win.

Then there was the death of his great mate – almost his little brother, some say, Phil Hughes, playing in the game both of them loved. It’s hard for anybody outside that tight circle of Phil’s family and mates to understand how a tragedy like this affects you, but you don’t need binoculars to see that Pup was completely devastated, or admire how superbly he handled himself, as the Australian captain and a man through it all.

Of course, he had to do this under the glare of the 24/7 on-and-off field media spotlight, and so often the ups and downs of an ordinary guy trying his best as did any scrap of disagreement on the field, in the shed or on the street he got involved in.

Well I say his critics should look at the scoreboard, look at his personal record, and look at Michael Clarke the man, and suck it up.

I’m proud of him, and I’ll always be proud to call him a mate!