Melbourne-based writer and journalist. Purveyor of finally crafted radio plays. A Muppet of a man.
When Ricky Ponting announced he was relinquishing the captaincy, no one thought replacing him would be easy. Whoever picks up that bat follows in the footsteps of Australia’s greatest cricketers, and with recent disappointments in the Ashes and the World Cup, will feel the pressure unlike any before them.
So yesterday’s announcement that 29-year-old Michael Clarke would be taking the post was always going to be met with a bit of scepticism. Does someone so ”young” have what it takes to claim such an important position?
It should be noted that Ponting was a similar age when he captained his first Test match in South Africa in 2003. Current English captain Andrew Strauss was the same. It’s a fact of sporting life that you peak at a young age, look forward to retirement in your late 30s, and then try to make a living as a sports commentator if you can string together a coherent sentence.
By cricketing standards, Clarke is late middle-aged and brings with him a wealth of experience. He has already led Australia on plenty of occasions, in Twenty20 and one-day matches. It’s clearly thought that he’s capable, and has had grooming for the captaincy.
Yet to some he’ll always be a ”Pup”. While his being Generation Y is open to debate (his birthday falling at the start of 1981), he does, for good or ill, display the traits of a young sportsman. He poses in his underwear, dates supermodels, knows his way around Twitter and is covered with tattoos. Love it or hate it, these are common themes today for those who tread a fine line between celebrity and sportsman.
Perhaps it’s the perception of his celebrity lifestyle that is igniting the most debate. It’s not that he is young, or that he doesn’t have the experience. The general progression of time dictates that, sooner or later, someone of his age would take the mantle. It’s that by giving him the title, it’s in some way condoning, maybe even encouraging, the more questionable aspects of a celebrity sporting lifestyle.
It’s not uncommon these days for a modern young sporting icon to have a ”controversy” section on their Wikipedia page but, all things considered, Clarke has been relatively subdued.
He bears the obligatory badly translated tattoo – the inscription on his inner left arm claims ”the pain of discipline is something similar to the pain of disappointment”. A more fitting tattoo might have been Justin Langer’s wise words: ”The pain of discipline is nothing like the pain of disappointment.”
Having his now ex-partner Lara Bingle’s initials tattooed on his right shoulder interwoven with an angel, in retrospect, mightn’t have been a great idea either.
But is any of this going to affect his ability to lead Australia to glory? The extra tattoo ink is hardly going to slow down his batting, and he’s in good company with his English celebrity-sportsman equivalent, David Beckham, also sporting several dubious tattoos.
As for his alleged drinking before the Ashes loss, let us remind ourselves of the mythical alcohol consumption feat of the great David Boon on a trip to England for the Ashes series in 1989. Fifty-two cans of VB were allegedly drunk on a 26-hour flight. Australia won that campaign 4-0. Despite the backlash Clarke has suffered over his drinking, it seems hardly in the same league.
Clarke yesterday said: ”The key for me is we go back to old-fashioned basics. That’s batting, bowling and fielding.”
He doesn’t seem worried about the elephant in the change room, in the form of Australia’s former cricket captain, Ponting, sitting silently in the corner, watching his every move. If anything, this will only help silence his detractors. Luke Skywalker had Obi-Wan Kenobi to show him the force in Star Wars. Daniel-san had Mr Miyagi to teach him wax on, wax off in The Karate Kid. The precedent has been set.
If Clarke was plain-looking and married to a lovely but inconspicuous woman, none of this would be an issue. We’d welcome him as a young and talented cricketer, the next in a proud line of Test captains. Instead we blur the line between image and player, confusing ”pretty boy” with ”immature”, while ruing the loss of ”old” greats Warne, McGrath and now Ponting.
Alexander the Great led his troops to victory and conquered the known world before he was 30. Just because he looks half-decent in his underwear, don’t think that Michael Clarke can’t do the same.