Sunday, January 25, 2015

Five stalwarts to look out for in the cricket World Cup 2015: 2. Michael Clarke. Excerpt from Indra Vikram Singh’s new book ‘Indian Spring’

Dazzling show in times of triumph

World Cup matches…..18 
Highest score…..93 not out

It is not easy to bat no.4 in a line-up when the preceding batsmen are Adam Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden and Ricky Ponting, which is what Michael Clarke did for the most part in the 2007 World Cup. Nor is it easy to fill the void left behind by the elegant Mark Waugh. Yet this is what Clarke has had to live up to. He was hailed as the next great batsman from Australia, successor to Ponting as captain and leading batsman. Clarke has it all: abundant natural talent, technique, poise, elegance, strokes, temperament. It was almost as if the cricketing world was waiting for him to emerge from the shadows of his great senior and express himself on a stage all his own.

Clarke did all that was asked of him in the 2007 World Cup. In his 9 innings he hit up two nineties, two other half-centuries and two forties, was never dismissed in single digit, and had a brilliant average of 87.20 and strike-rate of 94.98. He shared a World Cup record fourth-wicket partnership of 204 with Brad Hodge against Holland at Basseterre, St. Kitts, as he logged his top score of 93 not out in the tournament.  

Coming up against a major side for the first time in the tournament, Clarke registered his second successive ninety. Gilchrist and Hayden had already smashed the South African bowlers all over Warner Park, racing to 106 inside 15 overs. Hayden and Ponting then added 61 in 8.4 overs. When Clarke walked in at 167 for two only 23.3 overs had been bowled, and Hayden had blazed to the fastest World Cup century in 66 balls. Along with the skipper, Clarke put on 161 runs in just 21.4 overs. Ponting departed for a run-a-ball 91, and shortly afterwards Clarke was run out for 92. He had played 75 deliveries and hammered 7 fours and 4 sixes. Australia zoomed to their highest total of 377 for six in the premier event. Try as they might, it was a bridge too far for the Proteas, though Graeme Smith and Abraham de Villiers raised 160 first up in a mere 20.6 overs, and the latter was dismissed for the third ninety of the match, also tragically run out.

Australia lost two wickets relatively early against the West Indies in the first super-eight match.  Clarke joined Hayden at 76 for two in the 15th over. They put on 98 in 16.1 overs before Dwayne Bravo trapped Clarke lbw for 41, having faced 47 deliveries and struck 4 boundaries. Hayden went on to hit up Australia’s highest score of 158 in the World Cup, paving the way for another easy win. England set a target of 248, and Clarke combined with Ponting again in a 112-run third-wicket stand in 21 overs. The captain was run out for 86 but Clarke saw Australia home with his unbeaten 55 off 63 balls with the help of 2 fours.   

Hardly any team was able to challenge Australia for the second consecutive World Cup. Sri Lanka could only post a total of 226. Clarke put on 47 this time with Ponting, but failed to keep a drive off leg-spinner Malinga Bandara on the ground and was taken in the covers for 23. Australia sailed to another seven-wicket victory. As Hayden came up with his third hundred of the tournament, off the Kiwi bowling, Clarke featured in a 72-run partnership with the burly opener in just 9.4 overs. In a rare misjudgement, he shouldered arms to a slower one from left-armer James Franklin and was bowled middle-stump for 49 after negotiating 46 deliveries and carving out 7 boundaries. Australia went on to amass 348 for six, coasting to an easy 215-run triumph.

The Aussies were hardly tested in the tournament. Would the Proteas stretch them in the semi-final? The answer came very quickly as South Africa were bowled out for 149. They did get Gilchrist early, and then Ponting too, but Clarke linked up with Hayden in a 66-run stand. He brought up a facile seven-wicket win in the company of Andrew Symonds, top-scoring with an unbeaten 60 from 86 balls, having struck 8 fours. Clarke’s job was more or less over as Gilchrist turned the truncated final into a no-contest with his blitzkrieg. But he did get the opportunity to bowl his slow left-arm spin, and knocked over the stumps of top-scorer Sanath Jayasuriya and Chamara Silva.

The talented Clarke was always at hand to back up the scintillating deeds of the big three in the Australian line-up in the hugely successful 2007 World Cup campaign. Invariably, his brief was to complete the work of the seniors and he did so with panache and style. He had already built up a formidable international record. The future beckoned Michael Clarke.

By 2011 the team was already in decline but they began the tournament well. They faced Zimbabwe, a team fighting hard to find its feet back in international cricket. Shane Watson and Brad Haddin raised an opening partnership of 61, then skipper Ponting helped Watson add another 79, but both were out in quick succession. Clarke then built another partnership steadily with Cameron White. He hit his first boundary off his 25th delivery when the batting Powerplay was utilized in the 41st over. Still, the runs came mainly in singles. The pair added 63 before White departed. There was a rise in tempo with the entry of David Hussey, but a couple wickets of wickets too fell. Clarke hit Chris Mpofu for two fours in an over. He returned unbeaten with 58 off 55 balls, having struck 4 boundaries. Australia totalled 262 for six. It seemed a measured performance by a team short on self-belief and determined to ease into the campaign on the right note against one of the weaker teams. Zimbabwe were dismissed for 171 with all the bowlers getting a good workout.

The Australian bowlers did well to bowl out the Kiwis for 206 in 45.1 overs. This time Watson and Haddin put up 133. Clarke batted steadily, once again remaining not out, having scored 24 in 37 deliveries and picking up 4 fours along the way, helping bring up victory by 7 wickets in 34 overs.

There was a long wait of eight days before the next game, made longer by rain in Colombo after less than 33 overs in the Sri Lankan innings, resulting in abandonment. Another eight days later they took on Kenya but most of the batsmen were in good nick. Clarke allied with Michael Hussey in a brilliant fifth-wicket stand of 114 for in a bit more than 16 overs. The pair found the boundary regularly before Hussey departed after scoring a rapid half-century. Clarke now got into belligerent mode, cracking two boundaries immediately thereafter off Nehemiah Odhiambo on either side of the wicket. He then turned his attention to Elijah Otieno, pulling deliveries of contrasting lengths for a four and a six to mid-wicket. Clarke was approaching his first century in the World Cup, having already equalled his highest score of 93, and averaging a Bradmanesque 122.20 in 12 innings at this point. But it was not to be as he slammed Odhiambo, and Rakep Patel took a fine catch at long-on. Clarke had finally got an average in this World Cup, another Bradman-like 175 in his three innings. He had struck 7 boundaries and a six in the 80 balls that he had faced. Australia finished on 324 for six. The Kenyan batsmen, particularly Collins Obuya and Tanmay Mishra, did well to respond with 264 for six.

Canada were bowled out for 211. Clarke was unbeaten with 16 as his side rung in an easy seven-wicket victory. Now came a challenging final group match against Pakistan, the last team to beat Australia in the World Cup way back on 23rd May 1999 at Headingley by a mere 10 runs in a high-scoring match. Clarke came to the crease at 75 for two in the 19th over. He battled through as wickets fell at regular intervals on a wicket of variable bounce, aiding lateral movement. Abdul Razzaq bowled him as he attempted a pull. His 34 had taken 48 balls and contained 2 boundaries. Australia collapsed to 176 all out in 46.4 overs. A Herculean bowling effort by Brett Lee could not prevent the 34-match unbeaten World Cup spell of the Australians from being broken.

This set up a high pressure quarter-final with home favourites India at Ahmedabad. As Ponting scored a vintage century, Clarke top-edged a sweep off player-of-the-tourrnament Yuvraj Singh, and holed out at mid-wicket for just 8, his first failure of the tournament at a crucial juncture. Australia did put up 260 for six but the inspired Indians won with relative ease. The days of glory in the World Cup were over for the time being.
Clarke has built up an impressive record in the World Cup, 669 runs in 15 innings at a brilliant average of 83.62, albeit with 7 not outs, and a top strike-rate of 93.56. These were mainly performances when Australia were riding high. When the going got tough, Clarke did not dazzle so bright. Nevertheless, the polished batsman that he is, he carried out his duties magnificently most of the time. He already has nearly 16,000 runs in Test matches and One-day Internationals put together, but back trouble has begun affecting his career. That is the challenge he must deal with successfully in his quest to be ranked among the true greats of batsmanship.

(From the Hall of Fame section of Indra Vikram Singh’s new book ‘Indian Spring’. The author can be contacted on email 

Indian Spring

ISBN 978-81-901668-7-4

Available shortly in leading bookshops, and online on several websites.

Distributors in India: Variety Book Depot, Connaught Place, New Delhi, Phones + 91 11 23417175, 23412567.

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