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We’ve all witnessed Michael Clarke’s rise and fall in test cricket; but we’re curious, which Michael Clarke will be remembered?
Sport is a strange animal. It accelerates the lifespan of the person in question. As the career of a sportsman is comparatively short, it gives us a snapshot into the effects of time we all eventually experience, first on their bodies, and eventually, their minds, as reality takes hold, they exit, and all we’re left with is a flickering projector of collected moments.
Cricket is a sport where this is especially true. But where it’s different, is the surprise of time. It’s the game that goes forward and backwards. New heroes are measured against the Ghosts of the past. As the rules remain the same; the same old grounds are revisited; the same etiquette is observed; the same familiarity is felt every summer, for the game that never seems to move, is always playing for time.
Which brings us to Michael Clarke, as he slowly moves into the shadows as he faces his final Test, the question is, which Clarke will we remember? The Clarke he was, or the Clarke he is now? Harsh question to be asked perhaps, as Clarke has been an irrepressible icon, a true Test Captain, a player without peer for the better part of a decade.
But, the memories of fandom are fickle. The past is already prologue. We’re looking ahead. His achievements, grand as they were, have already shuffled into the past tense. His towering numbers are becoming just that. Numbers. His 329* at the Sydney Cricket Ground in 2012 seems a lifetime ago, Those who witnessed it, are left with fragmented memories. I remember that day was exceedingly hot, and he looked comfortable. Ditto the 5-0 Ashes whitewash, the returning of the urn to our shores, is scattered too; the giddy excitement sticks with me, as whoever it was feathered the final edge behind to…Clarke?
Legends may die, but narratives live forever.
For example, look no further than the man who Clarke succeeded in the post, Ricky Ponting.
Which Ponting do you remember? The invincible batsman who sits only behind Tendulkar in the all-time run list? Or the Ponting who refused to vacate, wobbling, staggering, until he cathartically dragged himself through the dirt and came out the other side, shirt stained, helmet askew, wryly celebrating his final (almost run-out) Test century?
The first man to congratulate Ponting that day would walk the same path. Clarke’s recurring back issues were always a problem. He was hell-bent on not allowing injuries to curb what he wanted, or what we expected of him. Against India at the Adelaide Oval in 2014, the injuries flared again. In classic Clarke style, he fought on, the drive which made him the superb captain and the gritty competitor he was, for better or worse. He personified the characteristics we all clung to for ourselves.
After retiring hurt on 60, he returned the next morning and steeled himself beyond his 28th Test Century. Both for his tragically passed friend, Phillip Hughes, and for all of us, to give us a bittersweet feeling of business-as-usual. We knew Clarke wouldn’t lay down and by association, neither would we.
Perhaps that was Clarke’s exit. He couldn’t save himself from himself, and we didn’t stop him. He was always going to play. The Captaincy was momentarily thrust onto Steve Smith, perhaps riskily so, but young Steven handled it with aplomb, cracking on in true Clarkian pomp, putting his mentor in the shade.
Smith was our next Test captain.
The next challenge would be England.
Clarke returned to defend the Ashes he won, reassuming control of the team as he had all the rights to do so, but he wasn’t the same, and he knew it. As we all did, as we watched that noble shaded warrior, ambitious, gritty, but unsure. Perhaps for the first time in his illustrious career, he felt it.
Michael Clarke stood alone as a once-in-a-generation sportsman, he also remains tied to all that has passed before him. The natural decline, sated with the desire to find out if you can still do what you’ve done for so long. The mind is willing, but the body no longer able. A sad, but completely relatable part of human nature that bore us Ponting’s Last Stand, Ali versus Holmes, Maradona at the ’94 World Cup. One day, it’s different, and you’re done. It’s a matter of choosing the when.
Or, as Joe DiMaggio’s brother succinctly put it “…He quit because he couldn’t be Joe DiMaggio anymore”.
Maybe all that remains now is his closing lines. One final picture to remember him by, a unifying snapshot to make us forget. As Clarke strides to the middle for the final time, he’ll know he’s done all he could, but his part is over. Michael Clarke is now in our hands. Perhaps the passing of time will transmute the short-term disappointment we feel, or perhaps it’ll magnify the tragedy of Clarke’s last tour.
Thanks for the memories Pup, When we’re all old, I hope they’re the right ones.