Clarke's captaincy belongs to a different league

Last Updated: Mon, Apr 23, 2012 13:28 hrs

​When he arrived on the international scene with a century on Test debut against India in 2004, the cricketing world stood up and applauded a rare talent. And over the following eight years Michael Clarke has fully lived up to the initial promise as his record of over 6000 runs from 82 Tests at an average of virtually 50 with 19 hundreds (including a triple hundred and a double hundred) will indicate. 

And while there has never been any doubts of his batting capabilities, he is now proving to be an enterprising captain enjoying an extended spell of success. Perhaps, he has had his share of good fortune too but then fortune favours the brave and Clarke has been a courageous and an attacking captain taking the kind of gambles and decisions that belonged to a different, older age.

Indeed there is something refreshing about Clarke's approach to leadership. Leading from the front comes naturally to someone prodigiously gifted like him.
But he brings to the table most of the other qualities essential for innovative and successful captaincy. He has not allowed captaincy to bog his aggressive batting - as evidenced by the fact that he averages ten runs higher than his overall average when captain. 

Most important in a day and age when defeat seems anathema to most captains - who take the easy way out in playing for a draw or adopt defensive measures - Clarke aims to win every match even if because of his attacking instincts the team could be in danger of losing it.   

In the first Test at Bridgetown, Clarke became only the second captain in the history of Test cricket to win a match after declaring behind on the first innings. But he admitted that he was slightly worried about losing the second Test at Port of Spain especially after the way Darren Sammy set about the run chase. Sammy was unbeaten on a cameo 30 from 26 balls when persistent rain ended the West Indies' pursuit of 215 for victory and forced a draw at
Queen's Park Oval. 

However in almost the same breath Clarke said he believed once spinners Nathan Lyon and Michael Beer had entered the attack, Australia would have bowled the West Indies out.

''We still could have lost, that's for sure, the way Darren was batting,' Clarke told reporters. 'The West Indies have a pretty strong batting line-up with Chanderpaul in good form. But I was confident with the way the boys bowled in the first innings. I was confident the two spinners could have spun us to victory.'' 

It is this self belief in his decisions and his team members that has made Clarke such a special captain. 

The fact that he was slightly worried about losing the second Test will not deter Clarke from making ambitious declarations even if it means risking seeing his plans come back to haunt him. At Port of Spain he set the West Indies a 215-run target off 61 overs after declaring on 160 for eight early in the afternoon - on the face of it an eminently gettable target for a home team that had virtually matched the Aussies in the two Tests. It is another thing that rain ruined what should have been an intriguing finish when West Indies reached 53 for two off eleven overs. 

Clarke's decision to tempt the West Indies to force a result had paid dividends in the first Test in Barbados, which his team won by three wickets, despite his declaring the Australian first innings 43 runs behind. Clarke spelt out his objectives succinctly: ''My goal during my whole career has been to help the Australian team win as many games as possible and I guess now that I am captain I have the opportunity to show that.''

''At times with my declaration, when there is a chance for winning, you've got to have a go at it. Yes, there's going to be times that it might backfire and we might lose every now and then. But I enjoy the brand of cricket that we're playing at the moment.''  

Clarke's refreshing outlook seems to have rubbed off on coach Mickey Arthur who has said the Aussies would continue their positive approach in the third Test commencing from Monday. "I'd rather lose a Test match trying to win it than just play dull cricket, because then you don't learn anything about
your players," said Arthur. 

''You want to see players stand up in pressure situations. I'd rather that we went all out to win a game rather than just let a game meander."

It takes two to tango and Sammy too deserves credit for meeting the challenge head on. In an effort to win the match on the last day the West Indian captain switched his batting order, moving Kieran Powell to open and then coming in himself at No 3. Ben Hilfenhaus soon had the West Indies on the back foot dismissing both openers Powell and Adrian Barath to have them reeling at 13 for two. 

Sammy though, still had his sights firmly set on an unlikely win and launched into an attack on Hilfenhaus, striking him for two boundaries and a six over long-off. He reached 30 not out from 26 balls with his team still needing another 162 runs to win when the weather brought an end to the contest.

Sammy explained his plan thus: ''Sixty overs should have been enough to get the runs. Our plan was to see how far we could get by tea and then reassess after that," he said. 

When two contesting teams are led by captains who believe in going for a win and eschewing defensive measures it is bound to be a riveting contest and thanks mainly to the efforts of Clarke and Sammy one can't wait for the third Test to commence. 

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