Melbourne: The explosive claims made by Australia's former cricket captain Ricky Ponting in his autobiography At the Close of Play is believed to have added to the immense pressure on the current Test skipper Michael Clarke.
In the 699-page book, Ricky Ponting has questioned Michael Clarke's ability to handle pressure. Clarke - popularly known as 'Pup' in the Australian cricketing circles - has also been accused of not being a team person and as someone who was more worried about his personal life rather than how the team was faring.
"It wasn't that he was disruptive or treacherous, and publicly he said all the right things, but he had never been one to get too involved in planning sessions or debriefs at the end of a day's play, or to volunteer to take on any of the captain's workload," Ricky Ponting has claimed in his reveal-all autobiography.
"...when Pup was down on form or if he had a problem away from cricket, he'd go into his shell," writes Ponting. The former skipper says he felt Clarke's aloofness when he made up his mind to give up what is considered the second most important post in Australia - captainship of the cricket Test team in "..Ahmedabad, the early hours of Friday, March 25, 2011".
Had he been successful in winning the games for Australia like some of his immediate predecessors, Clarke could have easily brushed off the former captain's criticism as an exercise to sell the book. But Australia's recent drubbings at the hands of India and arch-rivals England are not helping the matters at all.
The sacked Australian coach Mickey Arthur has joined those questioning Clarke's leadership. The South African also thinks Clarke is under immense pressure ahead of this summer's Ashes series.
To make the matters worse for the embattled skipper from Liverpool suburb in Sydney, his ex-girlfriend has dealt him a cruel blow by saying that splitting with Michel was "the best thing I ever did".
"It has been a tough week for him (Clarke) because Mickey Arthur has lined him up, even Lara Bingle was in the Sydney press saying 'I would have been barefoot with three kids if I had stayed with him'," sports journalist Kelli Underwood said in ABC Television's Offsiders program Sunday morning.
The reasonably good performance of Bailey as one-day skipper in the ongoing One-Day International series against India is another factor which may be weighing heavily on the mind of the injury prone Australian captain.
Though many cricket pundits see Ponting's criticism of Clarke and Cricket Australia as an exercise to sell the book, it has reignited the debate about Clarke's leadership qualities.
For Clarke and the Australian cricket establishment the timing of the book release could not have been worse. Clarke is clawing his way back from a crippling back injury and is all set to lead the Australian side against the Ashes rivals.
Australian cricket fans here are convinced that Ricky Ponting's voluminous autobiography would be used as a psychological weapon against Clarke, and it is believed that Ponting's book would give sledging material to the Poms.
The cricket fraternity down under is divided in its support for what Clarke stands for and, more importantly, what he does not.
"I am not convinced about the way Pup has been leading the Aussies," says a Melbourne club cricketer and mortgage broker, Shannon Lindsay. "The way Clarke had problems with his teammates like Simon Katich and Watson, I don't think he is liked by most of his team," says Lindsay.
"Michael Clarke obviously has got his priorities mixed up," says another Melbournian cricketer, Sonny De Silva. "What is more important to him, the team or looking good and having few red wines with a bikini model girlfriend?" he asks. "The team should come above the personal relationships and Pup should leave his personal problems at the gate of the cricket ground," says the Dandenong based accountant.
(Paritosh Parasher can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)