Tag Archives: ECB

Michael Clarke – From Pup to Top Dog

His journey to the top of world cricket once seemed mapped out in front of him, but it hasn’t always been plain sailing.

Michael Clarke’s sublime innings of 187 in the third test could not have come at a better time. With England 2-0 up in the series and Australia seemingly in free-fall, it was beginning to look as though the more patriotic England fans predictions were going to be proved right and even those of us with a more pragmatic view were beginning to wonder. Looking at the Australian team prior to the series it was missing the clutch of superstars that have been it’s backbone for so long; the only name that shone boldly was their captain, Michael Clarke.

Born in Sydney in 1981 (what a vintage year that was…), he made his first class debut for New South Wales at 18, his early performances, whilst not earth shattering, were enough to attract the attention of the national team. He made his full international debut in a one-day match against England January 2003, where a useful 39 helped Australia to a win.

His first real starring role came when he made his test debut against India in Bangalore. An away series in India is hardly a cosy introduction to Test cricket, but the young Clarke took it all in his stride, hitting 151 and steering Australia to victory in the match and the series. Just a few weeks later he scored 141 in his home Test debut against New Zealand at Brisbane. His performances, which were aggressive, without being reckless, were already being compared to the greats of Australian cricket.

After such an impressive start, a dip was almost inevitable and unfortunately it coincided with the 2005 Ashes, which saw Australia lose a series against their biggest rivals for the first time since 1987. Clarke was dropped from the Test squad soon after, but not for long. By the time the next Ashes series came around he was back in his groove and played a starring role as Australia won the series 5-0. He then went on to play a solid role as Australia mounted a successful defence of the World Cup in the West Indies.

In 2008 he was made vice captain of the Australian team, his on-field career was only going in one direction, but the storm clouds were gathering. Instead of celebrating him as a working class boy made good, the press and the fans seemed to dislike what they saw as a playboy lifestyle with his model girlfriend and penthouse in Bondi. You could draw comparisons with David Beckham, whose celebrity lifestyle often seemed in danger of overshadowing his sporting career. In both cases the allegation is unfair; Clarke, like Beckham is a hard working professional, who takes his sporting career extremely seriously. He doesn’t drink, he keeps himself in excellent physical condition, and he even gave up playing international T20 cricket so that he could focus on the longer formats of the game.

Clarke was made captain for the final Ashes test in 2011 after Ponting was ruled out through injury, and when Ponting resigned as captain after the 2011 World Cup he was given the role permanently. His style is notably different from Ponting, the man who it seemed had been mentoring him for the job. He’s confident and tactically aware, but not perhaps a dominant leader of men, not yet at least. One distinct characteristic is his willingness to make brave decisions, trying out unusual fields and switching his bowlers around the make sure that the batting side never get the chance to settle.

Clarke has also successfully adapted his own style for test cricket, his performances may have fewer flourishes now, but they are more consistent. His timing and eye for a gap that lesser players would have missed, have helped him grow into one of the worlds greatest batsmen, particularly when facing spin. By 2012 his stars had well and truly aligned, scoring an incredible 4 double centuries in one year, including a magnificent 329 not out against India in Sydney. His performances that year were enough for him to be chosen as Wisden’s Leading Cricketer in the World for 2012.

Clarke’s problem of course, is that he is the best player in an otherwise average team, and his rise to captaincy coincided closely with the retirement of some of the men who had helped Australia gain such a fearsome reputation. As the current test shows, if Australia are going to rescue this series then Clarke will have to lead from the front. His score of 187 could propel Australia back into this series, but it’s still going to be an uphill battle.

Rumours of a fractious relationship with Shane Watson don’t help, and risk, once again, the off field stories dominating the coverage. If Clarke and his Australian team are to somehow emerge from this series with their heads held high then Clarke will have to score a lot more runs, and somehow find a way to inspire his teammates to raise their game. As a captain it will be his greatest challenge, but for it to work, he’ll have no choice but to see it as an opportunity.

Kent vs Hampshire T20 (29/07/2013)

My wife can’t say I didn’t warn her…

There was, of course, an air of inevitability about this match; Kent’s T20 season started terribly, flickered momentarily, before being finally extinguished. Last night’s match, the final home game of their 2013 campaign, felt like trying to reignite a candle with a box of damp matches.

With the mother in law available to look after our daughter, I made a last minute decision to go along to the game with my wife, who, whilst understanding of my sporting passions, would probably have rather I spent the £50 taking her out for dinner. After just a few overs of Kent’s innings, I wished I’d taken her out for dinner as well.

We did have some reason for hope, as her only other visit to Canterbury this year was the genuinely marvellous YB40 clash against Sussex, where Kent chased down 337 to win a game that most of the crowd (myself included) had written off within the first 10 overs of Sussex’s innings.

The sad truth though, is that Kent are an average team, playing below average cricket. They are at least one top batsman and bowler away from being anything like good enough to challenge for honours. Their bowling attack, weakened even further now that Vernon Philander’s (fairly forgettable) spell with the club has finished, simply had no answer to a player of the quality of Michael Carberry, who scored a fine 83 off 56 balls, helping Hampshire to 185/6.

Kent’s reply never really got going. Their promising, but inexperienced opening partnership of Bell-Drummond and Cowdrey could only muster 12 and 13 respectively. Cowdrey, in particular was disappointing considering the impressive start he’s made in his senior T20 career. Only the evergreen Darren Stevens ever looked like trying to make a game of it, reaching 39 before edging a shot to fine leg off the bowling of Liam Dawson, who would go on to take 4/19.

After watching Carberry and McKenzie stroking the ball around confidently and finding the boundary regularly, Kent’s batting performance looked stunted, with too many mistimed and mishit shots and, Stevens excepted, very few boundaries to cheer. After Stevens departure Kent’s batting fizzled out and in the end they could only manage 123/9, 62 runs short of the target Hampshire had set them.

It is perhaps not fair to compare them directly to a side as proficient as this Hampshire team, but Kent’s only hope is that their crop of promising, but as yet unproven young players continue to develop as the club hopes they will. They are going to have to play the long game, as I doubt their financial position will allow them to strengthen the squad significantly in the short term.

Having said all that, a summers evening sat on the mound on the Old Dover Road boundary is still a pleasant way to spend your time. Despite Kent’s poor season, there was a respectable crowd in and a legion of excitable kids, who, even when they are knocking your beer over and standing in the way of your view, remind you that T20 cricket might not be for the purists, but it does, realistically, remain the best hope for attracting young players to the sport.

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Welcome to Stumped

Welcome to stumpedblog.com, the aim of the blog is to bring you an interesting and somewhat  irreverant take on the world of cricket.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting a number of articles i’ve written so far, with the long term aim of adding a new blog piece at least once a week after that (more if time allows, or i’m feeling particularly verbose).

Topics will vary, but you are more likely to find articles about the more interesting details of the sport, rather than any match details or gossip. I’m also aiming to bring you regular profiles of some of the players that history may have forgotten.

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Stumped.