Tag Archives: Michael Clarke

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Alastair Cook – Hitting the High Notes

Alastair Cook at Trent Bridge during the 2013 Ashes (Image courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/somethingness)

Alastair Cook at Trent Bridge during the 2013 Ashes (Image courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/somethingness)

It wouldn’t be a proper Ashes build up without some outspoken comments from Shane Warne, and this time he has focussed his attention on England’s captain, Alastair Cook, who Warne describes as “boring and negative”. On the other hand, he considers the Australian captain (and Warne’s close friend), Michael Clarke (profiled by Stumped here) to be the best captain in the world, despite Australia not having won a test match since January.  The two are certainly very different, but what is it about Cook that has made his first year as England captain so successful and how is the battle with Michael Clarke likely to play out on the next 6 weeks?

Alastair Cook was born in Gloucester on Christmas day in 1984. He grew up in Essex but his musical talents gained him a place at St Paul’s Cathedral School, where he sang in the choir and learned the Clarinet. He was later awarded a music scholarship to Bedford School but quickly became more interested in cricket, though he maintains that the concentration and discipline required for his music has also helped his cricket. He learned his craft under the tutelage of form Nottinghamshire and England batsman, Derek Randall, who described Cook as a natural. So natural in fact, that at 14, he scored a century against his own school, while playing as a last minute replacement for a visiting MCC XI. Despite his focus on cricket and music, the young Cook still left school with 3 A Levels.

Having joined the Essex Cricket Academy at 15, he made his first class debut at 18, quickly establishing himself in his now customary position as an opening batsman. At 21 he made his debut for England against India and his impact was immediate, scoring 60 in the first innings and 104 not out in the second. Over the next 2 years he firmly established himself as an essential part of both the Test and One Day squads. 2009 and 2010 were less productive for him personally and as the focus moved towards the upcoming Ashes series in Australia, there was even talk of him being dropped. He had been trying to improve his technique, but the effect was that his performances got worse, until he finally decided to just accept what came naturally to him and almost immediately started scoring runs again.

His performance during the 2010/11 Ashes series in Australia was magnificent, scoring 766 runs in the series and averaging an incredible 127.6 as England retained the Ashes. Not surprisingly, he was named as one of Wisden’s 5 Cricketers of the Year in 2012. At the age of 28 he has already scored more test centuries than any other England player (25) and having already scored 7801 Test runs you feel that only serious injury can stop him beating Graham Gooch’s record of 8900.

It’s fair to say that his batting style is patient, rather than adventurous. During a test match against India at Edgbaston in 2011 he was criticised by Geoff Boycott of all people, for not scoring runs quickly enough. The truth though, is that Cook is a master at the traditional art of being an opening test batsman, able to adapt his game to a wide variety of conditions, often providing a rock solid base for other, more aggressive, teammates to build on. His temperament is calm, in fact he’s famous for hardly sweating, even in hot weather, meaning that his ball polishing skills have become a key weapon in England’s bowling attack.

When Andrew Straus retired in 2012, Cook was, for many, the obvious replacement and the England management agreed. His captaincy began with one of the biggest tests for any England team, a Tour in India, but Cook (and England) excelled and won the series, the first time an England team had achieved this feat in 28 years.

As well as the obvious pressures of winning matches, there was also the lingering Kevin Pietersen saga in the background. Pietersen is one of the world’s greatest players, but after his difficult spell as England captain and the furore over texts he sent to his South African friends whilst England were paying a series against them, there were questions about his international future. Cook oversaw Pietersen’s successful return to the England side, a return which, currently at least, is working well for all parties.

Pietersen and Cook could hardly be more different, which is probably exactly what England need. Cook may lack some charisma in front of the camera, but he seems to be a popular choice amongst his teammates and a calming influence in the dressing room. His early dealings with the media bordered on frosty, but as time went on (and results have gone his way) he seems to be growing more comfortable in the role.

He takes the same, cautious approach to captaincy as he does to his batting and this disciplined approach has been questioned most recently by Warne, but also by others during the Ashes tour in the summer, when even I felt perhaps that, facing a questionable bowling attack, England could have perhaps clicked up a gear at times, to try and finish off their opponents. Of course you’ll never please everyone, and so far, his approach seems to be working well so Cook would rightfully argue that it would be foolish to change it.

Playing against Australia brings inevitable comparisons with Michael Clarke, who, like Cook, is a fine batsman, but the similarities don’t go much further than that. Clarke is often praised for his inventive style of captaincy; trying out unusual fields and swapping his bowlers round to stop the batting side getting too comfortable. But then Clarke is captaining a side, which, with the exception of Clarke himself, is lacking in truly world class players. He has no real choice but to make bold decisions, and even when he has, it hasn’t helped their results.

Alastair Cook is luckier, in that he is leading a team with perhaps 4 or 5 truly great players, and no real passengers. There is a reason why Michael Clarke was able to name the England team, that is because it’s both a settled and an experienced team, which largely picks itself, while Australia are forced to search high and low for a credible bowling attack. All the time that Cook leads a team of such quality and manages to keep them motivated, it’s hard to see how anyone,  bar South Africa, can stop them.

Cook doesn’t need to take risks, in fact it would be mad to fundamentally change such a successful formula. The only question, perhaps, is what would happen if England were to wobble and find themselves 2-0 down after the Adelaide test, does Cook have the ability to turn things back their way? The truth is that we don’t know,  because he hasn’t been in that situation yet, but what we do know, is that despite the calm exterior, he has a deep desire to win and a keen sense of the historical significance of winning back-to-back Ashes series. This is not a man who is going to crack under the pressure.

The Australian media (and Shane Warne) will do what they always do, but you get the feeling that Alastair Cook is happy to just let them get on with it. He’ll speak to the press, of course, but if things go to plan in this series then he will make more noise on the pitch.

One Direction – England vs Australia ODI Series Preview

Apologies for long gap without an update, cricket has sadly had to take a backseat to more mundane matters in the last few weeks. In some ways it’s been well timed, as, with the exception of the two T20 matches we’ve enjoyed a bit of a natural lull, in the international calendar at least.

After an incident packed, but perhaps not a vintage Ashes series, we return now to One Day Cricket. In fact, it returned yesterday, with England playing a very enjoyable one-off game against Ireland at the beautiful Malahide stadium near Dublin. After Ireland put in a strong batting performance England’s batsmen faltered initially, with our less experienced international players struggling, but their blushes were saved by a match winning partnership between Morgan and Bopara, who both scored centuries to secure a six wicket win for England. A packed stadium, and a very creditable performance from Ireland meant that even though they lost, many in green will have considered it a successful day as they continue to work towards their stated goal of gaining Test status by 2020. It’s a lofty ambition, even for a team that is currently the highest ICC ranked “Associate” nation, and they are up against some significant vested interests from the sub-continent and an already congested fixture schedule.

Anyway, back to the upcoming series between England and Australia. There is a rather inevitable “After the lord mayor’s show” feeling about this series, and I know that many are struggling to get too excited about it, but for me there is plenty to whet the appetite.

For Australia, the series could prove vital in raising the morale of both their players and their fans before England journey down under for part two of this year’s Ashes double whammy. Under normal circumstances, there would be plenty of time for them to reflect and consider what changes they need to make, but they don’t have that luxury this year and they’re going to have to make quick decisions about their team and tactics before the first Test begins in Brisbane on November 21st. They have made one major decision already, with the controversial, yet strangely likeable David Warner being dropped from the one day squad after his poor performances this summer, though I suspect he may well return for the Ashes series.

I think Australia will feel they have a good chance of getting a good result in this series, even without Warner they have some good limited overs players and England have quite understandably decided to rest many of the players that played in the Ashes series. There have been complaints that by doing this England are giving the fans that have bought tickets for this series a raw deal, but I don’t think that’s fair. With another Ashes series imminent it makes sense to give our star players a rest, particularly when many of them have been been playing international cricket since the tour in New Zealand. Teams that aim to be successful for extended periods have to constantly look at new players and give them the opportunity to play top level cricket. I doubt we will see many fresh faces playing in Australia later this year, but in the one day team is often a stepping stone to test cricket. Lets not forget that the backbone of the Ashes winning team; Anderson, Swann, Pietersen, Bell, Trott and Prior are all now in their early 30s and will need replacing over the next 2-4 years.

Having said that, the bulk of the England squad is pretty familiar, with Chris Jordan of Sussex and Jamie Overton of Somerset being the only genuinely new faces to international cricket. Ironically, one of the most keenly awaited performances will be that of Michael Carberry, the Hampshire batsman is nearly 33, but has been in scintillating form this year for his county and will never have a better opportunity to prove himself as an international cricketer. Another man with much still to prove is Eoin Morgan, who will captain England in the absence of Alistair Cook. Until his century yesterday, his England form so far this year has been underwhelming, at 26 you feel now is the time for him to kick on and aim for a regular place in test team.

Despite resting many of the senior test players, England’s batting line up remains very strong, with Test regulars Pietersen, Trott, and Root plus the big hitting Morgan, Bopara and Wright. Their bowling line is is far less established and may be the weak link, but I still feel they have what it takes to make it an even more miserable summer for Australia.

The weather has been fairly kind so far this year, but the forecast for the opening two ODI’s in Leeds and Manchester isn’t looking great unfortunately.

Friday 6th September – Leeds (10:15)
Sunday 8th September – Manchester (10:15)
Wednesday 11th September – Birmingham (14:00)
Saturday 14th September – Cardiff (10:15)
Monday 16th September – Southampton (14:00)

England Squad:
Eoin Morgan (capt), Ravi Bopara, Jos Buttler (wk), Michael Carberry, Steven Finn, Chris Jordan, Jamie Overton, Kevin Pietersen, Boyd Rankin, Joe Root, Ben Stokes, James Tredwell, Jonathan Trott, Luke Wright

Australia Squad:
Michael Clarke (capt), George Bailey, Fawad Ahmed, Nathan Coulter-Nile, James Faulkner, Aaron Finch, Josh Hazlewood, Phillip Hughes, Mitchell Johnson, Shaun Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Clint McKay, Adam Voges, Matthew Wade (wk), Shane Watson

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.