This hasn’t been the easiest month of Michael Clarke’s career. Australia’s World Cup campaign has had only one notable stutter, against New Zealand at Eden Park, but the questions about Clarke’s fitness and value to the side have not gone away. On Sunday (March 8), as Shane Watson returned to the team and made a dashing 41-ball 67 in the team’s 64-run win, another query entered the fray, about selection.
Watson didn’t play against Afghanistan in Perth and there were those that assumed his One-Day International career might be over. Instead on a Sydney pitch that didn’t turn as much as both teams expected to, Watson was back in the XI, with his experience nudging out Mitchell Marsh. Clarke, though, refused to take the bait when asked if Watson’s recall had confused the team.
“I’m not going there,” he said with a half-smile. “The selectors pick the 11 players, and my job is to try and get the best out of the 11 players. No chance am I getting hold of that hook. I thought the selectors made it pretty clear, and I tried to make it clear at the toss of the coin that it’s horses for courses with regard to selection. They went for the extra experience with Watto in the bowling department, while only playing two frontline fast bowlers. That was a big part of why they made that call.”
The days of the captain being a selector are now in the past, but Clarke was insistent that the level of consultation between him and the selection panel hasn’t changed. “I think it’s exactly how it’s been since I’ve stood down from being a selector,” he said. “It’s been very consistent the whole way through. I think when I was a selector, there was a lot more stuff over email and over the phone in regards to communication, but since I’ve stood down, it’s been exactly the same.”
Having faced only 18 balls at this World Cup prior to this match – Australia’s fifth of the tournament – Clarke badly needed some time in the middle. He got it at the Sydney Cricket Ground, being part of a 134-run partnership for the third wicket with Steve Smith. Clarke’s contribution was 68 from 68 balls, and though he expressed disappointment at not being able to go on and “make a big one”, he said that the real challenge had been getting back on the park before the tournament began.
“Today, it didn’t feel like a battle,” he said. “I feel like I’ve been hitting the ball well in the nets. I needed some time in the middle, and I guess I was hopeful that my experience and my time at the highest level was going to allow me when the team needed me to stand up and score some runs.”
As for the speculation and the negative remarks, he just brushed it off as par for the course. “I don’t feel stressed from what people write or say. It might have taken me a few years, but I think I’ve slowly learnt to ignore a lot of it and laugh at a lot of it. That’s probably the only reason I’m still playing this great game of cricket at the highest level, because I’ve been able to do that.
“When I was a lot younger, I probably took a lot more to heart. I think I’m pretty honest with a lot of the journalists that I feel are out of line or criticise me for something that’s not true. I’ll generally front the journalist and voice my opinion, as I’m sure a few of the journos in this room have experienced.
“But I also understand that people have jobs to do. They have to sell newspapers. There are channels on TV that are fighting for people to watch. I understand and respect that that’s part and parcel of playing sport at the highest level. Sometimes it’s hard, but I think you’ve got to do your best.”