Pupevolves into one hungry dog
to MAYBE it’s time to stop calling Michael Clarke ‘Pup’.
It was a perfect nickname for him until now. Pups are loveable, bouncy pets who bring smiles all round until they do something they shouldn’t on the new rug.
In a Test career of little more than two years Clarke has twice been sent to the naughty corner for not making the most of his abundant natural talent.
Obedience training has now paid off. The pup has developed a bit of mongrel.
The 2006-07 Ashes series has shown us a new side to Clarke’s character.
He was robust in Brisbane with 56, just the sort of innings his captain called for, and in Adelaide he read the mood of the game astutely as he compiled 124 over nearly five and a half hours.
That put his team in position to challenge a daunting firstinnings total. The balance of power tilted and Clarke’s good friend Shane Warne swarmed all over England on the final day.
There is obviously more to Michael Clarke than some had suspected.
Things came so easily for him at the start of his career that he needed to learn that life and Test cricket are not such easy capers as he had imagined.
Warne has spoken of how much he valued Clarke’s steadfast comradeship as he went through his marriage break-up in England last year.
Clarke is also close to Damien Martyn, whose inner torment and unexpected retirement underlined again how hard it can be combining cricket and life.
For Clarke the net result of Martyn’s decision was a move up the order to No. 5, a position of responsibility that was beyond him a year ago.
At 25, Clarke has fully arrived as a Test batsman.
Where once he was inclined to be cocky, he now brings a more studied confidence to the crease.
His footwork throughout this series has been light and precise.
He confessed to struggling early in his Perth innings of 135 not out, but he kept his head down in temperatures of more than 50 degrees in the middle and tailored his ambitions accordingly.
He picked his moments to attack and then drew breath to make sure he had calmed himself before facing the next ball.
His worst moment came when Steve Harmison took the new ball and crashed a lifting delivery into his right thumb.
Clarke reeled back in pain, tore off his glove and gritted his teeth against the pain. Once he OFF THE LEASH . . . Michael Clarke acknowledges his teammates in the pavilion after
bringing up his ton in the second Ashes Test at Adelaide earlier this month established that nothing was broken he pulled his glove back on and resumed as if nothing had happened.
When his hundred arrived he allowed himself an appropriate celebration, acknowledged Warne and his other teammates as they stood applauding outside the dressing room, then got on with the job.
Clarke is taking nothing for granted, even though he has scored hundreds in successive Test matches and Shane Watson, the man he replaced, is out for the series with hamstring troubles.
He has learnt that security is an illusion.
‘‘It’s the game, says.
‘‘It’s unbelievable. A couple of ducks and all of a sudden you’re playing for your spot again.
‘‘I think I’ve learnt from previous experiences that it’s one day at a time and you’ve got to work as hard as you can, as hard as you did to make a hundred.
‘‘Next time you bat you’ve got to work just as hard to get yourself in that position.’’
We knew Clarke for his precocious debut centuries in Bangalore and Brisbane and the unrestrained joy of his celebrations. They seem to come to him as naturally as breathing.
Now we know him as someone who has twice been dropped from the Test team and grasped an unexpected reprieve with both hands.
The pup has grown up.