In the dark days of March, when Australian test skipper Steve Smith, his vice captain David Warner and promising batsman Cameron Bancroft were banned for ball tampering during a test against South Africa, a rumour sparked in the cricket community. It exploded in a dissolute sporting media devoid of hope – Michael Clarke was coming back, to lead his nation once more into the light. There was nothing to it, as speculative as a hopeful LBW appeal pitching well outside the line. But such is the stature of the previous Australian captain that practically every time he speaks, people read into it what they want to hear. With undeniable skill and a haircut best forgotten, he announced himself on the world stage in 2004 in India – long held as the most difficult destination for batsmen raised on bouncy Australian wickets. His debut knock of 151 was followed in the same series by a miraculous bowling spell where he took six wickets for nine runs. Many cricketers will not achieve anything close in a thousand summers. He could have tucked the willow under his arm and retired then and there – never having to pay for his own drinks in Australian pubs again. The declaration would come in 2015 with an average of just under 50 in both test and limited over cricket, an Ashes clean sweep in the locker and a World Cup under his leadership. Tattooed, articulate and as comfortable in a late-cut stroke as a well-cut suit, his Baggy Green was cut from a different cloth compared to those taciturn warriors who’d come before. Even when Clarke’s intensity bubbled to surface in a bit of welcome mongrel, the traditionalists grumbled; not everyone was a fan. The millions who were, however, saw him as the cool big brother they never had. As opposed to predecessor grumpy uncles – Border, Ponting, Waugh – who you’d struggle to have a conversation with or get an emotional read on. The first Australian test captain to come of age in the Facebook era and a media landscape where the role was blunted into yet another source of gossip fodder, what he did on the pitch almost became secondary. Everything else – his relationships, car choice, where his engagement ring ended up – was ripe for comment. By his own admission, there were some instances he dealt with better than others. But what is certain is no other captain in Australian history had to deal with this level
of 24/7,365˚, open-every- day-includingChristmas scrutiny. His finest moment came from a game in which he wasn’t even playing. On November 25, 2014, his close mate Phillip Hughes was hit on the head by a ball in a freak accident during a match at the Sydney Cricket Ground. He would die two days later. Putting aside his clearly evident searing grief, Clarke consoled both cricket fans and those who wouldn’t know a googly from a square leg with quiet grace and dignity. At the eulogy in Hughes’ home town of Macksville, Clarke spoke not only for himself and the grieving families, but somehow for us. It was what cricket scribe Malcolm Knox would describe as perhaps “the finest speech ever given by an Australian sportsman”. His way with a phrase inevitably led Clarke into commentary, where he did something remarkable: he spoke of the game unfolding in front of him. Nothing more, nothing less. This doesn’t sound like much but after decades of blustery boofheads banging on about seagulls, their own glory days, how many ‘frothies’ were going to be consumed later and the fact that – shock horror – one of them was wearing a colour other than blue, his delivery was as crisp as an on-drive to the boundary. Will he be the Millennials’ Richie Benaud? That would be marvellous but it’s too soon to say. What’s certain is that several global corporations are keen to align with him. While other ex-aussie cricket captains shill devices to help boost circulation in ageing feet, air conditioners, hair replacement clinics and gambling apps, Clarke has forged a relationship with watch behemoth Hublot. The social imperatives that come with his profile are clearly not lost on Clarke either. The Cancer Council, The Mcgrath Foundation, The Loyal Foundation (which raises money for medical equipment for ill children) and Life Education (the organisation behind Ocsober) all count him as an ambassador. But to get a sense of the man away from the broadcasts and charity balls, hit up Clarke’s Instagram (705k followers and climbing). Here, he’s teaching his daughter Kelsey the joy of Tim Tims. There, he’s dropping his god daughter at school. Somewhere else he’s kissing his wife Kyly on her birthday. Just the regular stuff of a committed father and loving husband who just happened to entrance continents before moving on to something you sense is now more important than the game ever was.