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.

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