The rise of 'Pup' the boy from New South Wales has not been as straight forward as many would assume. Today Michael Clarke has been named Wisdoms cricketer of the year, this names him the most inform player of the last calender year. It comes as no surprise that he has won this award as he had an unbelievable year.
The now Australia captain made his début as a fresh faced twenty three year old in India, where he scored a century in his first test. Since this time he had been ear marked to be a future skipper of Australia. A mark of his special abilities is the fact that he broke into the great Australian team at the age of twenty three. Others such as Stuart Law, Michael Hussey and Brad Hodge all had to wait for their chances. At this time Clarke had the world at his feet, he was the poster boy of Australian cricket, the young guy in amongst all legends.
He was catapulted into a new lifestyle, one which can be hard for a young sports star. Everyone knew who he was, celebrity girlfriends also were part of his new life. This was something that would later play a big part of his cricket future. In 2010 a split with model fiancée Lara Bingle meant that Clarke went home from a tour of New Zealand stating personal problems. This is something that the tough Australian public did not like.
On his return to New Zealand he put all issues aside and made one of his most focused centuries. Leaving the team suddenly had a lasting affect on Clarkes perception. He was roundly booed by the home crowd when he once temporarily took over from Ponting. He had also been publicly criticised by many former players also.
There had also been a public spat with team mate and Australian darling Simon Katich as well as the accusation of Clarke hiding away lower down the order at number five. This accusation is something that still is labelled with Clarke, only recently moving up higher in the India series.
The Aussie public is a tough crowd at the best of times, but 'Pup' seemed to have made enemies of most of them. This was a sharp contrast from his start to international cricket where he was unanimously praised. He also had been treated for some cancerous spots on his face. At the same time Clarke had a little dip in form, with many people stating that some other person should be considered as the future captain. The signs were not looking good for Australia, him being in a team that lost three ashes series, many people called for radical change. This in many ways sums up the life of a sportsman, it is how you overcome these adversities which defines you. Michael Clarke is definitely a fighter, he has once again changed these perceptions of him, leading from the front.
Unfortunately for him his peak has coincided a downturn in Australian cricket. This was always going to happen when some of the all time greats retired all together. What is more unfortunate for Clarke is that captains get defined by their team, he is battling hard to change this. As a captain his record will be compared to former captains. This is unfair because him having a weaker team does not make for a fair comparison. In many ways this is a greater test of captaincy than past captains Ponting and Waugh, these guys had great players in their side so very few decisions had to be made. Clarke on the other hand does not have this luxury to fall back onto.
Michael Hussey is the latest player to retire, leaving the bating very dependant on Clarke just ahead of the ashes. Since being named captain 'Pup' has definitely been one of the worlds best players, he has always had natural timing and stroke play, but a new focus has been added. He scored four double centuries in the last calender year, a feat that no other player has ever achieved.
The 'Old Enemy' are looking very very strong and any bad loss could bring calls for wholesale change in Australian cricket.
The challenge ahead for Clarke and his boys should be one they see as an exciting opportunity to win against the odds. Contrary to most English media's opinion the Aussies have a good team, they are young and untested but are packed with potential. You do not have to go back that far when an Australian team touring England arrived with mostly young and in experienced players shocked England. This had been Steve Waugh's first Ashes tour as a captain.
Being written off pre ashes should work in the favour of Australia, as they have no pressure. They will need a bit of luck as well as fighting spirit, this is something that Clarke will instil for sure. It will be a defining summer for this Aussie side and a defining moment for the new captain. If he is to be successful in the summer it will only add to his story, the full circle of being liked.