The next 12 months of test cricket has great team significance for Australia but an even greater personal significance for Michael Clarke.
Clarke’s batting is undoubtedly on another worldly level to his other contemporaries.
Ashley Mallett, a fine cricket writer and past test cricketer, described Clarke as an “amalgam of Victor Trumper and Don Bradman.”
For the past 18 months, Clarke has developed the Bradman-like pursuit for runs and Trumper’s elegant style.
In 2012, Clarke clocked 1545 runs at an incredible average of 110.35.
However, Clarke’s acclaim to greatness in a less-than-impressive Test XI, strikes similarities with another master of the willow, Brian Lara, who was burdened with underperforming and lackluster teammates.
Lara’s batting was stylistically different to Clarke’s and certainly more emotionally volatile, but Lara carried the “one-man band” tag just as the Australian skipper does today.
Even more so than ever, the Indian test series followed by back-to-back Ashes Series in 2013 will challenge Clarke’s patience and wit as both a batsman and leader.
With Mike Hussey’s sudden retirement, Australia’s batting talent is thin and acutely vulnerable.
With no batting spot assured in the top six – aside from Clarke and maybe Dave Warner’s – Australia are almost entirely reliant on Clarke’s ruthless pursuit of runs to remain competitive against the likes of South Africa and England.
In the 1998-99 test series between West Indies and Australia, Lara willed the West Indies to a 2-2 drawn result. Shane Warne swears that the only reason for a drawn series and not a 4-0 sweep by the Australians was due to Lara’s individual greatness (two centuries and a double century).
Lara entered his prime when West Indies champions were either in decline or chose the brighter pastures of retirement.
Lara had the rare dual ability to appear so ruthless but so graceful at the batting crease. His typical high bat lift would drop to meet the ball like a guillotine in a swift deadly motion. Glenn McGrath was perhaps the only test bowler who had the ability to restrict Lara’s brutal assault on the ball.
In the 2001-02 test series against Sri Lanka, Lara accounted for an incredible 42% of West Indies’ runs.
Flash forward to today: Clarke is flying solo while Hussey and Ricky Ponting have called it quits on their remarkable careers.
For Australia to pinch a series win against England, Clarke will have to have more “out of this world” performances with the bat and might just have to be a new but steadier version of Lara. Lets call it “Lara 2.0”.
With the general Australian public strongly opposed to Cricket Australia’s current “rotation policy”, the Australian team doesn’t enjoy the entire nation’s support and two Ashes defeats in a space of a six months, which is highly likely, will only cause a greater rift.
Clarke has already exhibited the full array of shots and has the rare combination of style, power and grace that locks him in as a modern Australian great.
Another year of Clarke’s ruthless run making will see him stand alongside the all time cricketing greats.