The upcoming Ashes Series has been misunderstood by the average pundit and commentator. This series will not be primarily about Australia’s belligerently incompetent batting or sports love affair with a “David vs Goliath” story. Instead this series is about a lone champion, Michael Clarke, attempting to carve perhaps his final and most absolute legacy upon the annals of cricketing history.
The pressure is meant to lie with the battle-tested English and the Australians are supposed to play with “nothing to lose”. Yet, the “nothing to lose” sporting mantra is nothing but senseless media hyperbolic dribble. Clarke has more at stake than England’s Alistair Cook, and I daresay the two test teams combined. For the great wielders of the willow, like Clarke, a particular series or season defines their career.
Clarke’s last 24-months of domination has placed him in the discussion of Australia’s greatest XI. Yet, he still needs one more signature moment, particularly in The Ashes, to muscle his way into Australia’s top five greatest batsmen list. Ricky Ponting’s heroic 156 at Old Trafford in 2005 confirmed his greatness and Greg Chappell’s 131 (no other batsman scored more than 60 in that match) at Lords in 1972 achieved the same.
The back-to-back Ashes series in England and Australia, has even more significance for Clarke’s career. Not only is he the stand alone Australian class act, he is also captaining a team that he now truly owns. Ricky Ponting and Mike Hussey’s absence make him the chief leader, and with Mickey Arthur’s sacking and “Boof” Lehman’s welcoming, the team can be moulded in his reflection. Furthermore, Clarke’s ailing back (potentially career ending) adds a greater sense of urgency and significance to these upcoming Ashes.
England maintaining the Ashes Urn this year is a near forgone conclusion but England’s path to Ashes glory is not fixed. The boy they call “Pup” has an opportunity to be the Brian Lara of 1998/99, when Lara laid multiple bloody assaults on Australia’s bowlers and nearly single handedly dragged the West Indies to a highly unlikely series victory.
Cricket is a team sport which is driven by individual deeds, not the other way around. Who do we marvel at more and who inspires debate? Sachin Tendulkar’s run making or his XI’s erratic results? Brian Lara’s domination or his team’s dysfunctional state?
Before Dave Warner’s twitter rants and drunken brawls, Shane Watson’s sulking and Steve Smith’s test selection, Clarke seemed to be the undisputed premier test captain in the world. While maintaining Australia’s traditional attacking tactical edge, Clarke also employed imagination and streaking boldness to his fielding placements and bowling changes- something which Ricky Ponting and Steve Waugh sorely lacked. Yet, a dearth of team discipline rightly reflects on the team’s leaders just like young Pakistani Mohammad Amir’s involvement in spot-fixing reflected poorly on the senior Pakistan players.
For Australia to force a meaningful fourth or fifth test in England, Clarke will need to bag at least 500 series runs while nursing a shoddy back and enduring a bunch of journeymen and wildly inconsistent teammates.
On cricket’s grandest stage, Clarke can elevate himself shoulder to shoulder with Ricky Ponting and Greg Chappell as Australia’s greatest batsmen of all time.
The Urn isn’t the only prize at stake for the Australians.