Australia’s captain is putting on a brave face, but to everyone that has watched him over the last few weeks, he looks like a broken player mentally, physically and technically.
For the last few years, his runs, his hundreds and his average have peaked and dropped dramatically. In 2012 and 2013 he struck over 1,000 runs in each year, and nine of his 28 career hundreds, averaging 106 and 47 respectively.
He declined, averaging just 35 and 24 in 2014 and 2015, with only two tons in 2014, and not even a 50 this year, so far.
With just 94 runs in this Ashes series’, of which he is losing 2-1 with two to play; it is clear that there is clearly something wrong. A player with over 8,500 runs doesn’t just stop being good.
Here are a few reasons as to why he could have lost his mojo. Some of the things can be remedied, others can’t.
As he walked off the pitch at Edgbaston after a crushing eight wicket defeat in the Ashes, he told Mark Nicholas, his team were playing with 10-men. When a captain feels like he is not part of the side, it will bring the whole side down.
He needs to find a way of bringing himself back into the forefront of the side, and not being shy about it. He needs to bat in the place he will score the most runs, firstly.
Currently batting at number four, he has had a miserable time. He is not a number four. He flourishes at number five, with 70 of his 113 Tests at five, 20 of his 28 hundreds and 20 of his 27 fifties, in the position. At five he averages over 60, which is double that of what he averages at number four [just 30.89]
Not wishing to reduce Clarke’s problems to a quick move down the order, it would certainly seem sensible to put your most experienced and arguably best batsman where he is most likely to score runs that the team needs.
Clarke is not in great form lately, so it would be understandable if he was shy about asserting himself. But he has too. He has nothing to lose, because at this rate, he will be out of the side.
Michael Clarke is no more the golden boy. The number one Test ranked batsman is Steve Smith, the new number three with the swanky average of 50, and he is clearly seen as the heir to the captaincy.
As Michael Clarke has watched his role as the primary batsman in the side, captain, leader, and man people look to in order to take responsibility disintegrate before him; he must feel under increasing pressure. The next generation is already in the side and pulling weight, and it’s only inputing more pressure.
It is with regret that this needs to be written at all, mainly because it’s hard to substantiate. But sometimes in sport you have a gut feeling. When Phillip Hughes tragically died, Michael Clarke wore a very heavy burden. He was clearly personally and emotionally affected in a way that will never go away.
In an instance, he became not just the captain of Australia reacting to a tragedy of a team mate, but he spoke on behalf of millions of cricket fans all over the world, about a close personal friend.
He addressed press conferences and his memorial, being reduced to tears. He became the dignified voice of cricket mourning, and no doubt had huge emotional energy sapped from him.
As the captain, he has to hold it in. Every time he faces, every time there is a bouncer, every time someone gets hit. It would be impossible to prove that this is a factor for his decline, but this is a player that will surely always be affected, and will never recover from this tragedy.
Lastly, when a player has to manage persistent injury, it affects them psychologically.
It’s on their mind, restricting one’s natural game.
He spoke about his rigid fitness regime, and level of professionalism. It would seem he is working harder than ever to ensure this injury does not flare up. But where is the room for enjoying the actual cricket, when there are additional pressures too?
His back, his form, his captaincy his responsibility; are all building up in a pressure cooker. Not only because of questions of fitness, focus and drive to play the game, but at 34, he won’t have that much time to turn it around one would think.
Michael Clarke is obviously a fine player, but for a culmination of factors has fallen away rapidly in the last year. Australia need a captain that leads by example, so it may be time to address these concerns head on, or move on.