Michael Clarke has done some tough things in his 11-year international cricket career. But nothing compares to what he has had to do in the past few days with regard to the death of his friend and teammate Phillip Hughes.
His sublime batting skills notwithstanding, Clarke was not the most popular cricketer in Australia until the beginning of the 2011-12 season. It took a fine, unbeaten 329 at the Sydney Cricket Ground against India to take the admiration for him to a new level.
Michael Clarke’s eulogy at the funeral of teammate Phillip Hughes yesterday was as touching as it was insightful and revealing, and the Australian cricket captain did full justice to the sorrow involved in the passing of a man in the prime of his youth. Pic/Getty Images
He has probably doubled up the admiration quotient this season by the manner in which he has carried himself through off-field adversity ie the passing away of Hughes. Clarke has been proactive and caring; sensitive and yet brave qualities which one associates top leaders with. Like the Aussies say, ‘he’s been a beauty.’
When there was a statement to be made by the Hughes family, Clarke did it on their behalf. When Cricket Australia’s excellent public affairs needed to be maintained in even times of grief, Clarke was there to read out another statement. He was not embarrassed to be himself. He didn’t apologise for breaking down in both his last deliveries. It takes courage to agree to speak in public and Clarke showed tons of it. It was as though nothing mattered in the world for him least of all his demon-playing hamstring that has put his participation in the initial part of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy in jeopardy.
Going to Hughes’ hometown Macksville two days before the funeral was a noble gesture. Yesterday, just before he got dressed for the funeral, he was seen discussing the arrangements with security personnel. Doubtless, Clarke played his role to perfection.
Clarke’s eulogy at the funeral was as touching as it was insightful and revealing, and the Australian cricket captain did full justice to the sorrow involved in the passing of a man in the prime of his youth: “I stood there at the wicket, I knelt down and touched the grass. I swear he was with me. Picking me up off my feet to check if I was OK. Telling me we just needed to dig in and get through to tea. Telling me off for that loose shot I played. Chatting about what movie we might watch that night. And then passing on a useless fact about cows.”
“I could see him swagger back to the other end, grin at the bowler, and call me through for a run with such a booming voice a bloke in the car park would hear it.” Clarke will be challenged to write a better
Australian cricket has been fortunate to have some strong leaders and good men. One of the names who I think can be compared to Clarke is Ian Chappell. Like Clarke, Chappell excelled in leading men and cricketers. To the players he led during his 1971-1975 Test captaincy stint, he is their captain for life. In the 1980s, the late Terry Jenner was imprisoned for embezzlement. When I interviewed Jenner at the Adelaide Oval in January 2000, he told me that Chappell was the man he was most afraid to meet during his time in jail. “To face Ian was like playing Dennis Lillee ducking, weaving and the end of the day saying to yourself ‘phew, that was a good innings’,” said Jenner.
In his book TJ Over the Top, Jenner wrote: “When I was told Ian Chappell was in the visiting area waiting to see me, I felt more frightened than at any other time. Facing Ian was to become the true beginning of a new, better life. The truth of our first meeting in prison is that I burst into tears. I told him how ashamed and sorry I was for disgracing him and all my old cricketing mates. Ian only wanted to know that I was alright and I assured him I was.”
And when a prison sentence-scarred Jenner was embarrassed to walk through the main entrance of the Adelaide Oval to talk on radio about his pupil Shane Warne during the India vs Australia 1992 Test, it was Chappell who said to him, “You’re coming around the front with me. And not only will you come around in front, you’ll look up. You’ve paid your price. You have every right.”
Jenner passed away in 2011 at 66 after a heart attack the previous year. Like Hughes, he was hit on the head (by John Snow in 1971). Like Hughes, he was knocked down at the Sydney Cricket Ground. Like Hughes, he represented South Australia. Both have their captain to thank for the love and support. Both have left the game poorer with their passing.
Clayton Murzello is mid-day’s Group Sports Editor