For whatever reason, cricket fans seem to obsess over the character of those who play the game. Maybe it’s because of the mythology that accompanies the ‘gentleman’s game’, or the need to adhere to an unwritten set of rules that are vaguely encompassed by the term ‘spirit of the game’. No other sport – that we can think of anyway – has this sort of fixation. Frankly, it’s all a bit mystifying to us. Most of the people we meet each day tend to be massive pricks, so it stands to reason most sportsmen are too. In fact sportsmen are probably far more liable to be complete arseholes, since to succeed in their field they typically have to be utterly driven and focused on their own personal ambitions. And everyone hates over-achievers like that, right?
All of this came to a head earlier in the year when the England team management decided to remove possibly the greatest English player of the last decade or so because he wasn’t, in some people’s eyes, a terribly nice chap (or to put it another way, some people at least thought he was, well, a bit of a cunt). Instead they sought to promote the virtues of a man who, in their opinion, was really a top sort. Proper breeding, went to a nice school, lovely family, enjoys mowing down innocent animals with a shotgun in his spare time. All the qualifications needed to belong to the class of English gentry.
Back when the KP controversy was unfolding (like everyone else we’re looking forward to his book about as much as we look forward to our next visit to the pathologist) we compared the treatment of KP to what may have occurred if, instead, he had been playing for Australia. Our conclusion was that Australia seems to care far less about whether or not players tend to be dickheads or not. As long as they can keep things mostly under wraps (i.e, avoid pub brawls whenever possible), team management and the public at large seem largely happy to just let them get on with it.
All of which makes things a bit difficult when you try and sort out who the dickheads are in the Australian dressing room. David Warner? Shane Watson? Yep. Steven Peter Devereux Smith? You’ve got to be kidding right? But what about the big cheese himself? Is Michael Clarke a complete prick? Honestly we don’t know. But since we have nothing better to do with our time, we are going to try and figure it out.
To be fair, his track record doesn’t look too promising. Just off the top our head, we can think of quite a few controversies that have centered on Clarke. Such as;
There are probably more incidents than these that we are forgetting, and to be fair, our interpretation of some of them is probably a bit lacking. His stoushes with Anderson and Watson seem to have been somewhat understandable (if not highly entertaining), while what went on between him and Katich and Symonds is still all a bit murky. But the sheer number of incidents Clarke finds himself at the centre of is, in itself, revealing.
We recently wrote about the soap opera style coverage that accompanies cricket captains these days. A recent article posted by Cricket Australia that shows PREVIOUSLY HIDDEN FOOTAGE that reveal the TRUTH in the STEYN AND CLARKE AFFAIR only serves to highlight how ridiculous it’s all getting (and that’s before we are inundated by the giant tidal wade of journalistic shit that will accompany the release of the KP book). But the fact that Clarke so frequently finds himself at the centre of controversies does warrant at least a little further inspection. And so, like an intrepid Belgian detective, we will try to get to the heart of the matter.
Off the field Clarke seems like a thoroughly nice chap. He is well spoken, he does charity work, he runs cricket workshops, he doesn’t have digs at other players on Twitter. Actually we can’t recall Clarke ever publicly taking a shot at another player (although we could be wrong about that…). But on the field, or at least behind closed doors, he keeps running into trouble (or creating it himself).
Our explanation of the discrepancy is that Clarke simply cares too much. He has bought into the mythology of the Baggy Green even more, perhaps, than Steve Waugh did. In a recent interview he explained that there was no separation between his private life and his role as Australian Test captain. None of this not taking your work home with you stuff, for Clarke as long as he holds the role, he is captain all the time.
This single minded pursuit of what he seems to see as the best interests of the Australian Test team appears to be leading to a little loss of perspective. Clarke is trying to fight battles for his teammates, giving the impression that, as the leader of the team, he is not going to be seen taking a backwards step. And this is leading to confrontations that probably would best be avoided. Whenever there is a on-field dispute involving one of his players, he always seems to get involved. The sight of him running up from slips to participate in an ongoing slanging match was a pretty common one during the last Ashes. Usually accompanied with a fair bit of Saturday Night Fever-esque arm waving and finger pointing.
Perhaps Clarke feels the need to convince everyone that his commitment to the Australian setup is absolute, especially after the accusations that dogged him in the early part of his career, when he seemed more interested in the contents of Lara Bingle’s pants than he did playing for Australia (to be honest, you can’t really blame him). Whatever the case, he seems to have taken his responsibilities as leader rather literally, and he is, as a consequence, far more forthright than really probably needs to be. It makes for a pretty ugly spectacle, but one that’s probably more than a little misleading in regards to his actual character.
Don’t get us wrong, we wouldn’t particularly want to be best mates with him (we don’t care about fashion, although we wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to meet his wife) but the way Clarke comes across on the field sometimes feels a little put on. It’s like his outward aggression is all part of a role he plays because he feels the team needs it.