As Australia coach Darren Lehmann rightly noted, the fitness saga of captain Michael Clarke is getting a bit too tiring. “I’m sick of it,” is what Lehmann said about all the speculation, and frankly so are we.
In an ideal world, players who are fit before the start of a major tournament are selected and those that aren’t are left out.
However, Clarke’s is a unique case as he is Australia’s leader, an outstanding batsman and an inspirational figure. It was because of his stature that Cricket Australia selected him as captain for the World Cup at home and after his back and hamstring problems reared up again during last year’s Test series against India, he was given time until February 21 to prove his fitness.
He might prove he’s ready to go when he plays against Bangladesh today but what happens if he struggles? No doubt he will be given more time.
The Australian management is trying to ensure their best batsman is available to help them go for glory at home once the business end of the event kicks in and you can’t blame them for that.
The only glitch in the February 21 deadline plan is that the World Cup starts on February 14 with the Aussies taking on England on the first day.
Also, with murmurs of dissatisfaction regarding Clarke’s vulnerability to injury in the management camp and Cricket Australia’s harsh parameters in the Clarke camp, it’s not all rosy. All this has led to questions being raised about why Australian cricket is investing so much time in what is a sideshow to the main event – the World Cup.
Team sport is never greater than the individual and it’s this preoccupation with Clarke’s back and hamstring which is beginning to irk. Especially since Australia have an excellent replacement who has already proven his worth, over and over again.
Steven Smith led with distinction in the Test series win over India, scored runs as if they were going out of fashion and won the hearts of fans and the dressing room with his affable demeanour. Clarke, on the other hand, has seen his popularity drop, according to some reports, after his stint in the commentary box during the India Test series where he passed judgments on his players and revealed strategies. In such a scenario, Clarke might not be so badly missed.
The Aussies comfortably won the tri-series involving England and India and with captain George Bailey struggling for runs, Smith’s influence and presence couldn’t be missed. Whether Clarke adds value to the team is not the point here; the issue is if things don’t work out today Australia will have to begin their World Cup campaign with two separate plans – one with and one without Clarke. That means a change of batting order and exclusion of certain players who might have made it otherwise.
It would be a travesty if a player who played decently against England in the opener is asked to sit out if and when Clarke passes a fitness test on the 21st It’s not as if Australia have not played a World Cup without a star player before.
Shane Warne was sent home right before the start of the 2003 World Cup after a drug test during a one-day series in Australia returned positive for a banned diuretic. That development shook Australian cricket, but the team gathered itself and went on to win every match at that World Cup, including a crushing win over India in the final.
So if a team, albeit a legendary one, can cope with the sudden non-availability of one of the greatest players ever then surely Australia can manage without Clarke, as he has been in and out of the team on a regular basis now and there is an excellent option available in Smith, if not Bailey.
The Clarke sideshow is proving to be a major distraction and for Australia, who are gelling well and coming up with consistent results, it’s something that is unnecessarily consuming their time and energy. No player is so big that the entire team needs to be kept waiting for him, even if it is the captain.
Let’s hope the issue is settled once and for all and Clarke proves he is fit in today’s game. If not then, for cricketing reasons alone, he should be left out.