x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Gracious declaration Clarke's statement to Australian fans

The Australia captain has not been a hit with supporters but the fact he put team above self could change.

Michael Clarke declared the hosts’ innings while five runs short of Don Bradman’s 334, the highest score by an Australian.
Michael Clarke declared the hosts’ innings while five runs short of Don Bradman’s 334, the highest score by an Australian.

SYDNEY // After erasing some of Sir Don Bradman's marks with an unbeaten triple century on Thursday, Michael Clarke did not risk upsetting anyone by going on to surpass the great man's highest Test score.

There would have been time when the brash youngster from Sydney's western suburbs would not have thought twice about passing the recognised and enduring mark of 334 held by Bradman, a total deliberately not surpassed by Mark Taylor against Pakistan in Peshawar in 1998.

Such is the significance of the landmark that Taylor even had a telephone discussion with John Howard, the then Australian prime minister, before formally announcing his decision to declare, and hence be forever linked with Bradman.

The quality and size of Clarke's innings as much as his selflessness in declaring while on 329 – five short of the revered Bradman's mark of 334 and 71 short of Brian Lara's world record – will go someway towards tipping public support his way.

In doubling his own previous highest Test score of 168, Clarke now boasts the highest score on home soil by an Australia Test captain, the highest score ever at the historic Sydney Cricket Ground and the first triple century at the ground.

Clarke's talent had never been in doubt since he burst onto the Test scene in 2004, more than 18 months after establishing himself in the limited-overs squad, by scoring 151 on debut against India at Bangalore, but he has often struggled to win over a demanding public which considers the job of national cricket captaincy second only to the prime minister in terms of importance.

The public's reticence toward Clarke has largely been based on style rather than substance, with fans hesitant to embrace a man who takes a very different approach to the trademark no-frills manner of iconic captains such as Allan Border and Steve Waugh.

He models underwear, has a collection of tattoos, and is highly conscious of his image - not exactly traits Australian fans would ascribe to favourite sons such as Dennis Lillee or David Boon.

His locker room spat with Simon Katich, the former Test opener, for wanting to leave to spend time with his girlfriend rather than keep celebrating a victory in Sydney has become the stuff of legend and polarised opinion.

Clarke's struggle for fans' acceptance was illustrated last Australian summer when he was booed by a crowd when he walked out to bat in a one-dayer after the Ashes series defeat.

But Clarke's four centuries in nine Tests since officially replacing Ricky Ponting as captain have hushed some critics who did not think he was leadership material.

"It's about respect, it's about continuing to earn the public's respect. That's all I've ever wanted," Clarke said after his 18th Test hundred. "If people are going to dislike me that's life, that's the way it is. But the most important thing for me, especially being the Australian captain now, you want your home fans to respect you."

Clarke's campaign to bat his way into public affection is progressing well, if judged by the prolonged and raucous standing ovation he received when he clipped off his pads through midwicket for a boundary to bring up his 300.