x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

'Pup' grows up to be top dog for the Aussies

When Michael Clarke was awarded his own bright yellow motorbike in Bangalore five years ago, Australia knew they had found the man to help drive the next generation forward.

When Michael Clarke was awarded his own bright yellow motorbike in Bangalore five years ago, Australia knew they had found the man to help drive the next generation forward. Even then, Clarke - who was known to his teammates as "Pup" because of his youthful looks - was being groomed as the country's next captain.

While the 151 he hit against India remains his highest Test match score of his career to date, Clarke has progressed beyond all expectation since arriving on the international stage. His performances in the 2006-07 Ashes only confirmed his status as a big player in the making and his rapid progress over the past two years have elevated him to No 3 in the Test match world rankings. That he will likely finish this Ashes series as the leading run-scorer ahead of the likes of captain Ricky Ponting and the more experienced Michael Hussey is a testament to Clarke's desire to remain at the very peak of his powers.

A third consecutive Test match hundred beckoned yesterday before Graham Onions struck to leave the world's most in-form batsman an agonising seven runs short of what would have been yet another fine century. While England's top order have struggled to find any real rhythm throughout the series, Clarke has played beautifully and with such elegance that he has easily outshone his peers. Not only is it his ability to attack and take a bowler out the firing line that impresses, but his determination to fight for the cause and remain resolute throughout. His innings of 136 during the second Test at Lord's proved Clarke has the mental strength to succeed at the very highest level - something of which England's middle order should take note.

Despite the cause being all but lost, Clarke remained defiant, a captain's like knock while those around him fell meekly to an Andrew Flintoff-inspired England. Ironically, it is his effort of 93 and not his two centuries which will probably help Australia to deservedly level the series at Headingley. Certainly Clarke's form has breathed confidence into those around him in the middle-order with Marcus North the chief beneficiary.

Despite having played only two Test matches before arriving in England, North has looked every inch an international cricketer. So cruelly robbed of a century at Edgbaston, he responded by bringing up his second ton of the series in swashbuckling style by smashing Graeme Swann for six. Clarke and North's stand of 152 all but sealed England's fate yesterday as the duo took full advantage of some largely comical bowling.

North, who put on 152 with his vice captain for the fifth wicket, will surely become an integral part of the Australia for years to come. Suddenly, Australia have a middle order which looks solid and intimidating - something which cannot be said of their opponents in this series. And in Clarke they have a man primed and ready to lead the next generation into battle and yet another era of Australian dominance.

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