Selfless Clarke puts team win ahead of glory

After erasing some of Donald Bradman's marks with an unbeaten triple century, Michael Clarke didn't risk upsetting anyone by going on to surpass the great man's highest Test score.

Updated: January 05, 2012 16:37 IST
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Sydney: After erasing some of Donald Bradman's marks with an unbeaten triple century, Michael Clarke didn't risk upsetting anyone by going on to surpass the great man's highest Test score.

So he declared Australia's innings at 659-4 when he was 329 not out - five short of the revered Bradman's mark of 334 - at the drinks break in the middle session on Thursday, exactly halfway through the second Test against India.

His Australians had a commanding 468-run first innings lead, but on a flat wicket where the bowlers were struggling, Clarke could have easily justified batting on, and breaking a slew of batting records including Brian Lara's mark of 400 for the highest Test score.

He'd already beaten Bradman's record for highest score on home soil by an Australian Test captain (270), then he'd added the highest score ever at the historic Sydney Cricket Ground, followed by the first triple century at the ground and then just about doubled his own previous highest Test score of 168.

"Don't get me wrong, I'm stoked that I've managed to make 300-odd runs today but the most important thing for me now is that we win this Test," Clarke said, deflecting the attention from the timing of his declaration.

"I's about putting the team first. What I love most about this game, is seeing this team win," he said. "I've been like that as a player and I'll be no different as a captain.

"If it was best for the team to continue batting then I would have continued to bat."

His innings was not even within 50 of an Australian record - Matthew Hayden scored a then-world record 380 against Zimbabwe in 2003 - but it was a sign of respect for a more recognized and enduring mark: the 334 scored by Bradman, and equalled but deliberately not surpassed by Mark Taylor.

Clarke's epic innings will go a long way to tipping public support his way, having often struggled to win over a demanding nation of fans who consider the national cricket captaincy second only to the Prime Minister in terms of importance.

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.

That innings reflected the precocious talent of the brash youngster from Sydney's western suburbs, who had earned the nickname 'Pup' due to his youthful prowess in provincial cricket and was long considered as a flamboyant runmaker rather than a captain in waiting.

The public's reticence towards 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 recent captains like Allan Border and Steve Waugh.

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

His locker room spat with former Test opener Simon Katich 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 polarized 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 in the wake of Ashes series defeat, when the national team was at its nadir after a decade at the top of the game.

But Clarke's four centuries in nine Tests since officially replacing Ricky Ponting as captain have hushed some critics who didn't 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 and, by far his biggest, 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."

His latest innings had a precarious start, with Australia at 37-3 after removing India for 191 on the opening day of the 100th Test at the SCG. But after sharing back-to-back partnerships of 288 with Ponting (134) and 334 with Mike Hussey (150 not out), he increased his batting average as Australian captain to above 59.

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

It came in the wake of a tumultuous initial stint as captain, which included a horrendous loss in Cape Town when Australia were bowled out for 47 followed by a courageous win over the South Africans in Johannesburg.

A big victory over New Zealand followed that to open the Australian season last month, but that win was followed by a shocking loss in Hobart - Australia's first loss to the Kiwis on home soil in 26 years.

Mark Taylor had no problem with public support as Test captain in between the tenures of Allan Border and Steve Waugh.

He only enhanced his reputation when he declared Australia's innings after a night of contemplation when he'd reached 334 not out against Pakistan at Peshawar in 1998. Taylor even had a telephone discussion with then Australia Prime Minister John Howard before formally announcing his decision to declare, and hence be forever linked with Bradman.

Taylor was in a TV commentary box at the SCG when Clarke declared on day three, clearly surprised at the decision. He'd earlier joked that Australia had enough and made the mock gesture of calling the players off the field.

"I had a feeling he might get to 334 and think about it," Taylor, wearing a pink suit in support of a charity, said in the broadcast. "The drinks break came at probably just the wrong time for Michael Clarke. It wouldn't have surprised me if I saw him walk off with 334, not for me but more for somebody like Sir Donald Bradman."

But Taylor backed the decision, saying Clarke had put the team's pursuit of victory above any personal milestones.

"What a great day, not just for Michael Clarke, but for Test cricket," Taylor said. "Millions of views around the world have enjoyed this for Test cricket's sake."

Friends and fans rushed to praise Clarke, perhaps none more than Taylor.

"He's a guy who loves the game of cricket and I don't think people have quite understood that with Michael," he said. "He had an opportunity to make the world Test record today, there's no doubt about that. He could've done that and still had two days to bowl India out and win this Test.

"He could've achieved both goals but what he wanted to say is 'yes, I want to do well myself ... but I want to captain a side that's going to win first.'

"A lot of people focused on the negatives ... but now he is the main man. I think we're starting to see the real Michael Clarke."

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