When Michael Clarke announced his retirement last week, it was met with approval. Clarke had clearly been struggling, so the time was right to hand over to Steve Smith and enjoy his final Test at the Oval.
Then it got messy.
Earlier this week, former Australian players Matt Hayden, Andrew Symonds and former coach John Buchanan publicly criticised Clarke’s captaincy and his attitude.
Symonds and Clarke famously fell out after Symonds turned up drunk against Bangladesh in 2005. Symonds was never mistaken for a wallflower, so his criticism of Clarke isn’t surprising.
Hayden is a shock. The giant Queenslander played in Australia’s golden run of the late nineties-early noughties. While his batting was aggressive and often arrogant, he seemed like a model team man, forming a close friendship with Justin Langer. Maybe it’s a clash of cultures. While Clarke enjoyed the fast cars, bling and model girlfriends, Symonds and Hayden are simple country folk who love fishing.
Buchanan, who was big on the mental side of cricket, accused Clarke of diluting the Australian team’s culture.
The Courier-Mail, one of the hallmarks of “quality” tabloid journalism, took these criticisms from the three Queenslanders and used it to belittle New South Welshman Clarke and the Australian team. According to The Courier-Mail, Queenslanders can do no wrong.
Whatever issues Symonds, Hayden and Buchanan have with Clarke is their own business and they should be dealt with privately. Airing their dirty laundry makes them look petty and after cheap publicity.
Admittedly, Clarke is no angel; we all remember the drama with Lara Bingle. Clarke, to his credit, has cleaned up his act. He dumped the Wannabee Human Headline, started scoring runs and is now happily married. His ultra-professional conduct after Phillip Hughes’ death won the respect of many.
Ryan Harris and Shane Warne have come to Clarke’s defence, with Warne unsurprisingly slamming Buchanan.
Clarke and Darren Lehmann have vehemently hit back at rumours of disunity and rubbished speculation that the “WAG culture” was hurting the team.
While this “he said/she said”conjecture sells newspapers, gets mouses clicking and looks good on the news bulletins, it’s the last thing Australia needs. Clarke doesn’t deserve to be dragged into this tabloid nonsense. It’s unfair and uncalled for. Clarke deserves to be celebrated for his on-field feats.
Hopefully Clarke will finish with big runs – the only talk that matters – and shut up his critics.