It was only a few years ago Michael Clarke was captain of the Australian cricket team, and undoubtedly the country’s best batsman, not to mention a great role model. So just how did this cricketer from Sydney’s south-west make it to the top? In his new autobiography, My Story, the man himself reveals how he very nearly didn’t!
In Chapter Five of his book, Michael Clarke talks about how his love affair with fame led him to be dropped from the Aussie team in 2005. But thanks to a ‘ruthless’ change in attitude, he managed to steer through the corridor of uncertainty to pass the ultimate test…
In the one-year anniversary of my century in my first home Test match against New Zealand, I’m sitting in the changing room at Bellerive Oval in Hobart with my face in my hands. Up to this point, it is the worst day of my life. The boys are celebrating a Test match win over the West Indies, and I want to crawl into a corner and disappear. I’ve been told I have lost my position for the next match.
I’m given the news by Punter. I have felt it coming, and a couple of days ago, after I missed out for the fourth time in the series, I said to Ricky, ‘If I’m going to get dropped, can you please tell me, you are my captain and I play for you, not the selectors.’
When it happens, I say, ‘Thanks for being the one to say that.’
It’s not that I don’t think I deserve it. Since that amazing day in Brisbane 12 months ago, I have not made another hundred for Australia. In a home Test series against Pakistan, a three-Test tour to New Zealand, an Ashes tour, a one-off Test match against an ICC XI, and the first two Tests of this Frank Worrell Trophy series, my best score was 91 at Lord’s and I’ve only made two other fifties. That’s 15 Test matches, and my time has run out.
In the middle of the changing room celebrations, I pull Punter aside.
‘I don’t want to dampen anyone else’s night,’ I say. ‘Can I fly home separately tonight?’
He understands. It’s happened to him too, at a similar age.
Being dropped from the Australian team feels like a public humiliation. I’m ashamed of myself.
On the flight out of Hobart, I pull my cap down low over my eyes and jam in my headphones. The TV news on the screen in the plane shows the announcement that I’ve been dropped. I hunch down lower. I’m so embarrassed, I don’t want to show my face.
It’s devastating, far worse than anyone says it’s going to be. For weeks, I’ve been feeling that the axe was about to fall, but now that it has, there’s no relief and no upside. It’s not just that I haven’t scored enough runs. It’s that I’ve been my own worst enemy. For the past year, since I made the Australian team and scored those hundreds on debut in India and Brisbane, I’ve been inundated with sponsorship offers, media attention, all the perks that come with the tag of rising new talent. In a team full of familiar faces, the public has grown complacent with success, and I became the fresh new face to fill the vacuum. I didn’t ask for it, but I haven’t said no to anything either. If a sponsor has wanted me to turn up for a photo shoot, I’ve said yes and put off my training to another time. If a magazine wants an interview, I’ve said yes and reshuffled my cricket commitments around it. The ‘trappings of fame’ – they’re called trappings for a reason.
I haven’t been hardened by a lot of setbacks through my cricket life. My early seasons with New South Wales weren’t easy, but I always felt I was on the up and up. I didn’t have much self-doubt. When was the last time I missed out on selection? When the rep under-13s didn’t pick me, and I burst into tears? I know I’ve been extremely fortunate, down the years, to have selectors reward me for my effort and potential. It’s left me weak when finally that tap of approval is turned off. My goal has always been to strive to keep going forward, not go backwards. Getting dropped, I’m heartbroken; I am going backwards for the first time. Never having experienced such a setback before, I don’t have any resistance; I haven’t built up any scar tissue.
Instead of going home, when I fly in from Hobart I go to Mum and Dad’s house in Caringbah. They’re the two people I feel I can turn to.
‘I know you’re upset and I’m here to support you,’ Dad says. ‘You can let this go one of two ways. You can stay here and cry on our shoulder, or we can go to the nets tomorrow and start working to get you back in the Australian team.’
It happens just like that. I know I have to get out of the spotlight in order to clear my mind, reassess my priorities, and really ask myself if I want to be an Australian cricketer. For the last six to 12 months, I think I have wanted it, but I haven’t acted like it’s the be-all and end-all. I haven’t put cricket first.
For the next four days, Dad and I practise together, just like old times. I have the option to stand aside from New South Wales’s next game, against Queensland at the SCG. It’s a risk: Queensland’s pace bowling attack is all internationals, present and future: Michael Kasprowicz, Andy Bichel, Mitchell Johnson and Ashley Noffke. It’s a better bowling attack than the West Indians against whom I couldn’t get a run in the Test matches.
But I make myself available, following Dad’s advice that playing is better than sitting around feeling sorry for myself. The first day we field, and the second day is washed out. It’s not until lunch on the third day that I finally get in the middle with a bat in my hands, and I can’t believe how natural everything feels. I end up batting six and a half hours and making 201 not out, my first double-hundred in first-class cricket. It shows me that my skills haven’t disappeared. My problem has been that my mind has been caught up in so much rubbish that I’ve been getting in my own way.
For the rest of the 2005–06 summer, I know I won’t get back in the Test team, so I set my heart on selection for the autumn tour of South Africa. The innings against Queensland and another hundred against South Australia get me in as the spare batsman. I’m also playing well enough in the shorter formats to be retained in the Australian one-day and Twenty20 teams, going on a tour of New Zealand and playing in the home triangular series, so I’m still in good form and don’t feel like I’ve been completely cast out into the wilderness.
The big change is in my attitude. I don’t break with my sponsors, but I become ruthless about putting training first, other commitments second. It’s been the other way around for too long.
Edited extract from Chapter Five of My Story – Michael Clarke ($44.99); published by Pan Macmillan Australia. OUT NOW.
ABOUT MICHAEL CLARKE
Michael Clarke was born in Liverpool, in Sydney’s south in 1981. He made his Test debut in 2004 v India, scoring 151. Clarke became Australia’s 43rd Test cricket captain in 2011 while also leading Australia’s one-day side. In 115 Tests he scored 8643 runs, averaging 49.10. Clarke is a four-time winner of the Allan Border Medal and was twice named Wisden Cricketer of the Year. After 245 ODI games and almost 8000 runs his final ODI innings of 74 won Australia the 2015 World Cup. Clarke retired from Test cricket in 2015 with a win-loss-draw record of 24-16-7 as captain. He lives in Sydney with wife Kyly and daughter Kelsey Lee.
Have you read the book yet? We’d love to hear your thoughts on Michael Clarke’s highs and lows over his incredible career, in the comments section below.