Opinion: Clarke's captaincy is just OK…


Michael Clarke is an OK captain, he is not the second coming of Mike Brearley. So often in cricket something is said so regularly that it just becomes accepted as fact without any critical analysis.

If you spend enough time listening to cricket commentary, and I spend far too much, you start to believe in the mystical powers of Michael Clarke.

Such is the supremacy of his captaincy he could solve the Arab-Israel conflict and world hunger with his field placings. His declarations are so brilliant that they are clearly visible from space. He is the Einstein of cricket, the Leonardo da Vinci of bat and ball games.

Michael Clarke is an OK captain, he is not the second coming of Mike Brearley. So often in cricket something is said so regularly that it just becomes accepted as fact without any critical analysis.

The ultimate judge of a captain is his ability to win games. Before the second coming of Mitch, Clarke had done alright as a captain. His home record was pretty good. His away record was pretty poor. He won 12 games, he lost 10 and drew 8. Not bad, not amazing.

Since Johnson's return as the arch destroyer he has won a lot more. The question that you have to ask yourself is how many captains lose when they have a bowler who is taking wickets at 13 runs a piece.

He has given Johnson short four over spells, but that tactic began with James Pattinson in India where it failed spectacularly. Johnson is the final piece in this Australian jigsaw. He turns a good side into an amazing one with his thunderbolt bouncers.

During the English leg of the uber-Ashes, Clarke drew much praise for his innovativeness. His mate and mentor Shane Warne made much of his 'funky' field placings. The thing with funkiness is you only have to do it when things aren't going your way. You have done everything else, and out of desperation you try something different.

Clarke had loads of really interesting field placings in England, he lost the series 3-0. When Alastair Cook was having his backside served to him on an ornate platter in Australia he went 'funky'. Shane Warne lapped it up. England lost 5-0.

Then there is declarations. Nothing fills more air time that talk of when a captain should declare. Clarke we are told is one of the best. Warne tells us he is 'prepared to lose to win'.

At the Oval in 2013 as a slow pitch, bad light and rain looked set to condemn the match to a draw Clarke went funky. He shook up his batting order like someone playing Coca-Cola roulette. He then declared at the point where he felt that England wouldn't chase the runs.

Then England went for it. As it looked like England might win, the captain who was prepared to lose began begging the umpires to call of the game because of bad light. He got his way as the umpires denied 23,000 paying spectators a finish four overs short of the end of the game on a floodlit ground.

All of this is not to say that Clarke is not a tactically astute captain. He tries things. That should be given the credit that it deserves. It gives us and the commentators something to talk about.

The issue is one of confirmation bias. The story that Michael Clarke is a captaincy genius has spread to such an extent that any slice of luck or good fortune is now credited to his captaincy.

In this week's Port Elizabeth Test Graeme Smith had a man fielding in a catching position in front of the wicket at a very short mid off. Michael Clarke drove a ball from Vernon Philander straight to him.

There was barely a peep about this decent piece of captaining. I can only imagine the hums of pleasure that would have emanated from certain sections of the commentary box had the identities of the captain and batsman been reversed.

Once again at Port Elizabeth, South Africa were grinding out a match winning first innings total. Michael Clarke moved his slips to mid wicket. The response of AB de Villiers was to cream the ball through extra cover for four. This failure of funkiness was ignored.

Michael Clarke makes loads of interesting calls. The vast majority do not work out. The ones that do are remembered, the ones that don't are forgotten. If you throw enough balls at the coconut chances are one of them will knock it off. Credit should be given for trying, but not to the exclusion of the failures.

<b>Peter Miller</b>