By Justin Lemmon
In the midst of what has been a disastrous Ashes campaign for Australia, the cost is already beginning to be felt – the urn is back in English hands and Australia’s captain Michael Clarke is the first playing casualty.
As England took an unassailable three to one lead in the series with an innings victory at Nottingham, the Australian dressing room has also been rocked by news it will soon be without its talismanic captain. With questions swirling about form and fitness, Clarke will draw time on an excellent career with the final test of the series at The Oval.
Beginning the series as firm favourites, Australia were expected to triumph in English conditions for the first time since 2001 but the swinging ball and a brittle batting order have resulted in three massive losses at Cardiff, Birmingham and Nottingham. The inability to deal with Stuart Broad and James Anderson was highlighted by team capitulations of 136 in the first innings at Birmingham and just 60 in the first innings at Nottingham.
At the heart of those batting woes has been Michael Clarke. Once the world’s finest batsman and with 28 centuries at an average of almost 50 to his name, Clarke has been reduced to just 117 runs at an average of less than 17 in this series.
In an interview with close friend Shane Warne at the close of play, Clarke acknowledged that “you never want to walk away from the game but my performances in this series and over the last 12 months haven’t been acceptable” and that the “time is right now”.
Although the struggles have been significant of late, Clarke’s career has been one of such highs, that the lows will be quickly forgotten. A player who never received the automatic affection of the Australian public, Clarke found wide admiration with not only a tendency to produce fighting centuries but also with his graceful leadership after the passing of Phillip Hughes. Clarke’s triumphant century in the first test after Hughes’ death while battling injury himself, shall remain his finest hour.
Widespread changes are now touted for an ageing Australian side that seems certain to be next led by Steve Smith. What looked an invincible team after whitewashing England less than 24 months ago is on the verge of a significant rebuild in the attempt to rectify a batting order that has been misfiring for almost half a decade.
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