(repeating and updating)
By Rob Forsaith
NOTTINGHAM, England, Aug 18 AAP – Right up until the end, Michael Clarke remained stubborn.
Some would say it was to a fault, citing last year’s public standoffs with selectors and a messy end to his international career.
But it was also one of Clarke’s greatest strengths – as a batsman and a captain.
Clarke’s highest Test score was an unbeaten 329 against India at the SCG in 2012.
But his best innings – and there were plenty given the 34-year-old logged 28 Test centuries – came when Australia were under pressure.
In the barren years that triggered the Argus Review into Australia’s team performance, Clarke was so often the man to step up.
He refused to yield, no matter the circumstances.
Take for example a thrilling Test series decider against world No.1 South Africa in Cape Town last year.
Morne Morkel worked Clarke over in a brutal bouncer barrage, striking painful blows on the helmet, gloves and shoulder.
The skipper hardly slept that night due to the pain, but went on to score 151.
Medicos feared Clarke had broken a finger, while scans later confirmed a fractured shoulder.
It was exactly that sort of temperament that allowed the right-hander to register an emotional century at Adelaide Oval last December.
Clarke’s heart was broken following the death of close friend Phillip Hughes.
His back wasn’t in much better condition, a degenerative disc problem having flared during the knock.
He was struggling to physically move.
Yet where there was a will, there was a way for Clarke.
Eventually Father Time, coupled with chronic back and hamstring woes, caught up with Clarke.
He never looked the same batsman after undergoing hamstring surgery and missing the majority of last summer, allowing understudy Steve Smith a taste of Test captaincy.
The grace had gone.
The ease with which Clarke stroked boundaries and found gaps had been replaced by pained expressions, unconvincing nudges and thick edges.
The end was nigh.
True to form, Clarke didn’t see it.
He spoke of hard work, of his work ethic, of the work he was doing in the nets.
It was all true – Clarke was the first man to training and last to leave throughout his career and that continued when the squad lobbed in Nottingham for the Fourth Test with hopes of squaring the series.
Clarke rubbished reports he had lost the hunger, declaring categorically in his pre-match press conference that he would not be retiring.
But the sorry nature of that Trent Bridge defeat by an innings and 78 runs – and more meagre scores (10 and 13) from the skipper – changed all that as he realised the magic had gone.
“There’s no doubt I tried to be as positive I could be right until the end,” he said.
As Clarke endured his fifth unsuccessful Ashes campaign – and fourth in England – it became clear his form didn’t warrant selection and it was time for Smith to shape the side.
On the field, Clarke’s average dipped below 50 recently but he should be remembered as one of the country’s best batsmen.
Only Ricky Ponting, Allan Border and Steve Waugh scored more Test runs for Australia than Clarke’s 8628.
Only Ponting, Waugh, Matthew Hayden and Don Bradman logged more Test tons than Clarke’s 28.
He was among the safest set of hands in the slips, with a rare drop at Edgbaston another sign that something was wrong.
He was always looking to push the game along, whether it be funky fields, bold bowling changes or daring declarations.
Off the field, he was deeply divisive.
Clarke was booed during an ODI at the Gabba in 2011.
Many fans never warmed to the boy from Sydney’s western suburbs, especially during his relationship with Lara Bingle.
He won much of the public over with a mountain of runs as Australia climbed up the ICC’s Test rankings.
But it wasn’t until last November, when grief gripped a nation following the shock death of Hughes after a bouncer blow, that Clarke earned the respect of a nation.
Cricket tragics, casual fans and those who hated the sport marvelled at Clarke’s mental strength as he delivered a moving eulogy at Hughes’ funeral.
It will be one of many lasting images of a career that was so often in the spotlight since 2003.