Three men in the ongoing Ashes Series have their career ups-and-downs that make a good story in retrospect. Michael Clarke announced his retirement under dubious circumstances; Steve Smith has been severely criticized by Shane Warne and Ricky Pointing and Englishman Stuart Broad single-handedly destroyed Australia with an 9-wicket haul. Australia need serious introspection going forward to Oval and play the match not just as the final test but as the first act of reforming themselves in times to come.
After second day’s play in Nottingham, Michael Clarke had a long chat with his wife Kyly and his mind was made up. He didn’t want to play test cricket any longer. Next he sent an early-morning text message to coach Darren Lehmann to check if he was awake. After that, Clarke proceeded to tell Lehmann of his decision to retire from cricket. Then he informed chief selector Rodney Marsh before breaking the news to his stunned team-mates in the Trent Bridge dressing-room on third day morning. The Oval test will be Clarke’s 115th and final Test, and 47th as captain. Despite his commitment to the cause of Australian cricket, two back-to-back huge losses became too much. Daily Telegraph columnist Mike Coleman was sympathetic to Clarke, when he wrote that his retirement should have come with a triumphant lap of SCG, waving to the crowd and blowing a kiss to his beautiful wife in the stands. Instead, Clarke sat in a gloomy bar in Nottingham with his mate Shane Warne drowning his sorrows after a bad day.
It was a big contradiction for Clarke, who began his test career with a century against India at Bangalore 11 years ago. Clarke’s entry to Australian cricket helped his team end a 35-year winless drought in Indian subcontinent with a 2-1 series victory. Soon Clarke notched up another hundred against the visiting New Zealanders in his first match at the Gabba. Australia ruled in that series but a downturn came in Clarke’s career in 2005. He averaged 28 in 12 Tests even as Australia lost the Ashes for the first time since 1987. Clarke was dropped from the team in 2005 after a series of poor scores against the visiting West Indies. However, he made a resounding comeback in 2006-07 Ashes series at home against England with two centuries. Australia beat England 5-0 and Clarke went on to score centuries in seven consecutive series during 2006-2009.
In the fifth test of 2010-11 Ashes Series, Clarke replaced Ricky Ponting to become Australia’s 43rd Test captain. In that role, Clarke scored six centuries in the first 12 months, including a flawless 151 against South Africa at Cape Town. Back home in Sydney, he knocked the stars out of India’s bowlers by scoring the career high 329 not out. He couldn’t win the Ashes in 2013 English summer but he led his men to another English whitewash six months later at home. In the 2014 series against South Africa, Clarke’s class was evident when he braved South African pace battery of Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander in the Cape Town test and won the series 2-1 for Australia with a scintillating knock of 161. Throughout 2014, Clarke battled with his hamstring problem and Steve Smith was Australia’s captain. Clarke’s most recent century also was his most emotional. It came against India at Adelaide, soon after his close friend Phil Hughes’ death. Under Clarke Australia also won the 2015 ICC cricket World Cup and he will go down in history as one of Australia’s greatest cricketers.
Today, Steve Smith is world’s no.1 test batsman. But Australian greats Shane Warne and Ricky Ponting are sore with Smith for throwing his wicket away in the second innings. Australia had begun with a solid 113-run opening stand, after trailing England by 331 runs on the first innings. After Warner, Rogers and Shaun Marsh fell to Ben Stokes, Smith had the responsibility of carrying his side to safety. As per Warne and Ponting, Smith should have exercised restraint rather than make an irresponsible shot. England had a plan and Broad bowled a wider off-side delivery. Rather than leaving it alone, Smith lashed out and lost his wicket to a catch on the cover point.
It is the same Steve Smith, who brought victory for Australia at Lords with a double hundred but when times are bad, even the best people suffer from criticism and Smith’s case is no different. Australia’s massive defeat has overshadowed Smith’s past success as captain, when Clarke wasn’t around. Smith scored centuries in all three Tests against India. Smith was also Australia’s lead scorer in the 2015 World Cup. With 6 centuries in 8 test matches, Smith has clinched the top spot in ICC test rankings.
Stuart Broad was the wrecker-in-chief in dismissing Australia for 60 runs before lunch on first day of Nottingham test. But the cricketing hero, without whom England’s bowling line-up cannot be conjured; had his bad time as well. In the 2007 T-20 World Cup, Yuvraj Singh entered the record books at the expense of Stuart Broad, who was blasted for six sixes in one over. On that historic night in Durban, Yuvraj stepped out in the 17th over with India’s score reading 155 for 3. A taunting exchange from Andrew Flintoff enraged Yuvraj and when Broad came to bowl the 19th over, Yuvraj took his revenge. He plundered every ball from Broad over the ropes to make history. Yuvraj reached a 12-ball fifty that remains a record but Broad got the bad press. Regardless of such hammering, Broad has bounced back to become one of England’s best bowlers.