It was only three days ago that Michael Clarke stood next to his departed colleague and delivered a eulogy so heart-rending that he got an entire nation to cry with him. Ever since, the whole of Australia has been left to ponder will he or won’t he? Will Clarke be able to somehow overcome the myriad of emotions that he’s been stricken with and has exhibited so openly? Or is he just not ready yet to take up the mantle of donning the pads, forget leading his country?
As it turned out, Clarke was in action at the Adelaide Oval on Saturday. That he was the cynosure of everyone present, media and fans alike, was but a given. There had been doubts over his inclusion for the first Test, when it was scheduled to be played at the Gabba this last Thursday. His hamstring had still been giving him trouble. And he was here for a fitness test.
Not only did he look comfortable while doing laps and spot runs, Clarke was also at his electric best in the field. He was among the nippiest during the drills, and kept swooping in on balls patted to him by Darren Lehmann and flinging them towards the stumps. He was also very vocal during the routines, with his shouts of “Come on Harris,”, “Come on Josh..” and so on echoing around the empty Adelaide Oval.
It was then time to bat. And he spent the first few minutes padding up and keeping a keen eye on David Warner, who batted in the far net. Unlike on Friday, the left-handed opener looked at his punchy best and played a number of attractive strokes. He also seemed in a much better frame of mind, even sharing a few jokes with his skipper. Clarke then slipped into the spinners’ net and looked fluent against the likes of Nathan Lyon and Steve Smith.
Over the last two days, coach Darren Lehmann and Brad Haddin, who would have taken over from Clarke if he were to miss out, have hinted that the team was near-desperate to have their captain back.
“Michael’s a tremendous captain and we want our captain out there playing. All signs are that he’s going in the right direction, and like everyone else, we want Michael out there leading our team in the first hour of play here in Adelaide,” said Haddin after Clarke’s first stint in the nets.
Lehman had on Friday paid tribute to the mental strength of Clarke and the way he handled the Phillip Hughes affair. “He is pretty mentally strong as we saw through the week. He was great with the Hughes family and held himself together really well, led the team really well. As long as he is fine, he can do the running and bat at the level he needs to we’ll be fine, we want our captain playing, as simple as that.”