“AAAAAAAAAA.” It was a throaty shriek. And Michael Clarke’s body winced subsequently, his helmeted head drooping towards his left shoulder as he scampered for a single.
The cry of anguish could have been heard sitting anywhere around the Adelaide Oval. You didn’t really need to have the earwig on the stump cam feed. For, it resonated around the venue.
It wasn’t just Clarke who was grimacing though. The entire stadium was, almost like they could feel his pain too. Probably they did.
Ishant Sharma had just delivered his first bouncer of the day to Clarke, almost identical to the one that the Australian captain had ducked under and tweaked his battered back on Tuesday.
This time though he swivelled and played a pull shot that you would see from a batsman with restricted body movement. The screech came immediately after. But Clarke still completed the single. With that he’d moved on to 80. He had scored 20 off the 16 deliveries the Indians had bowled at him on Wednesday morning.
Few had given Clarke a chance of even batting again in the Test. But here he was, stiff and clearly in agony, and yet ready to restart his unbroken innings. He was battling not just Ishant & Co, but his own body too. He had overcome mental battles to even get here. To lead his country in a Test match days after having carried his best mate to his final resting place. And he was not just surviving. He was dictating terms.
It started from the first delivery he faced on the day. Short and wide from Mohammad Shami, and walloped through point for four. He had received the loudest cheers when he walked out to bat initially on Day One. On Wednesday, the reception he got from the crowd was one filled more with astonishment and awe. It would soon turn to admiration though.
The Phil Hughes disaster aside, Clarke’s fitness had been a matter of concern leading up to the Indian tour. Then came his differences with the selection committee, where in they wanted him to play a practice game against India but he opted for a grade match instead. It was while he tried to sort them out, that Hughes had met his end.
This wasn’t the first time Clarke had overcome pain to play a special knock. He had done so last summer against the South Africans. But this was different. This was more than just about him wanting to do something special for his departed friend. This was about laying the path for him and his team as they took guard post Hughes. And he did just that with a combative century that set up the Test for his team, along with providing the perfect platform for an entire nation to move on.
He had poked around to get to 60 on Tuesday. As he resumed his innings on the second day, Clarke was handicapped. He couldn’t move. He couldn’t bend. He was prepared to stand and deliver though. And the Indians rather than force him to stretch his back, were feeding with deliveries that could be forced to the fence without much fuss. Thrice the Indian seamers fed him with deliveries just over the right shoulder, which he guided over the slips without much noise. Shami and Aaron kept providing him width, and Clarke kept holding still and slashing them away through the off-side infield.
The incessant rain-breaks didn’t help. Having to constantly leave the field and come back, meant putting his back under stress. In the midst of it all, he added 163 for the seventh wicket with Steven Smith, who also scored a century.
As Smith would reveal later, Clarke was not just receiving treatment during these breaks, he was also keeping himself physically active so as to keep his back from stiffening up.
Clarke has always used his feet to spin. And despite a dodgy hamstring and a painful back, he kept charging down the wicket to Karn Sharma and taking him on.
When he pitched it short, he flicked it through mid-wicket, somehow contorting his body enough to send it rushing to the mid-wicket fence.
Like Smith, Clarke too was stranded on 98 with the umpteenth drizzle of the day sending the players packing. When he returned to the crease, the Aussie skipper wasted no time to getting to the century. Aaron started his spell by coming around the wicket. “Change of plan, Bodyline coming up son,” yelled umpire Ian Gould. But Clarke was ready. He ducked under the first, tucked the second for a single before clipping the last delivery of the over for another run to reach his 28th Test ton.
A more dramatic one he hadn’t scored.
For an entire week, batsmen around the country have raised their bat to the skies to acknowledge their teammate after reaching a batting milestone. Clarke didn’t do that. He simply flashed his bat to every section of the crowd, shut his eyes and shed a tear. That was enough. He had made his point. He had made his peace.