Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Why England need Michael Clarke back

Reports are coming out today that Michael Clarke is suffering from a recurrence of a back injury that's plagued him throughout his career. Since ascending to the captaincy in 2011, Clarke has almost single handedly led the way with the bat for his Australian side, and with the retirements of Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey is near enough the sole hope for the tourists when they attempt to win the Ashes back in a few weeks.

You'd have thought that news of Clarke's injury would be good news for England ahead of the Ashes series, with Australia so bereft of batting talent that Peter Siddle managed to top-score in the last test (where Clarke did not play), but for me, this is completely not the case. The 2005 Ashes will go down in English cricketing folklore as the series - the two best teams in the world going head to head, with all-time legends making up both sides in a gargantuan series that was fought hard, but more remarkably, was an incredibly high standard of cricket. England's achievement of winning back the urn after so many years was multiplied tenfold by the fact that they'd beaten the team of Warne, Ponting, Gilchrist, Hayden and McGrath. This was no hollow victory against a second-rate side. The events of 2005 converted a nation to cricket - kids who'd never previously heard of the game were enthralled by Vaughan's cover drive, Jones' reverse-swing, Flintoff's all-round heroics and Pietersen's haircut. And Ashley Giles.

A generation of cricketers grew up dreaming of taking on the likes of Warne and McGrath, and that series has helped produce a great many players who could become just as good as those England heroes in summers to come. Joe Root has spoken about how he used to pretend he was Michael Vaughan when playing in the garden, and Steven Finn has told of the benefit to his career that it was to watch Glenn McGrath play in that feted series.

But what if this Australian team roll over and get beaten 10-0? While English cricket would give themselves a big pat on the back, would there be the public interest? Would it get kids picking up cricket bats wanting to be the next Prior, Cook or Bell instead of the next Milner, Barry or Phil Jones? Without Clarke, a serious beating (OK, maybe not 10-0 but still a bit of a thumping) could be on the cards, which would obviously be bad news for Australian cricket, but in the long run could spell disaster for England. Australia need Clarke to get fit, but not as much as England do.