MICHAEL CLARKE: From pup to top dog

In Bradman’s era, cricket grounds emptied when The Don was out.

In a similar way today, Australian fans flocking to Test cricket expect to see Michael Clarke score centuries.

It will be no different in Clarke’s 100th Test today, as a nation wills him to become the eighth cricketer in history to mark that milestone with a hundred.

But there’s one significant difference between Bradman and Clarke, and it has nothing to do with statistics.

It’s all about perception.

Bradman and Clarke are a product of two vastly different worlds.

The Don was judged purely on his cricket and publicly he was loved by all.

Clarke is of the social media generation, where nothing is private.

He’s one of the most prodigious talents this country has produced and could hardly have performed better with the bat since taking over as captain in 2011.

Yet Clarke has polarised opinion like few Australian skippers have before.

But it’s always been at home when cricketing folklore is created in the minds of the paying public.

Clarke has scored three hundreds in each of the past two summers, including a triple and three double-hundreds.

Already he has two tons from two Tests this Ashes series.

The 32-year-old’s average on home soil (65.29) is second only to Bradman (98.22), and with 16 Australian hundreds to his name, there’s no reason why Clarke can’t join Ricky Ponting with 23 if he continues for another couple of years.

It’s a run-scoring stratosphere occupied by few others.

So why has Clarke had to fight so hard to be loved by the public?

The captain’s leading role in Australia’s Ashes dominance so far this summer appears to be changing perceptions, particularly after he was captured telling Jimmy Anderson to get ready for a “f---ing broken arm” at the Gabba.

Clark stood accused of being showy and soft in the past. This clash revealed a tougher edge.

But is it fair that it’s taken a stump microphone to show that, perhaps all along, Clarke has been the cricketer and skipper Australians have wanted him to be?

In the history of Test cricket, only Bradman and Sri Lanka’s Kumar Sangakkara have performed better with the bat once they’ve taken over as captain.

Clarke has now scored 12 centuries and scored runs at better than 64 runs per innings while leading an unstable side.

In the age of Twenty20, where players conceivably represent six or seven different teams in a year, the art of captaincy may never have been more challenging.

Clarke is regarded as the hardest-working player in Australian cricket, yet even those close to him recognised a new steel about his preparation for Ashes revenge.

In consultation with Darren Lehmann, it was Clarke who pushed a return to the aggressive approach which has resulted in a 2-0 lead.

It was Clarke who shunned Twitter, media interviews and sponsorship appearances, to dedicate all his energy towards his game and his team.

Clarke was heavily criticised in 2009 for his role in a dressing-room bust-up with Simon Katich.

Even though Ricky Ponting bagged Clarke for his attitude as vice-captain, even he admitted the stoush was no worse than countless arguments he’s seen between Australian cricketers.

Clarke entered the dressing room in 2004, where some of the biggest egos in cricket were throwing their weight around on a daily basis.

The perception of the boy from Sydney’s west appeared to suffer when he moved to the other side of town for his high-profile relationship with model Lara Bingle.

Regardless of whether Clarke played a role in seeking the spotlight or not, the public fallout from his break-up with Bingle in 2010 is something few cricketers have had to deal with.

Clarke showed what he was made of by returning to the New Zealand tour and scoring a hundred for his country.

His talent is such that Clarke has been respected and even admired.

But not loved.

It’s not very long ago that Clarke was booed as he walked out to bat on his home ground at the SCG.

But rather than wilt under the antipathy, he’s shown a remarkable resilience, taking his game to a level that belongs among the all-time greats.

Privately, he knew this Ashes would be the series that defined his career.

And he’s delivered in emphatic fashion.

In Bradman’s day that was all that mattered.

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