Michael Clarke accepted the replica crystal urn from Shane Warne, one of the heroes of the last Ashes whitewash, and declared the depths to which Australian cricket had plummeted in 2013 were the making of this Ashes-winning team.
Just 10 months ago when he bowed out of the disastrous tour of India with a crook back, Clarke felt as low as he did on the day he was dropped from the Australian team as a precocious young cricketer. But that moment in March last year was when he and the people around him said, “enough is enough”.
In the ensuing months Brad Haddin was recalled as vice-captain, Chris Rogers was brought back with his wealth of experience and first-class runs, Darren Lehmann was appointed coach, Ryan Harris returned to fitness and Mitchell Johnson cranked up his pace.
But the more significant shift, Clarke said after the victorious XI crammed onto the podium at the SCG yesterday afternoon, was the change in attitude.
“Losing four-nil in India was extremely tough to deal with, especially for me personally, going home in that last Test, missing my first Test match due to injury,” Clarke recalled in the aftermath of Australia’s 281 thrashing of England inside three days at the SCG. “That was probably as tough as it’s been in my career. They were similar feelings to when I got dropped from the Australian team (in 2005).
“As hard as it is to look back on it and as hard as it is to try and imagine, I think that was what turned this team around,” Clarke said.
“That tough time made us say, ‘We can’t continue to do this, we have to make change.’ Individually, whether it be the way you train, the work you do on and off the field, our attitude, whatever it is, that was the time we all said, ‘Enough is enough, we’ve got to turn things around.’ We did that. Guys’ attitudes changed and we sit here now with the result from plenty of hard work.”
Clarke is the only player in history to be on the winning side of two Ashes whitewashes.
His effort to overcome the short-pitched assault from Stuart Broad to score a century in the second innings in Brisbane, then another in Adelaide, were inspirational but his work behind the scenes with Lehmann also helped set England up for a fall.
“We had set plans for individual batters, we had set plans once No. 8, 9 10, 11 walked in to bat, from ball one this series we knew we were going to hit them as hard as we could with short stuff,” said Clarke, whose low catch in the slips to dismiss Scott Borthwick accelerated England’s downfall.
“We planned that before a ball was bowled this series and, most importantly, the blokes executed it. I said to the boys before a ball was bowled this series, in my opinion they are the greatest attack in the world at the moment, and I think they’ve just shown that over the five Test matches.”
Though his batting faded in the last three Tests, almost everything Clarke touched as captain turned to gold, from the moment he anointed Mitchell Johnson as man of the series. “Who would have thought? Except me, and probably Mitch!”
Lehmann’s arrival, Clarke’s decision to hand back his selection vote and the addition of some experienced heads took the pressure off him.
“I think Michael’s always been an outstanding tactician,” Haddin said. “He reads the game as well as anyone you can play with. I think what Darren and his staff have done is take the anxiety out of the changeroom. We can just get on and do our job and Michael can do his without having to worry about anything else.”