SYDNEY: Another insipid display by a once great cricketer as his side slumped to an embarrassing defeat to go 2-1 down in the Ashes series had Australian pundits questioning whether captain Michael Clarke was in terminal decline on Saturday.
It remains highly unlikely that Clarke’s reign as Australia captain will end with him dropped for next week’s fourth Ashes test against England but it would have been remarkable just a few months ago for someone to even suggest the possibility.
Still, Clarke himself admitted that his 94 runs from six innings at an average of 18.80 in the Ashes series so far meant Australia had effectively been playing with 10 men.
Dropping Ian Bell at second slip on 20 on Friday and allowing the Englishman to go on to make a match-winning unbeaten 65 only added to the impression of a player seriously out of sorts.
“A hesitancy has crept into his batting in the last year. He is rivalling Jesse James in trigger movements,” Gideon Haigh wrote in The Australian.
“His test average here slipped below 50 for the first time in more than three years. No top four batsman who has played more than a handful of tests has a poorer record over the last twelve months.”
With a deteriorating back condition that could flare up at any moment and now well into his 12th year as a test cricketer, some pundits suspect the 34-year-old may not be able to revive his form.
“The problems begin with Clarke,” Greg Baum wrote in Melbourne’s The Age newspaper.
“He is out of form, at an age when that begins to look less like a lull and more a terminal condition.”
Under the headline “Michael Clarke’s poor run of form continues, how long will selectors wait?”, Mike Colman in Brisbane’s Courier-Mail said the classic counter-attacking Clarke innings might now be a thing of the past.
“We saw it as recently as last December when he ignored the pain of a chronic bad back to score 128 against India in Adelaide just 10 days after the tragic death of his team mate and friend Phillip Hughes,” he wrote.
“We saw it in March last year when he scored 161 not out against South Africa at Cape Town despite suffering a fractured shoulder.
“After the debacle at Edgbaston, we have to wonder if we will ever see it again.”
Fortunately for Clarke the player, if not for Clarke the captain, he is not the only Australian middle order batsman struggling and Adam Voges looks more likely to make way for Shaun Marsh at Trent Bridge.
And given the way fortunes have swung over the first three matches in this series, it would not be a major surprise to see Clarke notching his 29th test century to lead his side to a thumping victory.