“I know there’s been some talk about whether I should walk away from one-day cricket, or how long I can play for, but I’ve had my back issues since I was 17 and touch wood, to date, I haven’t missed any major tournaments. It’s all part of playing sport at the highest level.”
The optimistic ring in Michael Clarke’s words just a little more than four months ago seems in danger of coming to a jarring halt soon. With a major tournament just around the corner, the ambidextrous wonder’s availability for the mega event hangs in precarious balance.
With the 2015 World Cup already being touted as the last one for the right-handed batsman, questions over his ability to play even this one are now doing the rounds, courtesy of his less-than-match-fit condition for the Australia-New Zealand showpiece.
Multiple injuries have been plaguing the occasional left-arm spinner for some time now, with hamstring tears being the most frequent.
So much so, that after aggravating a similar injury during the first Test against India in December, a disenchanted Clarke said, “There’s no doubt there’s certainly a chance I will miss the World Cup, there’s a chance I could never play again. I hope that’s not the case and I’ll be doing everything in my power to get back out on the park, but I think I’ve got to be realistic as well.”
However, the 2007 and 2011 World Cup veteran soon cast off the fog of temporary gloom with steely determination to feature in the upcoming mega event. Undergoing surgery almost immediately after his disheartening speech, the Australia captain was up and tweeting away on the second Test the very next day without a hint of remorse or sullenness at being unable to join the field to do what he does best — play cricket.
The 33-year-old – the only Australian to have scored four Test double centuries in one calendar year – is definitely not someone to be overlooked, a fact backed by Cricket Australia’s decision to include him in the 15-member squad for the World Cup despite there being no confirmation of him recovering in time.
While his Test figures are comparatively better with 8,432 runs at a batting average of 50.8 and 28 centuries, his ODI performance is nothing to be scoffed at either; 7,762 runs at an average of 44.87.
The race to get fit in time is on for Clarke. Tasked with fielding for a minimum of 25 overs in a warm-up match against Bangladesh XI on Thursday, he managed to stay on the field for 32 overs and even bowled two of them before he returned to the pavilion. Moreover, he stayed at the crease for 47 minutes where he scored 34 runs before being dismissed. Earlier, he had batted for three hours in a West Australia grade match, scoring a half-century in the process.
Still, Clarke has as good as written off his chances of making it into the playing eleven of the World Cup opener against England, saying that that may be a bridge too far. “In my opinion, I think there’s a gap between where I am now and playing an ODI for Australia [next week],” he said.
Clarke was expected to travel to Adelaide on Friday as Australia’s World Cup squad assembles ahead of Sunday’s first official warm-up match against India, but is unlikely to feature. An appearance in the warm-up against UAE is more probable, which will take place in Melbourne on Wednesday.
As it stands, the February 21 group match against Bangladesh remains the official deadline for Clarke to prove his fitness.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 7th, 2015.
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