Cow Corner

Pup becomes Australia’s big dog

Cow Corner

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Michael Clarke at 100, 200 and 300

Michael Clarke has just finished penning the ultimate three-day mission statement as captain and leading batsman of Australia.

The 30-year-old has been in the job for the best part of a year now, and to describe his tenure as a rollercoaster would be to do a disservice to the soaring heights and dizzying lows his side have hurtled through in that time.

As far as lows go, being 21 for nine in South Africa in November must leave a mark as permanent as the Arabic tattoo ('The pain of discipline is nothing like the pain of disappointment', since you ask) that adorns Clarke's arm. Losing a Test to New Zealand on home soil was considered so serious a failing that it led the country's press to declare a 'cricket crisis'.

Yet each time the team has bounced back. Humiliation in South Africa was followed by a series-levelling victory as thrilling as it was unlikely. Embarrassment suffered at the hands of the trans-Tasman neighbours was corrected by defeating India at the next time of asking.

And now Pup has secured his place in Australia's batting history with a coruscating 329 not out as Australia rip India to shreds in Sydney.

Mike Hussey, who made a not inconsequential unbeaten 150 in partnership with Clarke, joked afterwards that maybe his skipper should be renamed 'dog'.

It's funny because it's true.

A year ago Clarke was booed by Australian fans after he stood in as captain despite desperate form with the bat.

With previous captain and Australian cricket institution Ricky Ponting still in the team, Clarke also had the additional pressure of putting his own stamp on the role with his old boss close at hand.

Ponting broke his own lean trot with the bat with a century at the SCG — Clarke trumping that with 195 more runs than him was a poignant point to make.

And by declaring the innings when Hussey reached a landmark of his own and Clarke unbeaten but still five runs short of Donald Bradman's Test best, Clarke could bask in the respect that Australians afford those players who don't outdo the Don.

Plaudits duly followed for the 'ultimate team player' Clarke, even from Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard. Cowers speculates that maybe even Sachin Tendulkar will have been grateful that for an afternoon or two Clarke stopped the world anxiously waiting to see whether the Little Master would score his 100th international ton.

Just about everyone a winner then — except, of course, for the folks at Slazenger, whose label was conspicuous by its absence from Clarke's willow when he raised at half-century intervals from 50 to 300. If they are keen to reinstate a deal from 2012, they are likely to find that the price has gone up.

So Pup, Dog - or whatever it is we'll have to call him now - has won plenty of friends and support by making the joint 14th highest score in the history of Test cricket.

He has not solved Australia's problems with the bat — their top order remains brittle, as Zaheer Khan demonstrated by reducing them to 37 for three before they reached 659 for four in Sydney. Their middle order is coming back into form, but if they are keen to retain Ponting (37), Hussey (36) and Haddin (34) in the long term, they'll have to add a time-travel expert to their coaching staff. Their area of greatest optimism  is their bowling, where James Pattinson looks to be the real deal, Peter Siddle appears to have improved, and Pat Cummins will be knocking on the selectors' door if Ben Hilfenhaus's impressive form since his recall deteriorates.

But Clarke is setting an example that Australian cricketers are now getting behind. Australia are a flawed side, but showing resilience and determination that reminds Cowers of the spirited-but-far-from-finished-article that was the England side of a couple years ago.

If Australia can continue their resurgence, the back-to-back Ashes series of 2013 in England and 2013-14 in Australia are going to be very special indeed.

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