The soap opera that has been Michael Clarke’s bid to play the first Test took another bizarre turn on Monday when he was ruled out of the match in which he was supposed to prove his fitness. But he has not given up hopes of lining up at the Gabba.
The captain confirmed on Monday night he will not be lining up for a CA XI in a two-day tour game against India starting Friday in Adelaide but instead wants to play for his club side Western Suburbs on Saturday. While Clarke is still in extreme doubt for the first Test, the mixed messages from the captain and the selectors has created confusion as to whether his chances are now zero. It is not the first time Clarke and the selectors have been on different pages in recent months.
Chairman of selectors Rod Marsh had said on Monday morning that Clarke’s chances of leading his country at the Gabba were dependent on him emerging unscathed from the tour game. If he was not able to run by Wednesday he would not play the tour game and be out of the first Test. “What they have said is that he needs to start running, and if he doesn’t start running by, I think, Wednesday then I think we can safely assume that he won’t be playing the Test match,” Marsh said.
Clarke, however, is still harbouring ambitions of leading his country next week despite being only able to run at “50 per cent” on Monday. “I’ve been pulled out of, or passed unfit to play the game in Adelaide. The medical team in the Australian cricket team have ruled me out of that game,” Clarke said at a promotional event in Sydney.
He is aiming to play for his grade side on Saturday and has implored selectors to take his word on his fitness. “My goal is to try and get myself fit to play whatever games available,” Clarke said. “The next game that I am available for, if I can be fit, is grade cricket on Saturday. So ideally if I can tick all the boxes along the way and play on Saturday, get through that. Hopefully I can make myself available then it is completely up to the selectors to work out what to do.
“Over the last 10, 12 years I’ve been playing for Australia I don’t think I’ve ever walked onto a field not being 100 per cent fit to perform. So I would hope with my experience that the selectors, my teammates, Cricket Australia staff respect my opinion there.”
Selectors had wanted to trial Clarke over two days rather than one to give them a better a guide as to whether he could last the five days of a Test. “I think that’s really important, because with his recent history we can’t have him breaking down in the first innings of a Test match … I think we all realise that,” Marsh said. “He’ll know whether he’s ready or not. Just being out in the field for, we assume, a day and then having to bat the next day, or batting and then going out in the field for a day, he’ll know whether he’s fit enough. And the medicos will tell us that too.”
The developments late on Monday provided another perspective on the extraordinary events at Parramatta’s Old Kings Oval on the weekend, which has sparked a Cricket NSW investigation and drew a tongue-in-cheek allegation of “match fixing” from Brad Haddin. Wests captain Jeff Cook had declared his team’s innings on 0-17 in the hope it would allow Clarke to be able to bat the following Saturday.
Officials at CA and CNSW were amazed when new filtered through on Saturday night of Western Suburbs’ declaration.
Cook has been told by his club not to offer further comment on the saga. Haddin, who will become Australia’s 45th Test captain if Clarke is ruled out, stunned reporters when he raised the dark spectre of match fixing.
“I don’t really know the full extent of where that’s at and how that happened. All I know is the captain there better be careful — that looks like match fixing to me,” Haddin quipped. There are no suggestions the declaration was made for financial inducements, though CNSW will next Monday investigate the circumstances surrounding the declaration.