With back-to-back Ashes series looming in 2013 it is the beginning of a new era for both England and Australia. We are waiting and the world is watching Alastair Cook and Michael Clarke. The race is on to see which captain can assemble their best team and persist with their own superlative form.
In truth it has been difficult to look at any cricket in 2012 and not watch Clarke or Cook. Both have spent more time in the middle than any other batsmen in world cricket of late. They are the leading run scorers this calendar year, they have recently been tasked with the leadership of their teams and both hail from entirely different thought processes.
In the white shorts, from the northern hemisphere home of cricket in England, Cook spent years as an apprentice in the school of Strauss. Reserved, traditional and charming on and off the field, Andrew Strauss was a great spokesman for the gentlemenly approach in the sport. Cook has taken this a step forward in his ice-cool presence with or without the bat, a hint of testosterone fuelled positivity and a freakish inability to sweat.
In the yellow shorts, from the land down under, Clarke spent years in a joint honours scholarship of Shane Warne and Ricky Ponting. The former preaching aggression, dynamism and an entrepreneurial instinct for victory and the latter, a working man’s rigidity, toughness, resolve and conservatism. Clarke has evolved into a dangerous fusion of the two. The Australian captain harnesses a singleminded will to win via aggression and experimentation alongside a fiercely pig-headed approach to scoring runs.
Alastair Cook and Michael Clarke, despite their heritage, do share some attributes. They both seem to buy the ‘daddy hundred’ theory of kicking on past three figures, they share a fresh optimism and more importantly they have both improved beyond the realms of expectation once awarded the captaincy.
Leadership can have an adverse affect on cricketers. Some players are born to excel within the ranks and others to thrive on the responsibility of inspiring their teams from the front. Flintoff’s maverick skill-set suffered immeasurably under the spotlight of the captaincy for England while Ricky Ponting’s game went from strength to strength, albeit before Australia’s dominance began to crumble. Cook and Clarke have both performed extremely well as captains.
Alastair Cook’s stats as England captain: 5 tests, 5 hundreds, 889 runs at an average of 127 with a high score of 190.
Michael Clarke’s stats as Australia captain: 18 tests, 7 hundreds, 1976 runs at an average of 68.14 as well as four double-hundreds and a high score of 329*.
Having just become the youngest player in the history of the game to score 7000 test runs Alastair Cook was hardly struggling prior to the captaincy. The greater improvement has come with Michael Clarke. Where he was a classy middle-order contributor he is now Australia’s lynchpin as Ricky Ponting or Steve Waugh before him. He is also the top run-scorer in test cricket so far this year with 1358 runs in 9 matches at an average of 104.46. Cook is close behind him however, and if the Englishman’s form continues in this series with India he could conceivably finish 2012 on top.
As far as their achievements are helping the two teams, Cook is ahead of Clarke. Scoring so many runs at the top of the order has an undeniably confidence building effect on the rest of the batting order. Whereas Clarke’s runs have come when the top order has often failed. You could argue this only makes his runs more valuable, however setting the tone is a more secure and responsible approach rather than mounting a rescue operation. Clarke should probably promote himself to number three and back himself to protect the younger men.
In any case, if Michael Clarke and Alastair Cook maintain their career and captaincy form into next year, the Ashes series will carry a fascinating sub-plot. The captains will be battling for team and individual supremacy. It will be the season of run scoring, outfoxing each other in the field and out classing each other in the press conferences.