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'Cricket is everything to Clarke'
Ashish Magotra in Bangalore |
October 07, 2004 23:30 IST
Last Updated: October 07, 2004 23:43 IST
That Michael Clarke was marked out as a future Australia captain even before he made his senior debut should have been enough to assure all doubters that the lad is indeed special.
His brilliant century on debut, on Day 2 of the first Test against India, proved that he has what it takes to succeed at the highest level.
But what is this Australian youngster all about?
Ask Neil D'Costa, who, at 34, isn't your average coach-manager, but one who can answer that question best. He has been Clarke's friend, philosopher, and guide since taking up coaching at the age of 18.
Clarke, 23, was part of the first group of 20 boys who trained under D'Costa. It's an association that has stood the test of time. Clarke, then, was just seven.
"Even at that age," D'Costa recalls, "cricket was everything to the lad."
Not much has changed since. Clarke is still madly in love with the game. All his goals in life, at least for the present, are 'cricket'.
"It got to the point that he wanted a new car. I knew he could afford it, but as a manager I wanted him to be careful with his money. So we devised a simple system: score your first century in Test cricket and you can get yourself a new car.
"With every goal he achieves in his career he can go out and get himself something in the real world," says D'Costa, a former Sydney first grade cricketer whose parents Lawrie and Celia migrated to Australia from Madras some 40 years ago.
Clarke, who owns a BMW convertible at present, could well be driving around in something swankier soon. Cars are a passion with him, as is music; almost any kind of music goes, anything that sounds good to the ear.
Being housemates, D'Costa knows a lot more about Clarke than any regular manager would.
"He is a very fierce competitor," the manager says. "He wants to win in everything he does. Right from the very basic things, like when we are driving home, he will want to make sure he gets there before me."
But there is also a facet to Clarke's personality that few outsiders know. He is a cleanliness freak.
"He is the cleanest person I know," says D'Costa. "He will have a bath several times a day. Change clothes every time he goes out. It could be something as trivial as stepping out for an hour to eat dinner, but when he gets back he will have a shower before he sleeps."
|Born:||2 April 1981, Liverpool, New South Wales|
|Ideal Job outside cricket:||Formula One driver (Ferrari)|
|Favourite TV show:||Dawson's Creek|
|Most respected umpire:||His grandfather Ray - Never gave him out. & never will.|
|Greatest influence:||Les Clarke (his father)|
It's a sign of Clarke being ready to do little things that maybe you and I just couldn't be bothered about. A bath before sleeping surely feels good, but most of us are just too lazy to make the effort.
"Sometimes, when I ask him to work out for 30 minutes, he will do it for an hour. He never really says 'no'. Many a time I have to stop him from overworking."
Even after his sessions with D'Costa are done, Clarke goes home and hones his technique against the bowling machine at his dad's indoor centre. In fact, in his early years, his father Les was forced to haul little Michael off so that other kids could get a chance to bat; an eerie resemblance to what Sachin Tendulkar was like in his younger days.
Watching him bat against Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh on the first two days of the Test was a joy to behold, because it reminded you of a forgotten age when batsmen were not afraid to dance down the wicket and challenge the spinners to up the ante.
There are few batsmen in world cricket today who use their feet against spinners as consistently as Clarke did during his knock of 151 in the Test. "Footwork is something that we have worked on, but it is also down to confidence. Some people are scared of playing spinners. Not Clarke; he enjoys the challenge.
"Before we came to India, we spent hours studying video tapes of Kumble and Harbhajan, familiarizing ourselves with their slight variations. So much so that it became second nature to him. But doing it in theory and on the field are two very different things," says D'Costa.
Charles Bannerman was the first Australian to score a Test century on debut. He scored 165 (retired hurt) in the first Test match ever played in 1876-77. It also remains the highest score by an Australian on debut. Clarke was within striking distance of that record, but the thought never crossed his mind.
Instead of hanging around, he stepped up a gear and started attacking even more.
"That's typical of Clarkey. He can't be bothered about records. He didn't even know about it. He was only bothered about reaching 500 as quickly as possible."
His century on debut was all the more special because his entire family was present at the Chinnaswamy Stadium. His parents, grandparents, and friends were all at hand to witness history in the making.
Reflecting on the century, Clarke's dad Les said: "You put up with the good times, the bad. I put up with him with the ducks, the hundreds. It doesn't matter. I just enjoy watching him."
Rest assured, so does the rest of the world.