Clarke has earned respect after brilliant 12-year career
Published 10/08/2015 | 02:30
Michael Clarke's announcement of his retirement broke a long-standing taboo. Australian captains do not normally quit before the bitter end of a Test series, with the exception of Kim Hughes in 1984. And they do not normally cry in public, with the exception of Kim Hughes in 1984.
Yet Clarke has been a mould-breaker ever since he first took office four-and-a-half years ago - a tattoo-wearing, bling-loving lad from the Sydney suburbs, who famously bought a penthouse overlooking Bondi Beach, drove a Ferrari, and dated Australian 'It girl' Lara Bingle.
We should not be too surprised if he chooses a different path to predecessors such as Ricky Ponting, Allan Border and Steve Waugh. His more rabid critics might complain that his announcement has cast a shadow over England's triumph.
One questioner on Saturday suggested that he had failed to live up to the impeccable example set by Brendon McCullum after March's World Cup final, when the New Zealanders respectfully delayed any retirement news for a few days because - in McCullum's words - "it's the right thing to allow Australia to bask in the glory of success".
In reply, Clarke defended himself stoutly. "The last thing I want to do is take the thunder from Alastair Cook and the England team," he said. "They deserve all the credit in the world."
Clarke deserves respect and admiration after a prolific 12-year international career.
His final Test innings carried him ahead of Matthew Hayden into fourth place in Australia's run-scorers chart, slotting in just behind Waugh, Border and Ponting. Like them, he averaged close to 50 in Test cricket, while also captaining his country to a 50-over World Cup.
Yet, his stock in Australia has not always been high, for he has been a victim of 'tall poppy syndrome'.
The sight of a talented young man enjoying conspicuous success has a way of drawing envy as well as acclaim. His popularity took an upswing after the only true tragedy to befall Australian cricket in the past year: the death of Clarke's close friend, Phillip Hughes.
His courage and dignity amid the national mourning showed that he is far more than just a wide boy. It also took an emotional toll that may have contributed to his on-field struggles. Clarke will lead Australia in one final Test next week, and there will be plenty hanging on this 'dead rubber'.
After a sequence of 136, 265, 60 and 253 in their last four innings, the tourists will be determined to make a fist of things at the Oval to prevent Clarke's career from finishing on the sourest of notes.
No matter the result, it's been a phenomenal career.