How sad are we that as a sports-loving nation we’ve become the type of supporters that eat our own the minute they are seen to fail?
Can we look to this week’s final Ashes Test at the Oval and hope to save some pride, while minimising the damage from a tour which began with such enthusiasm, expectation and promise but then imploded before our eyes in the dressing rooms and on the fields of the historic cricket grounds of England.
Michael Clarke has been dogged by controversy from the day he joined the team as a young prodigy. With the experts labeling him the next captain practically before he had finished his first international series, the pressure was on.
Early episodes of poor judgement, especially in his personal life, seemed to mark him for targeted criticism, but as the years passed his obvious growth in maturity and his form with the bat moved the balance of expectation in his favour.
His stats sheet is impressive. From scoring 151 on Test debut against India to playing with a fractured shoulder as he withstood a barrage of balls from the South African pace attack in 2014 to finish unbeaten on 161 runs.
The fact he is one of only five Australians to score a triple century is a feat that cannot be downplayed.
In the absence of reasonable answers as to why the Australian National cricket team has not only been soundly defeated in this Ashes series but has, in fact, been humiliated into the bargain, the Australian public and media have looked to place blame. Not unreasonably, the captain is where that blame has inevitably fallen. It is part of the job description.
But even the most hardened critic must have been surprised by the extent of the vitriol and anger that fell Clarke’s way after the fourth Test, especially when he announced his retirement which was an obvious and well-judged move to preempt his sacking.
The fifth and final Test this week will be either a train wreck the likes of which Australian cricket has not experienced for some time, or it will be a lesson in regaining a modicum of national and personal pride for the players.
England’s players have been doing some talking in the lead up to Thursday’s Test with fighting words such as ‘not resting on our laurels’ and ‘a burning desire to make this result 4-1’.
The outcome of this series will not only witness the departure of Michael Clarke, but there is an expectation of several other retirements from the team. Chris Rogers has this week declared himself the next one to step away.
Michael Clarke will of course captain the team in his final international appearance and will be hoping his charges have the mettle to come back from this disastrous English summer.
It will remain to be seen whether the Australian sporting public choose to vilify a losing captain or celebrate a great career.