ANDREW WU April 13, 2012
Michael Clarke's unyielding faith in his up-and-coming team allows him to confidently follow his enterprising sense of adventure - and Australia's seven-wicket Test triumph yesterday is another example of how he is invariably rewarded.
By coming back from a seemingly hopeless position at Kensington Oval, Clarke's men not only landed a potentially crushing blow on the West Indies' psyche but became the first Australian team in the game's 135-year history to win a Test after declaring behind on the first innings.
England created history by being the first team to do so, coincidentally at the same Bridgetown venue, in 1935 and until this week only three others had emulated their feat, two of which were forced by being a man down. The other occasion was the infamous Centurion Test of 2000 subsequently tainted by Hansie Cronje's corruption.
Eyebrows were raised when Clarke claimed after day three his team could still win, but the nay-sayers discounted the immense self-belief within the Australian dressing room which grows with every success.
Clarke had been equally sceptical during the memorable Adelaide Test of the 2006-07 Ashes whitewash when Shane Warne reassured the then 25-year-old Australia would win despite chasing an epic 551 in the first innings.
''I was trying to work out how,'' Clarke said. ''At best, surely we'd get a draw but he had no doubt in his mind. For me as a young player I thought 'righto, that's my attitude, I'm going to win'.
''A few years on and I'm in the change rooms telling the boys 'we're going to win this Test match'.
''Hopefully a few of them believe me the way I believed Warney back then.''
Clearly, more than a few bought into Clarke's message, not just this week but in the year since he became full-time captain.
That it is largely the same team whose culture was damned by the Argus review sparked by the Ashes capitulation of two summers ago serves to highlight the profound change which has since swept through Australian cricket. Of the XI who wore the baggy green this week, only four played no part in that disastrous campaign.
At the forefront of the transformation is Clarke. In the post-war era only Lindsay Hassett and Ricky Ponting, with 10 wins each, can boast more victories than Clarke's eight from his first 12 games as captain. Whereas that pair inherited powerful teams, Clarke was handed an Australian side which had become a laughing stock.
While the team has since been given a new coach and selection panel, the importance of Clarke's innovative leadership and sense of timing cannot be understated.
His decision in Sydney to forego Bradman's Test record re-enforced a team-first philosophy that was evident in how willingly Ryan Harris and Nathan Lyon sacrificed the chance to achieve rare personal batting milestones as a result of Clarke's bold declaration.
''And the spirit and the character, I guess of the guys in the change room, is what drives you as a captain to make a bold decision, to declare when I declared,'' Clarke said. ''The confidence around me from everybody in that group, there wasn't one bit of fear of losing that Test match, it wasn't spoken about. From day one of the Test all that's been spoken about is what we have to do to win this Test match.
''And a lot of the time it's easier said than done, especially when a team gets 450 on the board in the first two days … so full credit to every single player and support staff person. I know everybody at the ground enjoyed it, and hopefully the people back home and all around the world that watch continue to enjoy [it].''
The second Test in Trinidad starts Monday.