Cricket Australia

http://www.cricket.com.au/Global Items/news/2014/5/21/michael-clarke-reflects-on-infamous-james-anderson-ashes-sledge

Clarke opens up on Ashes sledge

UPDATED 22 May, 2014 10:48AM AEST | by Andrew Ramsey, Senior Writer

Captain's admission on the Anderson incident

Like it's an over-flighted off-break deserving to be flayed through the covers, Michael Clarke reacts instinctively and dismissively to the suggestion that his Ashes spat with James Anderson has forever altered public perceptions of his character.

The moment during the first Test of the previous summer, the one that heralded a seismic shift in the fortunes of cricket's most enduring rivals and paved the way for Australia's five-nil rebirth, when Clarke confronted Anderson and menacingly warned him to expect a "broken f@#%’in arm".

The combative turn of phrase was picked up by the on-ground stump microphone and inadvertently relayed to lounge rooms, offices and mobile devices around Australia.

It also ignited a social media storm, as well as providing fertile ground for the cricket commentariat to opine that Clarke had clearly seen the confrontation as a Rubicon overdue for bridging, and had afforded a chance to unveil a new, combative public face for his team in the process.

One of his former teammates even suggested it was the re-making of a character who had unequivocally shown he was a scrapper prepared to roll up his sleeves and trade blows as well as one of the most elegant, unruffled strokeplayers of his generation.

Michael Clarke & James Anderson

But after initially failing to stifle a derisive laugh at the mention of the 'famous James Anderson incident', Clarke wasted little time and fewer words on the notion that a single flashpoint in the heat of battle could indelibly alter long-held perceptions and prejudices.

"I think it's an insult if that's why it (public opinion) has changed," Clarke said in an exclusive interview with cricket.com.au.

"I understand and respect that some people might have thought 'well, we didn't know that Michael had that anger and aggression in him'.

"But it's like what I said before the start of the Ashes series (last summer).

"You can't be judged as a good captain if you win an Ashes series, or a bad captain if you lose.

"Over a period of time you are judged in performance - it can't be about one Test match or five Test matches whether you're good or bad.

"It's the same as a player.

"You can't be a bad player when you get three ducks and then, when you make three hundreds, be a legend.

"This game doesn't work like that.

"So if people like me more because I said that to James Anderson, then I think that's very silly.

"If people think that all of a sudden I'm a good captain because I said that to James Anderson, then I think that's silly as well.

"I think they should judge me on my individual performances as a player, and as a captain.

"Judge me on my leadership, judge me on 'are we winning games of cricket?'.

"Am I trying to get the best out of my teammates? Are we going forward as team?

"Because if we're not, it doesn't matter what I say, I'm not the right guy to captain."

Michael Clarke & James Anderson

Rather than the 'famous Anderson incident', Clarke refers to the confrontation – allegedly sparked when Anderson threatened to punch Australia's Test debutant and resident short-leg fieldsman George Bailey in the face – as "the regrettable moment".

Not for the fierce on-field antipathies it laid bare. 

Nor for the unapologetic threat that Australia was prepared to employ fast bowler Mitchell Johnson to physically intimidate their opponent's ill-equipped lower-order batsmen with short-pitched bowling expressly designed to inflict pain and possible injury.

His remorse stems from the fact his words, which he claims were not dissimilar in form or sentiment to countless other exchanges he's been involved in with rival players, went live-to-air and thereby carried the potential to cast his team and the game in a poor light.

It was also the reason why the match referee chose to fine Clarke 20 per cent of his match fee for the indiscretion.

"You know what's funny?" Clarke says when asked if his very public spray was a preconceived, 'line-in-the-sand' moment contrived to galvanise his team and his nation after they had suffered through three consecutive Ashes series defeats.

"Maybe I hadn't said exactly what I said to James Anderson (previously), but I'd stuck up for my players on a number of occasions and it's never been picked up on the stump mike.

"Nobody has ever spoken about it.

"And when I say I regret it, I regret the language I used and I regret that I said it over the stump mike.

"The last thing I want is for boys and girls watching cricket to be going and playing club cricket and saying things like that to opposition players.

"I think it's unacceptable that the Australian cricket captain is setting that example.

"But I don't regret standing up for George Bailey one bit. 

"I don't regret being extremely honest with James Anderson and telling him what Mitchell Johnson's plan was.

"I don’t regret that, I just regret that everybody heard it and the language I used."

The other much-discussed element of 'ulna-gate' at which Clarke wearily scoffs is the suggestion that the whole episode was driven by a long-standing grudge between the pair.

Michael Clarke & James Anderson

Even though they first encountered one another 12 years ago – when the aspiring 21-year-old Clarke was playing for Ramsbottom and the uncapped Anderson was hoping for first-class recognition by trundling for Burnley in the Lancashire League competition.

And even though Anderson has managed to snare Clarke's wicket nine times at Test level as they both found their way to the top of their respective crafts, the Australian captain dismisses the suggestion that theirs is a feud steeped in clashes past and mutual dislike.

"The media like to do up that we have history," Clarke said.

"The only history I have is that England kept beating us.

"And he (Anderson) was a part of England and I was part of Australia."

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Cricket Australia

First Posted 21 May, 2014 8:16PM AEST

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