Clarke stranded on 99no in grade return
Former Test and ODI skipper finishes one short of a century for Western Suburbs in Sydney Premier Cricket
Sam Ferris at Allan Border Oval, Sydney
24 September 2016, 04:11 PM AEST
It was the Michael Clarke of old who entertained a healthy crowd at Allan Border Oval on Saturday, scoring 99no in Western Suburbs’ six-wicket win over Mosman in his cricket comeback.
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The champion batsman could not have written a better Hollywood script for his return to cricket, but with a touch of irony it was his aptly-named teammate Alec Baldwin who hit a six to win the game and leave Clarke stranded at the non-striker’s end.
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Clarke looked every bit the batsman who scored more than 16,000 international runs and posted 36 centuries at the highest level, albeit at a much lower level. He left judiciously, drove confidently and danced down the wicket to the slow bowlers at will.
The former Australia captain was made to wait after he lost the toss as Wests’ skipper and was ordered to field first in brilliant Sydney sunshine.
Marshalling his first-grade troops like he did some of Australia’s greats of the past, the wolf-whistle, the arm-waving and instinctive field changes all returned as his side dismissed Mosman for 141.
After addressing the small media contingent at the innings break alongside his Nepalese pupil Sandeep Lamichhane, Clarke padded up and opened the innings.
Watchful early on, the right-hander got off the mark when he turned one of Mosman’s new-ball quicks down to fine-leg for an easy single.
The sledging started early in Clarke’s innings but not by his rivals on the field, instead the barrage of fierce words came from a group of plucky Mosman supporters who forewarned the Ashes-winning skipper to "get ready for a broken f—king arm" like Clarke had famously done in 2013.
None of the back or hamstring issues that plagued him in the twilight of his career were apparent as Clarke milked ones, jogged twos and hit the bad ball to the rope as he had done throughout his international career that spanned a dozen years.
At drinks the 35-year-old had reached 40 with five boundaries – the pick of the quintet a handsome lofted drive over mid-on off a medium-pacer.
The first ball after the break Clarke should have been stumped but the Mosman gloveman fumbled the opportunity to the dismay of the left-arm orthodox bowler, who was denied a tale he could have lived off at pubs around the country for the rest of his days.
Instead the unlucky bowler, if he chooses to, can regal how an over later he was lofted down the ground for Clarke’s first six to bring him within one of a half-century and better the 48 he scored for Wests in February this year.
A single to deep point brought up his fifty and applause from the crowd that had strengthened on the promise of Clarke batting in the afternoon and against the new ball.
While he didn’t dominate the strike he dominated the scoring, using his feet to crash another boundary off the left-arm spinner before going aerial twice more against the faster bowlers for a four and his second six.
A crisp cover-drive brought Clarke’s tally to 79 and Western Suburbs’ to 102 as the result, like Clarke’s hundred, looked more and more certain.
The only thing that threatened to prevent a comeback century were the batsmen at the other end, who came and went with increasing regularity as the target drew nearer.
As he did consistently throughout his 245 one-dayers for Australia, Clarke raised his game when his side needed it, whipping a half-volley off his legs to the mid-wicket rope and a single next ball to wrestle back some of the match’s momentum and move into the 90s.
A vintage pull shot from his early days in the green and gold screamed past the square leg umpire and brought four to take Clarke within one shot of his century.
Two more runs followed when a square drive past squeezed past backward point before a pair of singles took the captain to with a double of three-figures.
A single moved Clarke to 99 and Wests within one lusty blow of victory, and after Baldwin blocked the next four balls, it looked as though the skipper would get his chance to win the game and raise his bat the following over.
But like all good blockbusters there was a twist; the spinner over-stepped on the final ball of the over leaving four to win and Baldwin one free swing to ice the match.
Laughter echoed through the pavilion from seasoned onlookers who discussed how Baldwin would be relegated to second grade should he deny Clarke the comeback century he deserved.
Forty seconds later those onlookers nearly choked on their words as they, and the smattering of spectators, watched Baldwin launch a mighty six over cow corner to win the game and leave Clarke not out but extremely satisfied at the other end.