Darren Lehmann would have been woken by the text message from his skipper that landed around 6am today if only he’d been asleep.
Such has been the calamity engulfing Australia’s Ashes campaign that sleep has become an increasingly elusive commodity for the coach, but not even the dark thoughts that have kept him awake in the wee hours had foreshadowed the missive now glowing from his phone.
Five hours before leading his team on to the field for the final time as the Ashes holders, Michael Clarke wanted to have a chat with the man with whom he had shared the love of a nation when they led them to a celebrated whitewash win over England 18 months ago.
Lehmann appreciated the fact Clarke had included the caveat ‘if you are awake’ in his request for a chat, but could hardly have been more alert when he punched in his captain’s number.
However, his heavy eyes widened as the 34-year-old leader who had so defiantly announced prior to the Test that he had no intention of walking away from the game, was packing his bats and going at tour’s end.
“People are talking about how I’m going to retire after this series, well they don’t know me,” Clarke wrote in a News Corp Australia column published under his own name last Tuesday.
“A big reason for me retiring from one-day cricket was to prolong my Test career, and I still love playing and competing at the highest level.”
Australia captain Michael Clarke speaks to the media after announcing his intention to retire following the fifth Ashes Test at The Oval
Three days later, a first innings team total of 60, two more personal scores of less than 15 and the imminent surrender of the urn had softened his stance.
To the extent that when Lehmann spoke with him in the early morning light of a Saturday morning in Nottingham, he quickly gleaned Clarke was so entrenched in his decision to call time on the last remaining leg of his international career there was no future in trying to talk him around.
Clarke then told a media conference when the fourth Test, almost a sideshow as far as the Australians were concerned, wound up that he had made his decision in consultation with his wife Kyly (who is expecting the couple’s first child in the new year) and close friends on Friday night.
Upon waking and before he contacted his sleep-deprived coach, he also spoke with his family in Australia.
And he was adamant that despite the vehemence of his pre-game comments, he had taken the decision on his own terms and that he was not the recipient of a tap on the shoulder, a whisper in the ear, a note in the dressing room locker from selectors or more lofty office holders.
“It’s not like it’s been coming for the last six months,” Clarke said today in explaining that decision.
“Not like I planned it.
“Win or lose (the Ashes series) I might still be sitting here saying the same thing.
“It’s the right time.
“As captain of the team, my performances have been nowhere near the level and the standard they need to be an Australian cricketer and to be captain.
“The boys have worked hard, I don't blame anyone in that change room.
“As a team we haven't performed as well as we needed to be beat England, and as a captain I certainly haven't led from the front.”
Australia’s captain has endured a tough series with the bat this Ashes, averaging a shade over 16 as England reclaimed the urn in four Tests
The question that hung heavy in the warm summer morning air as Australia’s last three wickets fell at appropriately rapid pace, and again in the stifling Trent Bridge squash court reclaimed for daily media conferences was ‘what precisely had changed over the preceding three days?’.
Apart from Australia’s insipid batting and his own clearly frustrating struggle to find the form that he spent almost as long practicing as he did explaining how it would return to him.
According to some of those with whom he spoke before breaking the news to his coach, Clarke had simply realised that one more climb back to the top was now beyond him.
Physically and mentally.
Perhaps in making his pre-match statements he hadn’t envisaged how severely the loss of the Ashes for a fourth consecutive series on British soil would deflate him, especially in the way that it came about, one suggested.
The criticism unsheathed during the last two Ashes Tests coupled with the unprecedented and emotional events of the past year had left him drained and unable to summon any of that fight of which he wrote about with such passion on Tuesday, noted another.
And when one of his closest confidantes suggested to him that he see out the Ashes series, take the chance to clear his head and focus on the upcoming Australia summer before making such a definitive call, Clarke stood firm.
What would some impressive scores on flat pitches against Test match strugglers Bangladesh in October yield, he asked rhetorically.
Just another wave of criticism highlighting his inability to do likewise when it mattered in the most important Test series Australian teams have played, and will ever play was his response to his own query.
As for the defiant sentiments that had dissipated into resigned thoughts of retirement across 72 hours, Clarke revealed them to have been hollow words penned largely for the benefit of others in the dressing room to ensure they still believed heading into such a pivotal Test.
Before they were bowled out in 18.3 overs for only marginally more than Clarke’s individual Test average that stands at 49.30 with one match to play.
RECAP & HIGHLIGHTS: England regain urn
“I tried to be as positive as I possibly could right to the very end,” Clarke said when asked about his newspaper column and his bristling response to journalists before the match when he announced apropos of no direct question “I’m not retiring”.
“For the team’s sake for my sake as well, I wanted to give myself and the team every opportunity to come out here and play our best cricket in this Test match.
“I wanted to send a really positive message to my teammates so I thought that was the right thing to do at the time and throughout this Test match.
“Obviously things didn’t go to plan.
“As a player you build yourself up for the biggest tournaments, that’s what you want to be involved in - you want to play against the best.
“But in one-day cricket that was the World Cup and in Test cricket that’s the Ashes, so whether we won this series or lost this series, my decision might have been the same.
“I don’t feel sad, I’m more disappointed with the way we played through this series and the way I played as captain.
“That’s the most disappointing part.
“Not sad about this being the right time to walk away, because I believe it’s the right time.
“I believe it’s the right decision for Australian cricket, and for me.”
A very special Wide World of Sports look at the Test career of Australia's 43rd captain, Michael John Clarke
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