The only rationale for Melbourne Stars to be chasing Michael Clarke — and their preparedness to shed captain Cameron White to achieve that — is if the World Cup is his swansong for limited-overs internationals.
Even so, it is putting a lot of faith in a player with scant experience in a format, Twenty20, in which his technique is the least suited to of all three.
The prospect of players retiring from internationals in favour of maximising their availability for domestic Twenty20 competitions would generally be fiercely resisted by cricket administrators, but in the case of Clarke, who turns 34 in April, it shapes as a win-win situation.
His retirement from one-dayers, to complement his existing Twenty20 international retirement, would improve his chances of extending his career in Tests, in which his value to Australia is the greatest. While resting for most of January would be more advantageous than playing in the Big Bash League, the latter would be less of a physical hindrance than playing in the summer’s one-dayers.
Quitting one-dayers would personally benefit Clarke in terms of fitness, and signing a BBL deal would partly offset the likely cut in his Cricket Australia contract by being a Test-only player. It would benefit CA too, not just due to Clarke’s Test availability but also for the opportunity to further the leadership transition to Steve Smith after his successful introduction in this summer’s Tests.
There are also enough candidates to fill his middle-order position in the Australian one-day team, with current reserve batsman George Bailey the best credentialled. They are good enough to reduce the possibility the viewing public would feel short-changed by having Clarke missing from the one-day team and instead playing in the BBL.
Over the next three summers Australia are due to be playing limited-overs matches for the majority of the BBL footprint in January: against India next year, Pakistan in early 2017 and England in early 2018. Assuming Clarke continues playing Tests he would, fitness-permitting, miss no more than the first half of the BBL in each season.
The Stars are looking beyond the uncertainty triggered by Clarke’s Twenty20 experience of the past 4½ years consisting of just six Twenty20 matches, during an underwhelming IPL stint in which, over six matches, he averaged 16.33 at a strike-rate just above a run a ball. He has also never played a match in the Big Bash League or the state-based competition it replaced, and by the time he retired from the national Twenty20 team in January 2011 it was welcomed rather than lamented, because of his career strike-rate of 103.17.
As Clarke is a worker, rather than a whacker of the ball, he would likely have to bat in the top three for the Stars. With Luke Wright signed for another three seasons and Kevin Pietersen, barring a stunning about face by the England and Wales Cricket Board, locked down for next season the only vacancy is the opener’s berth occupied by White.
Neither the Stars nor White are conceding their relationship is over, but with a week gone since the appointment of Stephen Fleming as coach and still no deal on the table it appears interest in the former national Twenty20 captain from at least three rival teams — Melbourne Renegades, Adelaide and Hobart — will lead to him playing elsewhere.
In terms of reaching the boundary, and especially clearing the boundary, White is a superior option to Clarke in Twenty20. But what the Test captain would offer is an ability to rotate the strike more often and play an anchor role at the top, allowing the likes of Wright, Pietersen and Glenn Maxwell and Peter Handscomb in the middle-order to concentrate on lifting the scoring rate.
In the past BBL season the Stars scored an average of 50.33 by the time they lost their second wicket. While that is a decent result given Wright clearly had his worst season, the Stars’ hierarchy are evidently aiming far higher. Title-winning Perth averaged 72.9 and thrice passed 100 before the loss of their second wicket, whereas the Stars were unable to do it once.
White’s BBL form has been decent without coming close to rivalling his performances in winning player of the tournament in the past two Matador Cups. He does not appear to be agitating for an exit. Nevertheless, if it occurs and he ends up outside Melbourne it could be invigorating for a player who, with the exception of Brad Hodge, has been more synonymous with Victorian cricket than any.
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