Is Michael Clarke the new Kim Hughes?

On a day that the papers at home and abroad speak of dressing-room mutiny over his captaincy prospects, Michael Clarke had to get out hooking.

With Clarke’s situation edging closer and closer to that of the last blonde to captain Australia, Kim Hughes, it was fitting he should fall to the shot that brought Hughes most grief.

Clarke and Hughes have more in common than their hair colour. Both were prodigious young talents – the array of shots as limitless as the potential, the tendency to lose concentration as constant as the frustration.

There their paths separated, for while Hughes was never able to fully suppress the desire to entertain, Clarke has gradually toned-down the colour to turn himself into his country’s most consistent batsman and captain-elect.

Like Hughes, his boy-next-door appeal has played as much a part in his rise to next-in-line as any tactical nous. And that is a problem.

It is no coincidence that these rumours have surfaced in the aftermath of Clarke’s latest humiliation – his panic clear as Sri Lanka manufactured 136 runs for the last two wickets in Sydney on Wednesday. While Rod Marsh and Dennis Lillee undermined Hughes on-field and in print, Clarke’s detractors are less public but have sensed the opportunity to press their point.

Again like Hughes – who filled-in first for Graham Yallop and then on the non-touring whims of Greg Chappell before getting the job full-time – Clarke’s introduction to the leadership has been a staccato affair, deputising when Ricky Ponting is resting, and taking over a Twenty20 team to which he appears unsuited. These blurred lines of authority have left him open to pot-shots from within, and he is reported to have clashed with more than Simon Katich, Mike Hussey and Doug Bollinger in recent times. It is to Clarke’s credit that he has shown the ability to compartmentalise – his form through this period, and the public break-up of his relationship with the model Lara Bingle, has remained unaffected.

When Hughes finally did get the captaincy for himself, he had to contend with the triple retirements of Chappell, Marsh and Lillee. Clarke, similarly, would be taking over a side in decline – the retirement of Ponting the final farewell to a dominant era. Leadership is a vital part of any rebuilding process, and there is plenty of evidence – not least the championing of the limited Marcus North as an alternative – that many in Australian cricket are seriously worried about an accession that may come sooner than later if Australia lose these Ashes.

Clarke has a Test average of 48, and at 29 the time ahead of him to score the runs to ensure history remembers him as one of the best to have worn the baggy green. This final parallel to Hughes – urged from all sides to leave the captaincy alone, concentrate on his batting and become an Australian great – is poignant. Hughes didn’t listen, and the whispers, the bullying and the strain eventually broke him. The great hope played his last Test at 30 and retired with a Test average of 37.

Clarke is at a crossroads. As his teammates break rank beneath him, the next few years will define Australia’s current Golden Boy.

Sam Collins is editor of thewisdencricketer.com

Follow him on twitter @wisdencric_sam

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