Young again: Michael Clarke ready to embark on fresh T20 cricket career
Former Australia test and one-day captain says the Hong Kong T20 Blitz will give him an idea of how much he misses the game
The nickname “Pup” seems more appropriate now than at any time during Michael Clarke’s cricketing career.
The Tin Tin-esque tuft on his head is even more pronounced these days while his mood has the alacrity of a man who is thoroughly enjoying retirement – one year after walking away from the pressures of tests and one-day internationals following a particularly difficult time.
Older and wiser, but definitely looking younger and sprightlier. And the beneficiary of “Pup” mark II is the DTC Mobile Hong Kong T20 Blitz – with both acting as platforms for each other as they look for sustainability in 20-over cricket.
Clarke will turn out for the Kowloon Cantons in the four-team tournament – Hong Kong’s brave foray into a franchise-based format that has so far only been attempted by markets enjoying sizeable cricket followings, such as India, Australia and West Indies, among others.
Plagued by back problems during his career, the 35-year-old, however, knows that his presence this weekend can provide the kind of credibility that will help the tournament grow into a viable stop on the global T20 circuit while at the same time finding out for himself if this is, indeed, the new direction he wants to take as a player.
After months without picking up a bat, his 28 test and eight one-day centuries will count for little when he lines up for back to back matches on Saturday against Hung Hom JD Warriors and Woodworm Warriors.
“It’s going to be a little tough on the body than what I’m used to in the last six months. I haven’t picked up a bat for a while,” said Clarke on Friday at a Kowloon Cricket Club media event. “I feel fit and healthy at the moment. It’s going to be a really good test and I’m looking forward to it.
“I’d like to score runs and get a few wins. I feel a little rusty that’s for sure. Obviously I would love to see my team have some success and scoring a few runs would be handy as well but I haven’t played a twenty20 game for a long time and I don’t know how that’s going to end up.
“There is a desire to play in tournaments like this. Twenty20 cricket goes on for three hours, it’s great entertainment and good, high-speed intensity so this will be a sample to see if I’ve missed it as much as I thought I have.”
Watch Michael Clarke hit the first-ever T20 international six
Clarke’s T20 career comprises 46 internationals for Australia and a turn with the Pune Warriors in 2012. Although he has not really focused on the format during his peak, he owns a little piece of T20 history as the first man to hit a six in an international, when Australia beat New Zealand by 44 runs in February 2005.
He scored only seven at Eden Park that day and he is hoping Hong Kong can be the start of a more defined T20 career. But he made it clear that his international playing days for Australia are over.
“There are parts of the game I certainly miss and now I’ve got the opportunity to come back and play,” said Clarke. “T20 is something I haven’t focused on through my career and I certainly don’t have any ambition to come back and play tests, one-day cricket or international T20.
“I love the fact that I’m here [in Hong Kong},” he said. “I’ve said for a long time through my career that I would have loved to have done this earlier but because we’re so busy, we’re on the road so much you don’t get the opportunity when you’re playing for Australia.
“Now I’ve got the time and hopefully I can do more of it. I want to see if I still enjoy it and miss it.”
Clarke has another mission in Hong Kong, to help local players aspire to greater heights. On Friday, he spent time with the Hong Kong men’s squad.
“I was speaking to the guys from the Hong Kong team. They are really excited about the tournament,” said Clarke. “I’ve always been a big fan of trying to grow the game all around the world and competitions like this sets it up nicely ... provide the foundation for it to continue to grow, get publicity get people looking.
“It gives boys and girls from Hong Kong the opportunity to play this great game of cricket and that’s probably my main focus of being here.”
One of the first requests Clarke made after landing in Hong Kong was footage of the players he will come up against this weekend, if the weather holds up.
“I spoke to my coach [Ryan Campbell] and said I need to see some footage, need to see the opposition,” he said. “It sounds like we’ve got some tough games but I’ll be prepared I’m sure.”
When it came to securing the services of Clarke, the Cantons won out and the franchise owners expect his presence to boost not only the squad but the prestige of the tournament.
Urvashi Sethi, one of the Cantons owners, fittingly summed up the team’s delight when Clarke eventually signed for them by saying: “Legends don’t come easy.”
Sethi added: “I think Michael Clarke playing for us has taken this tournament to the next level and attracted a lot of attention. It showed that it was more than just putting up a little event.
“It would have been the case had he gone to any team and fortunately it is for us. The impact is global.
“When the word was out, every team was approached by many people and many agents who were putting forward many players. That’s an indication of how big this could become and we are just fortunate that Michael Clarke is playing for us.”