Clarke and that Back

11th December 2014

By Jock Campbell

NSW coach Steve Rixon saw great promise in a young Michael Clarke and picked him in the state squad early, when he hadn’t even scored a first grade ton. As he was the youngster in the squad he got called 'Pup'.  I remember at age 18, at the first session I ever took him for one-on-one, he complained of an ongoing sore back. He said he thought it had been from when aged 14 or 15 he used to bowl as fast as he could and his back was always sore.

Today, he is a ‘pup’ no more, now a true leader and man. What he has achieved as captain, how he has lead through the Phil Hughes tragedy and the innings he has played through a great test career, and in particular yesterday ‘s 100 against India, in clear physical pain, shows he has taken his cricket and leadership to a new level.

There was no doubt that Pup was desperate to play in this match due to the tragic death of his great mate Phil Hughes and how special this match was going to be.  He was physically not ready and quite possibly wouldn’t have played in this match if not for the previous 2 weeks events.  The fact he hurt his back again after an innocuous movement showed that physically he wasn’t quite ready, but mentally, well 100 runs says he was more than ready.

Some players can play well under duress and Clarke is one of those. Just take his great innings against South Africa earlier this year when Morne Morkel gave him a pummelling to the body and he battled through to get a great hundred 100, and then yesterdays effort.


Physical restrictions

It’s clear that after having hamstring issues and back issues for the past few months and it being only 3 weeks since the last acute injury, he was never going to be in good enough physical condition to get through back-to-back test matches.  What do I mean by this?

When you have a muscle injury, as we are told Michael has had with his hamstring, it takes time and treatment for the injury to heal.  However to get that muscle reconditioned to run, bat, throw, etc, at 100% effort, requires a longer recovery period. 

This is where it gets tricky. To then build enough condition back into that repairing muscle to be able to get through back-to-back tests matches, takes far longer. Being able to run at 100% effort for a conditioning session lasting 30-60mins is far different than being able to bat through a days play, with several explosive movements, and then back up day after day, for 10 days out of 13. This takes weeks and weeks of reconditioning and match play which Michael has just not had the chance to do. Throw in that he has an old mans back, basically 3 fully worn out discs which are always going to predispose him to problems further down the chain and that’s what he has to put up with.


What’s The solution?

With a degenerative back, the basics are maintain the mobility and flexibility, keep it strong and stable and avoid things that aggravate it.  Michael spends hours a day now, and has done ever since I met him, working on all these areas. Unfortunately diving for a cricket ball, playing a cut or pull shot, or even ducking a bouncer is part of the game of cricket, which can’t be avoided. 

To give you an example of how dedicated Michael is to maintaining the body he has been given, on tour if he is travelling by team bus or by plane, he spends the majority of the trip standing up, as sitting with his back in a flexed position gives his back real grief. Given these trips can be up to 5-6 hours this takes quite a bit of commitment and attention to detail. Pup’s whole day revolves around making sure he gets onto the field in the best shape possible with the body that he has.

He needs some rehab and reconditioning time, but it’s clear with the temptation of playing a very important series against the Indians, followed by the lead in a World Cup on home soil, it has been difficult to take.


What Aussies want from their leader

Aussies love our leaders to be courageous and lead from the front and that’s what we’re seeing from Pup. He may have been underdone physically for this match, but what he has always done is everything he can to get on the field. Performance wise, he has played some of the best and most courageous knocks in history.

Great work by Steve Smith and Dave Warner as well. Stay tuned for more to on these superstars.