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Michael Clarke's non-appearance at No. 3 in the batting order in Mohali on Sunday evening was the most misguided decision by an Australian captain in memory. Never mind the Argus review, never mind performance manager Pat Howard, never mind a physio with apparently more influence than the captain, never mind a jibbering coach, never mind a line in the sand.
And never mind the fact that Clarke was no doubt in pain. If he wants respect from people who understand and love the game, if he wants to be remembered as the bloke who led from the front when it was really needed, he cannot allow a situation like this to ever occur again.
Michael Clarke: couldn't bat. Photo: Getty Images
We are sure to hear plenty from all those employed by Cricket Australia about why he couldn't bat. We're sure to be told that he was in excruciating pain, and that his condition needed to be carefully managed.
And we can be sure the people who helped persuade Clarke on this decision have absolutely no idea of the cricketing consequences.
Let's not miss the point here. His long-overdue decision to promote himself up the order had lasted one ball last Friday afternoon, when he ran down the wicket and was stumped by a metre. Yes, no doubt he had plenty going on in his mind after a tumultuous week in which he and the coach had exerted their authority.
But surely it ate away at him for the rest of the Australian innings that day and for the entire Indian innings over the next day and a half. Surely wild horses couldn't stop him from a return to the coalface at No. 3 in the second innings. Apparently not. Can we imagine what Ricky Ponting would have done in similar circumstances?
As the shambles of last week unfolded, as Clarke stood by his coach and Shane Watson returned home for the birth of his child, it was hard not to reflect on the fact that we should always make sure our own backyard is clean. Clarke twice left tours over issues to do with a girlfriend. He missed a Test in the West Indies when the woman's father was ill, and he missed a Test in New Zealand when a footballer circulated photos of her.
Those of us not in the Michael Clarke cheer squad have had some humble pie to eat over the past 18 months. He's batted superbly – at No. 5 – and generally led the side with intelligence and imagination. His victories in series in the West Indies and Sri Lanka, and a drawn series in South Africa, were great achievements. He led the demolition of India here just over 12 months ago.
But he needs to be held accountable for things that have gone wrong. This series was alive and well after a day and a half of the first Test: Australia had scored a highly meritorious 380 and India were 2/12. On a day when Australia bowled 52 overs, James Pattinson bowled six of them. He had 2/24.
Clarke is a selector now and as such he must be accountable for decisions made for the Perth and Sydney Tests during our summer, and for the selectorial merry-go-round of this Indian tour. He was the man in charge as South Africa scored 200 in a session in Perth, and as India added over 150 between lunch and tea on Saturday.
Ponting was brought to his knees by the weight of expectations and criticism of his captaincy in his later years. He was pilloried for his captaincy on our last tour of India, for losing three Ashes series and for deciding to bowl at Edgbaston in 2005. Clarke batted on a greentop in Sydney in his first Test as captain and nothing was said.
Hopefully the scars from this Indian tour will soon heal, and hopefully some lessons can be learnt. No doubt the ranks will close around our beleaguered skipper. But if Michael Clarke wants to be remembered as more than just an outstanding batsman who can talk the talk, he must stand tall when all around him is crumbling. By not coming in at No. 3 on Sunday he didn't do that.