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Finding a friend in foe, off field

Clarke waxes on Lara, says Australia won?t have it easy in the ICC trophy final, writes Kadambari Murali.

india Updated: Nov 03, 2006 23:26 IST

Every now and then, we are reminded that cricket, played seriously at the top level by a bare 10 nations or so, is still, in its own way, a global sport. One that has the power to bridge the gap between nations, when on-field foes become fast friends off it and, more interestingly, one that also has the power to bridge the gap between generations.

Two days before the Champions Trophy final between Australia and the West Indies -the first a solid, sports-crazy nation and the other a bickering bunch of islands often hit by natural disasters and perennially done in by economic fragility, that come together under one banner only to play cricket - we had a beautiful example of how the sport unites.

When Michael Clarke, 25, thought by many as the future torchbearer of Australian cricket when the baton of the current generation of stars has finally been passed, spoke of a genius from the other side of the world, one just three years shy of 40, as an idol, a muse and most importantly, as a friend.

"When I got dropped from the Test team, we were playing the West Indies at that time. He (Lara) was there for that, and was very supportive as he always has been since I made my debut, since my first tour to the West Indies. We get along very well. Talk a bit outside the cricket arena and are pretty good friends," said Clarke on Friday, after the Aussie nets at the CCI here.

Clarke spoke of how Lara helped him handle the disappointment of being dropped and advised him to get up and get on with it. "Even though I was dropped then, we met up as friends do, and obviously, you talk about cricket and stuff off the field too. He told me that now that I had been dropped, it was important to go back to first-class cricket and make sure I stood up got counted, make sure I scored as many runs as I could, scored big hundreds so the selectors could not take their eyes off me. "

For Clarke, that advice was invaluable and even though he wryly admitted that being in and out of the Australian team is par for the course --- "unfortunately, only 11 guys can play at a time" --- he added that he had learnt to try and make the best of any opportunity he gets. "When I get the chance, I need to perform, whether playing for New South Wales or one-day cricket for Australia. Hopefully, the selectors will give me another chance in the Test team," said the man who, incidentally, made 151 on Test debut in Bangalore during the 2004 series in India.

One wishes that Indian players, so wary of speaking out on anything, would take some lessons from the Australians, the young and not-so-young, on how to communicate. If Australia are a champion side and as Rahul Dravid said, the only side that have played consistently for over a decade, it is obviously not just because they play cracking cricket, it is also because they play as a team, back each other up and bond off the field.

And there is a sense of pride, a sense of history that is evident in the way Clarke talked of his seniors, with respect and with an easy affection. "We are very lucky in Australia. All the young guys in this squad and in the Test squad are very lucky because we have some great players around. In our team, any opportunity you get to play cricket with them or be around them can only help you as a young cricketer. It is important to maximise your time with these guys, Glenn McGrath, Ricky Ponting, Shane Warne and Matt Hayden, these guys have been very successful for such a long time. So I guess, if you can't learn from them, you will never learn."

In the often dog-eat-dog world of Indian cricket, where an off-the-cuff remark may be viewed as having more sinister connotations and where your praise of someone may be at the risk of antagonising another, it was also remarkably refreshing to have Clarke praise both colleague and competitor. Without a pause or thought.

Finally, asked what it would be like to play against Lara on Sunday, he said it would be very special. "He is a fantastic guy and I certainly do think he is again the batsman he was. I do like playing against him. Anytime you get a chance to play against great players, you obviously don't want them to get too many runs against you. But while they are batting, you can watch and learn and see how they go about their job. I look forward to playing against him. Look forward to playing against the West Indies team. They are playing good cricket at the moment. They are going to be tough to beat."

Beautifully said. Michael has definitely learnt to rock!

First Published: Nov 03, 2006 22:50 IST