Steve Waugh believes Michael Clarke’s heroic third Test century against South Africa could prove a turning point in the Australian captain’s career.
It was revealed last week that Clarke battled through most of his Cape Town innings with a fractured shoulder, thanks to one of several brutal bouncers Proteas fast bowler Morne Morkel landed.
Former Australian skipper Waugh said that, while athletes often played with injuries, the grit Clarke showed in posting an unbeaten 161 runs when the series was on the line was inspirational.
“I think his innings – not the fact he got injured, but the way he got through that innings in Cape Town – was a great example to the rest of the team,” Waugh told reporters in Kuala Lumpur ahead of Wednesday’s Laureus World Sports Awards.
“That he was under fire, he almost threw his ego out the window because he looked ugly and copped it on the body – and for him, that was not a natural thing to do.
“He really gutsed it out.
“So I think for him, it was almost a turning point in his career.
“(He showed) that he can get ugly runs and he was willing to just tough it out for the team.
“It really sent a message out to all the other players. More so than having a crack in his shoulder or whatever, I think it was just what he did to get through the match.”
Waugh said the 32-year-old has always had that “fire in the belly”, but it’s only come to the fore in the past 12 months during which Australia turned its Ashes tragedy into triumph.
“And the team, I guess, is emulating the way he’s playing,” he said.
“They’ve got a bit more of an edge in the way they play now and that’s the way Australia plays its best cricket.”
Part of that, he added, should be credited to Clarke’s relationship with coach Darren Lehmann, who Waugh believes has brought a much more relaxed vibe to the playing group.
However he warned things can change very quickly, especially when the bar has been set so high for Australia.
“Right now everyone loves him – he’s a bit of a messiah,” Waugh said of Lehmann.
“His true test will come this year when we’re expected to win. In the previous 12 months we weren’t expected to win and we won.
“There’ll be different expectations on him now but I think he’s comfortable in being a coach. He knows cricket really well and he gets on with people.
“He’s got a lot of good traits and attributes that helps brings the guys together.”