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Last Updated: Friday, 22 July, 2005, 17:18 GMT 18:18 UK
Star potential
By Martin Gough
BBC Sport at Lord's

Michael Clarke
Clarke is the bright young thing of Australian cricket
Despite his magnificent 91 at Lord's, it is perhaps too early for a prediction that Australian prodigy Michael Clarke will be named man of the Ashes series.

But then again, team-mate Shane Warne was doing it at the start of the week!

It seemed like madness as Clarke began the tour with scores of 45, 3, 2, and 2 in one-day internationals against England.

He entered the cauldron of Ashes cricket for the first time with scores of 7, 1, 27, 20, 35, 8, 8 and 22 in his most recent Test innings - hardly auspicious.

However Warne, who captained Clarke at Hampshire last summer, saw the 23-year-old emerge from adversity to make a stylish debut at the home of cricket.

The bright young thing of Australian cricket, Clarke was expected to set the county scene alight but he struggled against the moving ball, especially early in the season.

Unafraid of hard work, Clarke stuck at it even though he had managed just 400 first-class runs, and was finally rewarded with three straight centuries to end the summer.

"Last year was the first time in his life he really struggled," said Warne.

"But he came back and made three or four hundreds, made a hundred in his first Test and another in Brisbane.

"If he gets on that momentum he can be as destructive as anyone and I truly believe, not just because he's a friend, that he could be man of the series."

Perhaps Michael Vaughan did not watch the way Clarke took India's vaunted spin attack apart on Test debut at Bangalore last October, with a match-winning 151.

Michael Clarke
Clarke made a dazzling Test debut in Bangalore

That could be the only reason why he brought Ashley Giles into the attack early on to the peroxide blonde batsman.

Clarke was particularly tough on England's toiling left-armer, using his feet well and taking particular delight in belting him though mid-wicket.

But he also stood up to the tiring pace bowlers, hitting Simon Jones and Matthew Hoggard down the ground with the two best shots of the day.

It was a far cry from the miserable figure who had struggled to impose himself on English county attacks.

Looking back on last year, Clarke said: "Within six months I experienced the lowest time in my cricket career and the highest, going to India and making my debut.

"It was really strange, really tough but what came out of it was that I managed to get through that tough time, managed to be successful in England.

"Looking back I can say it was the greatest thing for me but at the time I certainly wasn't happy."

After that golden debut, he again put India to the sword with 91, 73 in Nagpur before celebrating his debut on home soil with 141 against New Zealand.

Michael Clarke and Shane Warne
Warne (right) was Clarke's mentor at Hampshire last year

But that barren patch had gone on too long for the comfort of some observers.

Were Clarke in the England team - even under the enlightened regime of Duncan Fletcher - he could have been given some time to reconsolidate in domestic cricket.

His partner at Lord's in what could prove a decisive stand of 155, Damien Martyn was dropped for six years after a lightning start to his career

Clarke could easily have gone the same way but he benefited from the faith of coach John Buchanan, and being in a successful side that can afford the odd passenger.

"With the support I've got around me - my team-mates and my family back at home - it's just about getting out there and doing what I've been doing since the age of seven," he said.

"If I do that the results will come."

They already have, and if he carries on batting with such uninhibited enthusiasm, he could fulfil Warne's prophecy.




WATCH AND LISTEN
Interview: Australia's Michael Clarke



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