Michael Clarke
Michael Clarke, the World Cup winning Australian captain, backs the yellow shirts to go all the way. Image Credit: Reuters

London: He is the last World Cup-winning captain and arguably one of the best minds in contemporary world cricket.

For Michael John Clarke, it was his high point as Australia lifted the trophy back home in front of his fans at Melbourne in 2015 and he still vividly remembers things from that particular day.

Having said that, he is all set to pass on the baton to the winning captain in 2019 and feels this is the most ‘open’ World Cup in a long time and it is near impossible to call one clear favourite.

I’d like to say that the 50- over format is currently the most competitive of all formats and most teams can beat any team on a given day.

- Michael Clarke

Emphasising that this is the best format for any tournament with all teams playing against each other as that’s what will test the depth and resolve of each, Clarke spoke in an exclusive interview on his own journey and what to expect in 2019.

Exactly four years ago it was your moment to cherish. How do you look back at leading Australia to winning the World Cup on home soil? Can we say it was the greatest moment of your career?

It was easily the most heady feeling to lift the World Cup trophy with my teammates on home soil in front of a packed MCG. As a cricketer it can’t get bigger and better, can it? It is cricket’s ultimate prize and it comes every four years. In every sense it is a special tournament and for me it was no different.

Personally, it was a rough ride going into the competition, trying to recuperate from injury and trying to beat the clock every single day of my post-operation rehab. It wasn’t easy. But I was determined to give it my best and I am glad things worked out. To score 74 not out in the final and remain unbeaten was sweet. It was my last ODI game and I couldn’t have asked for a better farewell. Having said that, the World Cup was never about me. It was about the team and about all the boys who made that team special. We were all in it for Australia and it was always a collective and never about any individual. We always played as a team and that’s what explains our success in winning the tournament.

Coming to CWC 2019, how do you see it unfolding? Am I right in saying it is one of the open World Cups of all time and it is almost impossible to identify one single favourite?

Absolutely. While I will say England and India look very good going into the tournament, I will not be surprised if any of the other teams from Australia, Pakistan or even the West Indies come from behind and win the trophy. I’d like to say that the 50-over format is currently the most competitive of all formats and most teams that are playing the World Cup can beat any good team on a given day. As a result it all boils down to who is better on that particular day. There are some immensely talented batsmen and bowlers around and any one of them having a great day can close out a game for his team. The reason I mentioned England and India is because these two teams have the maximum number of such X-factor players or matchwinners. Others have one or two of them and the key at the World Cup will be consistency.

Coming to India, and more specifically captain Virat Kohli, how do you look at the team going into the World Cup?

You don’t need me to say it is a supremely talented team. I have watched and followed Indian cricket very closely over the last few years and was also in India during the IPL and can tell you the foundation of Indian cricket is at its strongest. You have players like Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan to complement Kohli and you also have the legend in M.S. Dhoni behind the stumps.

When you add Kohli the batsman to this mix, you have a team that is as good as it can get. Virat is batting absolutely brilliantly and with help from Dhoni, the pressures on him as captain will be much better mediated in England. You have two quality wrist spinners in Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav and perhaps the best fast bowler in the world in Jasprit Bumrah. Let me be clear — I will be surprised if India do not make the last four of the tournament.

A word about Australia. With David Warner and Steve Smith making a comeback and the way the two of them have played in the IPL and since, Australia looks to be a seriously good team with great depth in batting and bowling.

Warner and Smith are two of the best in the world and it is only natural that they will make a huge difference to this team. They have the ability to attack and also adapt to conditions and will be hungry to do well for Australia in the World Cup. Time away from the game can only make them more eager and that is what should work in Australia’s favour.

Most of the batting unit is showing signs of good form and that’s what you need going into a competition like this. If the Australian spin attack stands up in the middle overs, they every bit have the team to go the distance in England.

Finally, what are your plans during the World Cup? Will you be there right through the tournament?

Yes, I will be. I am commentating and also doing a number of things in England this summer. You can’t not be at the World Cup. I will say this — let there be an Australia versus India final with Australia winning by one run!

— The author is an eminent cricket journalist and sports historian based in India