Michael Clarke on cricket, family and losing his best mate

Michael Clarke may have retired as Australia’s cricket captain and as one of the world’s best batsmen, but his footwork skills remain in high demand. Now, though, it’s his two-year-old daughter Kelsey Lee’s possessions he needs to be mindful of.

“I said to (my wife) Kyly when we had our little girl, ‘This lounge area in the house, this is for me to watch the footy or cricket,” Michael says. “She said, ‘Of course, babe.’” It didn’t turn out that way. “Our whole house is about our little girl. Toys, prams, babychairs everywhere. You’ve got to be good on your feet.

“My little girl loves her tea sets, so we have these mini tea sets, knives and forks. Her new phase is a cubby house. We built a cubby in the lounge, blankets everywhere, we sit in the middle of the cubby house and have a cup of tea.”

It’s a new world for Michael, 36, who has swapped touring the world for 14 years as a Test cricketer for a less stressful life in Sydney, focusing on family, fitness, commentating with Channel 9, running his Michael Clarke Cricket Academy, indulging in his hobbies (cars and boats) and his business life which includes a role as ambassador for the Hublot watch brand as well as Hugo Boss.

He’s in a great place. “I don’t miss playing cricket at all,” he insists. “I was asked this year to play cricket for my club but I said no. I feel the businesses, the commentary and my academy keeps me close enough to cricket without wanting to be back on the field.”

Michael retired in 2015 after the final Test of the Ashes series against England in August. After the death of his team-mate and close friend Phillip Hughes in 2014, Michael struggled to play on and now reveals he should have retired that day.

“It’s definitely always with me,” he says. “I didn’t allow myself to grieve at the time because I had responsibility to his family, firstly, but then also as Australia’s cricket captain to my teammates and getting us back out onto the field.

 

Michael Clarke. Photo: Matthew Abbott

Michael Clarke. Photo: Matthew Abbott

 

“It took me a lot longer to grieve his loss than it should have, or that I would have liked.”

Does it get easier? “Well, life moves forward,” he says, “but I still have days regularly where it’s heart-breaking. It’s still raw … the emotion and pain is still there.

“I shouldn’t have played another game. My career should have stopped then. It was too hard for me. My greatest strength as a small boy growing up and all through my career was that I was never scared. The faster they bowled, the easier it would be to score. I liked batting without a helmet on occasions; they’d bowl at your head and I’d love playing the hook or the pull shot.

“Even if it was just my sub-conscious, when I lost one of my best mates playing the game that we love, I think my subconscious worked out that you can actually die playing this sport. Even if it was the smallest bit of fear, you can’t play at the highest level like that.”

He went to the West Indies in June 2015 which he says was a mistake. “Going to the West Indies was probably the worst tour of my life in regards to how emotional I was,” he says. “I was there on my own. Unfortunately Kyly couldn’t come because she was pregnant and we weren’t comfortable with her flying.

“I had six weeks in the West Indies … whatever we had on as a team during the day I would go back to my room every night and just cry myself to sleep.”

He says having a family is easier now that he’s retired. “For me it was perfect timing. It was another reason why I knew it was the right time to retire because I couldn’t spend 10 months of the year away from my little girl.”

Becoming a father, he says, has “softened” him. “It probably allows me to relate a lot more to the emotional side of a person,” he says.

“As a sportsman and a husband I think I was very stuck in my ways. Having a little girl has softened me a lot. I wish we had her 10 years earlier because she’s been the best thing for me.”

Each day Michael gets to the gym at 5.30am and is home by seven when Kelsey Lee wakes up. He spends the morning with her and then goes to the office until 3.30pm. “My day is very structured. When I played cricket for Australia I was very structured. Fitness, family, business.”

He says retirement can be challenging. “I think there is definitely a transition period,” he says. “Once you leave professional sport at the highest level you realise that you live in a bubble, and I mean that respectfully, but everything’s done for you. Your flights are booked and paid for, you’re told what time to get to the airport, accommodation is paid for, you’re told where to get to, your food is paid for and brought to your room … to walk outside that can be, for some, difficult.

“My personality is that I like that responsibility and accountability. If we’re going on a holiday I’ll make sure the car’s booked (and) has a baby seat … I’m a very organised and structured person. If something goes wrong, I know who to blame, it will be me.”

Reflecting on life on the road, he believes the importance of family and close friends around is under-rated. “I always felt having my wife with me on tour helped my game,” he says. “You knew you had a partner in crime, you knew you had someone you could be very honest and open with, you had someone who could take your mind off cricket.

“My wife is not really into cricket … I’d come home from a game and she’d say, ‘How did you go? I’d say ‘Babe, I got 10’. She’d say ‘How good’s that? Someone got 0, you got 10, it’s good’. ‘No, I wanted 100’. That’s the stuff that I believe is great for your life. I believe kids take that to even another level.”

  • Michael Clarke returns to the Channel Nine commentary team for the 2017-2018 summer of cricket.
  • Hublot watches available at Monards / monards.com.au

 

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